Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clare In The Dunes

Clare sat in the cleft between the rocks, stretching out her feet, thinking of the treats snug and secure in her bag. A cheese and onion batch, a large slice of chocolate cake, a huge family sized bag of crisps. This secret place was her favourite for eating. No one would see a crumb. She liked to sit in this little dim nook and imagine tasting everything before her fingers ever touched it.
She saw a flash of red between the dune grass at the front of her hidey-hole and frowned, shifting forwards for a closer look. It was him. He walked arm in arm with a young girl across the deserted beach. Oh no, she thought, ice in her stomach. He’s doing it again. She clamped a hand to her mouth. The couple stopped, they laughed, they threw their arms about each other in a move that looked half protective, half not. Clare cringed and gathered up her bag, almost crushing its precious cargo.

Leave them alone, a voice inside her yelled. He wouldn’t dare be with her if he were guilty. Someone might see him, even here out in the dunes where only the dog walkers ventured. What the gossips were saying were lies. Either that or they were out of their tiny minds. Just like Doug. Just like half the bay. Don’t go near the man. Don’t get his attention. She watched him take a grip on the girl’s frail arm, locking her in place as he studied her for a long drawn out second. What was he thinking? What was he imagining?

Clare wriggled free of her hiding place, snagging her T shirt as she hurried to watch. They were heading away from town. Out where the dunes crowded. She stooped low and ran after them, wishing she were thinner, faster, less of a lump of lard. She dated behind the grasses as she followed them. Straining to hear their words the breeze carried to her. Was he quoting poetry? If he was the girl was doomed.

Then she saw another figure on the beach striding towards them with more purpose than she had ever seen. Doug. Marching like a solider. Carrying something dark and shiny in his hand.

Clare held her breath.

Big Fat Lion (a real life lion.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Hot Potato


She was everybody’s dream girl. Greyling never had anything like her before. She embodied the charm of the foreigner, the exoticness of well rounded language, the fullness of youth. The assurance of her painted toenails gleamed red and inviting against the grey, squally skies and weather beaten rock surfaces of Greyling Bay.


Despite her penchant for potatoes. Oh, they had noticed all that was about her. How she gorged on creamed potatoes. And potato fritters deep fried in oil. And hot potato buttons split open, covered with butter. She would flick a page of her book with the end of a filed nail, then pitch a mean fork into the soft potato, open her plump lips wide so that her lipstick remained intact, and roll the taste in her mouth. She often let out a deep sigh when she did this.


Despite her books and her smiles, her reading and writing, her hair and her body, despite all that she had, the loneliness leaked from the sides of her eyes. It just added to her flavour. The loneliness that drew you towards her like a magnet, hoping that you were the topping to her succulence, the silencer of her sighs.

Clare, sitting on another table, watched her with eyes filled with scorn, loathing and wanting. Carmelle just did not know the smart, thin and pretty girl that Clare held captive within her own fat exterior. Clare could, if she unleashed the woman within, give her a good run for her money. She concentrated on her plate, but her eyes kept flicking to Carmelle.

Darius also watched Carmelle as he walked in. “Hello,” he said, and Carmelle looked up, her cheeks warming to the feel of his voice.

Clare looked up too. Her lips twitched. Carmelle would soon wish she had never left the city sidewalks. A village was not all about romance.

Darius slid into a seat next to Carmelle. He speared a potato on her plate with the fork and held it up in the sunlight. “Ready?” he grinned.

She was.

Abha Iyengar

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


“Have you heard the latest down in the town?” Gwen is purring under Louise’s magic fingers again.

“What? This stuff about the teacher?” Louise isn’t really interested. Too much happening in her own world. “ Do you think he’s guilty then?”

“Darius?” Gwen’s snigger is faintly malicious. “Windbag, that’s what he is.” She shifts and indicates a sore spot. “Hasn’t got it in him,” she laughs dismissively. “All talk and no do, that’s Darius.” She grins at Louise. “He’s a great one for bluster but he can’t keep order in class and he likes his little pets; but fiddle with them? Never! Probably the last virgin in Greyling Bay.” She hears Louise’s slight intake of breath. “Or maybe the second last?”

Nicola Slade

Friday, June 5, 2009

Graham's List

1) Book the car in for its MOT.

2) Cut the front lawn before it takes over the world.

3) Is that guttering blocked above the bay window again? Because last time it happened we had to plaster where all the rain got in and we mustn't ignore it again.

4) There's been far too many things ignored in our house over the years.
  • The guttering.
  • The state of the garden.
  • Us.
5) Are we going to have a holiday this year or not? And if so, where?
  • I don't want to go and stay in that Villa in Tuscany again. I don't like Tuscany, it's far too hot, and Alice never leaves me alone.
  • Did Helen notice what Alice was up to?
  • Did Helen care?
6) Things that Helen hasn't noticed:
  • The guttering's leaking again.
  • The state of the garden.
  • The way Alice behaves with me, when she's meant to be Helen's best friend.
  • The way I watch Helen whenever she leaves the room. As if she might never come back.

Rod Holland

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Ger leans back into the seat and stretches his long legs out before him. He should be feeling joyful, but his smiles cracks off his face like old plaster.

Nobody came to wave him off. Mum and Dad are too busy in the caff, chewing over Chelsee’s news. Don’t tell, she’d said. Of course he told. Chelsee must have known that he would. Intended that he should.

With a slick hum the train moves off. The whinging child at the other end of the carriage runs up the carriage, hollering. Cadell. It would be. Spoiled brat. Ger glares at him. Cadell’s face falls and he retreats.

The train gathers speed and the images flick past, beginning to dizzy him. He shuts his eyes but older images flick past, burned onto his retinas. Mum and Dad aghast. Mum pragmatic after the initial shock, Dad… Dad just weird about it.

Ger’s eyes snap open, and the world speeds past. Sickness tugs his guts. He swaps seats and now he is looking back. But that is worse.

The train slows, stops at the next station. Rachel, Tanya and Cadell get off the train in a tangle of pushchair and bags. Ger knows he should have helped, should have been a gentleman. But if he’d stood up he would have got off too, and taken the next train home.

Linda Gruchy

Friday, May 29, 2009


“They say it’s all in my head. But it isn’t,” the wind bullies her words. “I know the truth.” She slides another pill into her mouth and drowns it in cheap cider. She shudders and wipes tears away. “He’ll get away with it all.” She’s not alone. Doug sits by her side on the bench. He’s seen it all, the shadow lands. The in-between. “Where’s the truth,” she asks. He shrugs. “I’m going to get him. I’m going to make him suffer. ”

He takes her hand, holds on, stares at the wrinkles on her fingers. Age, longing, wanting, it turns you inside out. She knows. He does. “I hate him. I hate him for being happy.” Her voice crumbles into sobs. “It’s not fair.”

Chris Leonard

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Serafina, Come Home

Dodging the rain and the plague of students Louise slips into the café after her stint with the two brothers. Chelsee gives her a slight, conspiratorial smile as she pours Louise’s tea but the place is packed and her usual table occupied by a young man hiding behind the Guardian. She sits down, murmuring an apology.

Louise sees no sign of the anxious, put-upon mother or the volatile brother so she relaxes and nods again to the skinny girl now clearing tables. “You’re busy today?”

“Students,” she replies, looking almost friendly. “Term starts tomorrow.” Both girls look curiously at the Guardian man who gradually seems to realise he is under scrutiny. Chelsee turns away but is still in earshot when he grins at Louise. “Hal Thompson, lecturer, Physics.”

Louise blushes under his admiring eyes but answers in the same vein. “Louise Jones, aromatherapy, massage, holistic care.”

“Aha,” he looks pleased. “You’re not a local either, in spite of the Jones? I thought I was the only foreigner in the entire town.”

After a quiet, cautious day, finding her way with Malcolm and George, aware of a knife-edge between the brothers, it is astonishing to find someone cheerful in Greyling Bay, someone besides Gwen, that is. She is aware of Chelsee’s covert stare but Hal’s warmth and his unashamed interest in her overwhelms her, so she manages to ignore the other girl’s down-turned mouth and unsmiling shrug of farewell.

Hal walks her home and talks her into a dinner date for the next night. This is what normal people do, she realises. Dare I?

Gwen’s robust laugh echoes in her head: Go on with you, girl. Grasp at life with both hands, start living.

Suddenly, shockingly, a woman’s voice says Andrew’s name out loud. Last night’s extravaganza in Cardiff was broadcast live though Louise’s television stayed firmly off, but here he is again on the local telly: so trustworthy, so lovable, so charismatic, charming the interviewer who flutters her eyelashes. Louise listens, nausea rising.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” he confides, and where the reporter hears melting honey in his voice, Louise hears only danger and familiar shards of ice. “ I’m looking for a girl called Serafina and something tells me she’s out there watching us.” He lifts that handsome head and those sincere red-brown eyes glow as he gazes straight at her. “Serafina,” he smiles. “Come back to me, darling. You know you want to.”

Nicola Slade

Friday, May 22, 2009

Field Trip

Phyllis watches them as they scatter across the dunes. Darius before them, walking backwards, talking, always talking; each time he turns another child slips away until there is only the skinny girl left, standing beside him, straight as a rod. Field trip, Darius calls it; skiving, Phyllis thinks.

She can see them from where she waits, engulfed in the burr of her generator, the smoky fug of her van a bubble of heat. The children clustering together in the hollows of the dunes; smoking, some of them. Kissing. Never thinking that they're overlooked. The things she sees.

Darius stands awkwardly with the skinny girl, staring all around; his reedy voice rises as he calls for them. "Jellybean," he shouts, "Legless!" The thread of his voice tangling round the dunes where the children are all hiding.

Silly old fool, thinks Phyllis, not unkindly. Watching as Darius surrenders and runs down to the sea, squealing like a child, and his pupils peel out from the dunes and run after him, all pretence of work abandoned, their voices rising together into the thin blue air.

Jane Smith

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Every Time

“Every time I do something worthwhile, you go and spoil it. Attention seeking, that’s what it is,” Ger hisses.

Chelsee blinks. She looks at her wrists. She frowns. “You can’t leave. Mum and Dad need you to help in the caff now the summer’s coming. I can’t do it any more.”

“Don’t be daft. I can’t afford to miss an opportunity like this. You’ll be right as rain, soon, you’ll see.” Ger’s fingers press hard into the arms of the bedside chair he’s seated in. That face, that impassive face. He knows she’s gloating behind the mask, trying to twist him like she always did when they were small. Do this or you’ll make me cry, then Mummy will smack you. The words are unsaid, but he sees her thoughts like wasps. “You take the tablets, same as always, and you’ll soon be back to normal, see. No more of that bloody nonsense. It doesn’t work any more. You can cut yourself to kingdom come for all I care now, see. It doesn’t work any more.”

“I can’t take the medication.” A contrived tear escapes down her face. “They have to sort me out something new. Therapy or something. Tablets is too dangerous, now.”

It’s a new strategy, Ger tells himself. The old one won’t work; bring out the next. “What’s wrong with tablets, then?” She’s winning because he has to ask, and he hates himself for asking.

“I can’t take them. Not now. Not this time. Because. Well, just because, OK.”

“No, it’s not OK. Tell me. So help me, I feel like slapping you.” Ger’s eyes flick round the ward. The bed next to them is empty just now, sheet and blanket rumpled. The nurses are all busy, and nobody has heard. Nobody but Chelsee.

“I’m pregnant so I can’t take the tablets, see. And it’s why you’ve got to stay and help Mum. Because I can’t. Not with a baby.”

Ger flops back into the armchair, mouth flopping open as the breath is yanked out of him. His eyes scan down over the scrawny ribs, down to the belly. Stick-like arms with one bandaged wrist move protectively over the bump. Ger looks back into Chelsee’s eyes set in sunken pits. “You’re lying. You’re lying to keep me chained to that bloody caff. You selfish cow.”

Chelsee says nothing, but stares back at him. Behind the sly power he sees something slinking like a cat: fear.

“Christ.” Ger stands so abruptly Chelsee flinches and seems to sink deeper into the mattress. “Who’s is it? I’ll smash his face in for him.”

“That’s why I’m not saying. And don’t you go telling anyone.”

“Can’t you get rid of it?”

Chelsee’s face is shuttered again, the fear-cat vanished, or trapped perhaps, behind those shutters. His audience is over.

Linda Gruchy

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Secrets and Burdens

“You want another job, Louise?” Gwen takes silence for assent. “Two brothers,” she explains. “Malcolm writes text books or something at home; George is helpless, spastic they used to call it. Anyway there’s two days when he doesn’t go to the day centre.”

Louise nods absently, letting the healing power flow into Gwen’s shoulder as she relives yesterday’s nightmare in the café; dreamy Chelsee, so absorbed in the scarlet flow, obediently standing still while pandemonium reigns.

I’ve been almost happy, Louise screams inwardly now, I won’t get involved. But it was too late, the message, the entreaty, in those pale eyes, the colour of seawater on a wet day, compelled her, so later that evening she’d slipped in to see Chelsee in hospital.

Neither spoke a word. Chelsee trembled, staring, at her visitor. Louise, hating Chelsee, hating herself, hating most of all what was unknowingly asked of her, reached out reluctant questing fingers to the bandaged arm. It happened at once – sometimes there was nothing but today the warmth flowed out of her and into the damaged girl. She took Chelsee’s hands in her own and felt great surges of power drain from her, like nothing she had ever experienced before, leaching from her till she almost fainted.

Chelsee relaxed, eyes half-closed, her breathing regular but Louise knew the girl was greedily sucking the strength from her. What was different this time? Why so needy? Louise shook off her weakness and centred herself until intuition found what she sought.

Chelsee’s eyes snapped open and Louise stared down at the bony body with its slight tell-tale mound just visible under the blue bedspread.

Her intuition was never wrong.

“So you’ll go then?” Gwen speaks sharply, twisting under the competent hands so Louise has to break off and stare blankly. “To see Malcolm,” Gwen sounds exasperated. “Get a grip, girl. I told him you’d call in today on your way home.”

“Fine.” Louise writes down the address, conscious all the while of the shrewd blue gaze..

Gwen stops bristling and pats her hand. “I saw him too, you know; on the News, night before last,” She twinkles as she scores a hit. “I knew you’d be at your wits’ end. Oh yes, booked to work his magic on the Welsh in the Millennium Stadium, God help us all.”

Louise had almost forgotten about him, with all this on her plate, but she shivers now. No need to pretend with Gwen thank God.

“Clever idea though,” Gwen smiles. “Where better than Wales to hide a girl called Jones? Not Louise though, surely?”

“My middle name,” she says absently, then looks down into the wise, kind eyes. “Oh Gwen,” she whispers. “Something terrible has happened, but I really couldn’t help it.”

Nicola Slade

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Darkness

It is night, and darkness has settled over Greyling Bay like a shroud.

Out in the ocean, just off the bay, a deeper darkness gathers. Just below the surface. Thickening almost into substance as the tide swells strangely high towards the light-strung promenade.

Rosie Able

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Outsider

He fools everyone but her. That’s the way of them. ‘Them’ as if they’re a separate species, an influx of aliens, masking their true selves. Only a few see beneath. She has. She flexes her hands, makes fists as he walks by, red beard like a beacon but nobody’s seen the warning. He laughs, his eyes twinkle. It’s all deceit. He’s so respected and she’s the trollop, the little whore, the town bicycle. He picks his victims with care, smothers them in words, with unworldly grace and then… and then… and then....

Her lip trembles. Seduction is a gentle thing. What he did was nothing like that.

Chris Leonard

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Quality Of Mercy

Welcome sunshine glitters on the furrowed sea. A gentle, salty breeze ruffles the dark plumage of a cormorant drying its angular wings as it stands on a barnacle-clad post.

“What poise,” thinks Carmelle. She is sure she can incorporate some reference to the statuesque quality of this motionless seabird into her latest piece of writing, which she has entitled “The Soulful Sea”. She will discuss her latest ideas with Darius when she meets him in The Ship. She enjoys their verbal entanglement and is keenly anticipating the delicious frisson generated between them. She is ready, eager, for more than that now, and Darius cannot help but have noticed, surely? She has put clean sheets on the bed and flowers in the room.

Carmelle has stayed on at Greyling Bay longer than she intended, having found the sympathetic eye and ear of Darius, whose particular interest, fortuitously, she has discovered, is the written word (when Laura, a slim, long-limbed student from the university had made his acquaintance at a fund-raising barn dance last summer, his particular interest then, usefully, had been political history. Greyling Bay has a veritable polymath in its midst).

Enjoying the unexpected warmth and stillness of the day sit Frances and Mercy on a bench at the edge of the sand. They watch Carmelle walk past, antelope-like in her fluid gait, hips swaying and arms gently swinging. Oh, how they wish they could regain their youth. That bloody war took their husbands and now all they have to contemplate is a fortnightly visit from the chiropodist and a chip supper with entertainment in the community hall on the first Tuesday of every month. Failing joints, false teeth and thinning hair. Loneliness. That is the reward life bestows for hard work, loyalty and stoicism. But still, they can laugh and feel the warmth on their paper-thin skin, grateful for their friendship.

They could have been something, Frances and Mercy.

Faith Bretherick

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stepping Stones

Louise gasped at the altered landscape. A flight of stepping stones, puddles like silver pennies scattered in a line across the ribbed wet sand, rising to meet the full moon bellying low. Black and white and silver, Greyling Bay in negative.

Each day a stepping stone; an outing with ‘Call-me-Gwen’ – ripe for adventure, her grin cynical. “Greyling Bay might be new to you but I’ve lived here eighty-seven years. Besides, the old mill does decent coffee, just outside town.”

Another footstep: massage, accompanied by peals of laughter. Gwen Parry telling dirty jokes. Again. “Gwen, you’re awful.” Louise mopping her eyes, massaging Gwen’s frail shoulders.

“I know far worse than that.” A triumphant chuckle banished by a purr of pleasure as the strong young hands resumed their work, sending warmth and power and healing into the knotted muscles and sparrow bones. The pleasure, as always, two-way; Louise giving and receiving, her own tensions slipping away.

Earlier stepping stones: escaping after Father’s funeral. But the house! How had her mother dared? Father, unforgiving as the icy God he made in his own image, too lofty to be troubled with details, making Mum act as his secretary. Getting his signature, forgery perhaps? Just in time before his stroke. ‘All yours.’ Mum’s last whisper. ‘The house, everything - provided he lasts the seven years.’ And he had, just. The second stroke relieved them both – and here she was.

Wherever here was.

“You have healing hands, Louise,” Gwen told her and twisted round to stare, with shrewd, narrowed eyes at Louise’s harsh gasp. “Don’t worry, child,” she said. “I can keep a secret. But I do know who you are.”

“Insatiable curiosity, see?” explained Gwen, shifting painfully. Louise hastened to help, her mouth still sour with denial. “Something about you,” Gwen told her. “Intuition, auras, moments of clarity, not limited to the Scots, you know; plenty of Welsh witches.” That warm, knowing chuckle again. “Besides, I’ve an excellent memory for faces when they come with an intriguing story.”

Her knobbly, blue-veined hand covered Louise’s small, strong one. “You stood on the quayside, bathed in light.” The quizzical amusement vanished and Gwen’s blue eyes were grave. “I knew you at once, God knows how; then you saw the celestial city and I knew it was meant.”

And that was another step forward; Gwen knew, and the sky hadn’t fallen in.

Shivering as a cloud drifted across the moon, she closed the window, suddenly craving company. The spicy warmth of Curry Night at the café beckoned.

Another stepping stone here: a tentative welcome from Chelsee whose brother, about Louise’s age and calmer now after yesterday’s drama, shot her an abashed smile and showed her to the last remaining seat in the café.

“It’s a new thing,” he handed her a menu. “Curry night. Chelsee’s brainwave.”

Louise loved the lilt in his voice. “Seems very popular,” she smiled then the colour drained from her face as she glimpsed a face on the television screen on the wall.


Nicola Slade

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cor-Blimey Corinne

Following disturbing allegations about Douglas Bruton's working habits I no longer feel comfortable including his work in Greyling Bay, and so have deleted the four pieces which were attributed to him here.

For more information read this post on Vanessa Gebbie's blog, and this post on my main blog, How Publishing Really Works.

Apologies for any difficulties this might cause.

About The Contributors

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Talk To The Knife…

…‘cos the face ain’t listening.

Ger’s escaping. The thought is piggybacked on Chelsee’s shoulders, the weight of it dragging at her with every move. A proper job, he said. Like working in here isn’t a proper job.

Well, it isn’t, is it?

A proper job you get paid for all the hours you work. A proper job has prospects.

“You’ll have to do more hours now,” Mum had said. She should have told Mum then.

That Louise is back. Same time, same table, same drink. Habit-forming, life is. Do the same things over and over, and it reminds you who you are. It makes you safe.

The bread pudding needs cutting into squares. The knife is sharp. It slices through her arm as easily as the cake. The skin gapes like a smile, bubbles of fatty tissue gleaming pinkly. How come she has so much fat if everyone tells her she’s skinny? She tries another slice. Odd how it doesn’t really hurt. “I am alive, after all,” she thinks. Red wells up round the tiny beads, gathering in to a trickle. Chelsee moves her wrist, watching the trickle changing direction, controlling the flow.

“What the…? Chelsee.” Louise is with her, clamping a tea towel on the arm, yelling for Carol.

Carol bursts through from the back. “Oh not again. I thought you’d outgrown all that stupid nonsense.”

Later, lying powerfully in her hospital bed, Chelsee allows a smile to slither across her face. Ger looks angry, Mum looks cross and worried: Dad just looks impotent. That’ll teach him.

Linda Gruchy

Monday, March 9, 2009


To the south of Greyling Bay the mountains smooth and flatten and the beaches are bright with sand. The road cuts away from the water and for a couple of miles the salt marshes stretch, shallow and grassy, and narrow ridge of dunes holding them back from the beach.

Phyllis drives her van out every day and waits in the car park for customers who rarely come.

While she waits, she watches over the marshes and the distant line of dunes, the curve and flow of them so familiar to her now that even when she leaves she can see their low profile, their salted, faded greens: the water beyond them a narrow silver flash and then the sky arching above them felted with bruise-coloured clouds, constantly changing.

She used to be able to spot who was out on the water from the shape of the boats’ cabins, silhouetted against the glittering grey seas. Now she can barely see the boats at all and she stares at each distant blurred dot as it passes and wonders if it’s the Gwiddon. Thinking of Owen’s hands on the wheel, their familiar callouses softened and gone. The hot rasp of his fingers against her skin.

Jane Smith

Friday, March 6, 2009

Helen's List


Start diet
Get job What? Paid? Voluntary? Local paper
Second-hand car? (later)
Meet new people. Not from university. Clubs? Evening classes?
Rent cottage? How much?
Learn Welsh? Class? Book?
Check trains/buses/taxis?
Leave Graham?


Late afternoon. Low tide. Cool. Two men dig for worms at the water’s edge. A man walks his dog. Beyond them, the pirate ship chugs back to harbour with its cargo of fretful tourists. Above the horizon the sky is navy blue but the sun shines fitfully, netting the seagulls in a silver flash; the cottages tucked beneath the cliff a necklace of shining sweets, yellow, pink and blue.

A woman walks along the seafront, stops and leans over the railings gazing out across the bay. She walks to a bench, picks up a polystyrene chip-tray between her finger and thumb and drops it into a litter-bin (Keep Greyling Bay Tidy) and sits down.

She pulls a notebook from her raincoat pocket and scribbles as the sky darkens further and spits of rain speckle the concrete.

She stops, reads, then slowly tears the page out, screws it into a tight ball and tosses it in the bin. She walks away. The bin is full. The paper ball rolls off and drops into the gutter. A seagull hovers, lands, stabs hopefully, flies off.

A boy on his way home from school dribbles it five hundred yards along the pavement until, bored, he kicks it over the railings.

The sun sets. Rain falls. The tide comes in. Goes out. The sun comes up, veiled and weary. A man walks his dog along the beach. The dog stops at something. Sniffs. The man calls. The dog runs on.

Sally Zigmond

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Darius Bredwyn Is Loved

Following disturbing allegations about Douglas Bruton's working habits I no longer feel comfortable including his work in Greyling Bay, and so have deleted the four pieces which were attributed to him here.

For more information read this post on Vanessa Gebbie's blog, and this post on my main blog, How Publishing Really Works.

Apologies for any difficulties this might cause.

About The Contributors

Monday, March 2, 2009

Triple Chocca-mocha Macchiato—With Whipped Cream

Carmelle Jones blew into Greyling Bay one sultry afternoon, surfing good intentions and waving doubts farewell. Armed with deliciously strokable notebooks, modest wine supplies, and chocolate for every chapter, Carmelle was ready for writing heaven. She’d spent the train journey—followed by a taxi ride with a driver who didn’t seem to hear her mention that she was A Writer—being progressively less able to contact her Facebook friends, as the signal on her dongle dwindled and died. Good people, gorgeous, whose hugs and kisses and virtual chocolate touched her on an hourly basis. Carmelle felt perfectly nurtured by them. But this week was a challenge that she (and her Creative-Life-Counsellor) had set—to come where she could not be fingered by Facebook or touched by Twitter or anything else that damaged her acclaimed alliterative ability.

Prospect Cottage had no wifi and no phone signal. Truly, Carmelle was facing her fear, but her writing group had sent her off with encouragement in her ears and Valrhona in her handbag. You’re fabulous, Carmelle. You have a gift. Ignore that editor. What does she know?

One look inside Prospect Cottage and she’d known this was the place. It had Genuine Atmosphere. Two looks and she felt the need for coffee. It wasn’t the cottage, just how the fisherman owner guy had eyed her. God, she hadn’t come here to be seduced by some bitter herring-breathed rustic with a nasty madness in his pink eyes.

Carmelle approached the café, sucked in her stomach, swung her hips like a hammock. A little pout would do no harm. They’d be watching her, clocking her pre-Raphaelite hair, jealous of her smooth city skin, skin which a boyfriend had described, so sweetly, as being like a piglet’s. Carmelle was used to people envying her. Which was why that editor’s comment had wounded her so, until her wonderful friends had poked her on Facebook and reflated her self-esteem.

Carmelle wielded a notebook and two pens: pink and turquoise. The café doors hung open in the heat and voices limped into the air like tired butterflies. She smiled at this image: she must write it under the heading, “Similes for future use”. With the turquoise pen, she thought.

God, but this lot ...

Fat girl with her rosebud mouth slightly open, waiting to pay for a cream cake that she’d already gouged with her finger. Grinning biddy in a wheel-chair. Sepia woman staring at her hands with a Jesus expression. Two tarty young women and a kid with a buttered face. A couple staring at the table as though they’d rather be anywhere else. And the men—Christ, they looked spiritless. Seaweed had more zest.

And into their midst, Carmelle.

“Triple chocca-mocha macchiato with caramel and marshmallows and a butterscotch twizzlestick. And whipped cream.”

“What?” The waitress was waxen-faced, hollow-cheeked, as though something was sucking her from inside.

“Tea. Please.”

Behind her, someone smiled.

Nicola Morgan