The Best Afternoon Ever is my second collection of short stories. This also has a theme of romance, but it’s light-hearted in tone and you could read it to your Grandmother or your Grand-daughter without fear of blushing!
Here’s a little excerpt from one of the stories:
A Welcome Visitor
Elspeth Gray in number 24 saw the pony first. Her alarm clock had gone off at six-thirty as usual, and even though there was no need to rise so early, the habits of a working lifetime were hard to break. It wouldn’t matter to another single soul if she were to sleep till lunchtime she thought wryly as she slipped her feet into the slippers neatly aligned at the bedside where she’d stepped out of them the night before. But it would matter to her. She may no longer have a job but that didn’t mean she could allow herself to go to seed. Standards had to be maintained.
She opened the bedroom curtains, gazed dispiritedly across to the patch of green the local authority chose to describe as an amenity area, and blinked in surprise. There in the middle of the threadbare patch, grazing quietly on a few sparse tufts of grass. stood a small scruffy pony. It hadn’t been there the night before, of that she could be certain since she always took a stroll before bedtime. Elspeth felt the tiny hairs on the back of her neck rise in indignant protest. Someone in the street thought they could just do what they liked with the little field did they? Well she’d see about that.
Two doors along, Melanie Jacobs was in the kitchen, making her usual bid to get a head start on the day. If she could just get school shirts ironed for the twins and sandwiches made for packed lunches and the table laid for breakfast before they all came down, then this day might not disintegrate into chaos as every other day seemed to do. And maybe John wouldn’t look at her with the weary resignation she’d come to dread seeing in his dark eyes.
Okay, so she was a long way removed from the well-groomed and highly efficient secretary he’d once known, but running a house and family just wasn’t the same as organising an office. And it never seemed to occur to him that he could do anything to help. As far as he was concerned, their roles were distinct and well-defined. He went to work – she looked after house and home.
‘I know it’s an old-fashioned kind of outlook on life,’ he was fond of telling friends, ‘but it suits us, doesn’t it Mel?’
It was easiest just to nod and agree. And maybe today would be the day when she finally got it right. Maybe. She went to the back door to shake last night’s crumbs off the tablecloth, only to stop dead in her tracks at the sight of the pony. All of a sudden she was transported twenty years back in time.
‘You’re just like Misty,’ she murmured softly and with a catch in her throat. ‘My sweet little Misty.’ She hurried back into the kitchen, dropped the tablecloth onto a chair and dashed out, school shirts forgotten.
‘Well look at that. Where on earth do you suppose that little chap came from?’
‘What little chap would that be dear?’ Joan Ingram bit back an exclamation of annoyance as she lifted her eyes from the computer screen. She’d been writing an email message to their daughter in Australia till Michael’s interruption shattered her concentration and she’d hit the wrong button, probably consigning the whole blessed thing to some outer space limbo, never to be seen again.
She sighed heavily. She’d always considered herself to be reasonably intelligent, but the computer was proving to be her downfall. She’d never fulfil her ambition of creating a family tree online if she couldn’t even cope with a simple email.
‘A pony. On the green.’
‘A pony?’ Astonishment took over from irritation as Joan left her seat at the computer and came to stand at her husband’s side. ‘How strange. Do you suppose it belongs to one of the local children?’
Michael shook his head. ‘I can’t imagine. I’ve never heard any of the youngsters talking about ponies, but then…’ it was his turn to sigh heavily. Joan slipped a comforting hand through his arm. She knew just how much Michael had missed his two young grandsons ever since they’d emigrated and she knew too how deeply he’d been hurt when his attempt to make friends with the children next door was rebuffed by their mother.
‘I tell my kids all the time not to go talking to strangers or taking sweets from them,’ she’d sniffed self-righteously. ‘Just because you’re in the same street doesn’t make you any the less strangers. I don’t know anything about you.’
‘Then that’s your loss,’ Joan had cut in, horrified by the woman’s attitude. ‘My husband is wonderful with children.’
‘That’s as maybe. But it’s just too risky nowadays.’ The woman raised one hand to ward off any further protest from Joan. ‘I’m sorry if I seem harsh, but we’ll just stick to family thanks very much. My kids have got perfectly good grandparents already. They don’t need any more.’
Since then communications between the two families had been restricted to a curt nod in the passing. But then that was pretty much true of everyone in the street, Joan thought glumly. When she and Michael had moved in to the new scheme they’d had such high hopes of settling in and making friends. Now, just over a year later, they barely knew a soul. And it didn’t look as though that was about to change.
Darren Jones might have thought he was suffering from some weird sort of hangover when he spotted the pony, except that he’d only sunk two bottles of beer the night before and that was nothing compared to his usual intake. The other lads had given him a hard time for it.
‘So come on Daz, tell the boys what’s eating you,’ Tommy Marshall sprawled inelegantly along the park bench and prepared to neck his fourth bottle. ‘I’ve never known you pass on a drink before. Lost the taste have you? Or,’ he tapped the side of his nose knowingly, ‘is it woman trouble? Some little girly giving you a hard time?’
The others hooted with laughter at the very notion but Tommy wasn’t so very wide of the mark. Sandy Barford at the end of his street had seen him worse for wear just the week before and frankly he hadn’t enjoyed seeing the look of dismay on her pretty features. He’d known her since she was a kid and she’d always had a smile for him – but that night she looked almost afraid.
Afraid! He’d never harm a hair on her head nor on anyone else’s come to that, no matter how much he’d had to drink. Nor would any of the other lads. But they probably did seem pretty intimidating to anyone who didn’t know them well, especially when they had a drink in.
He leaned closer to the window and rubbed his eyes. No – he hadn’t been imagining things – that was a real pony standing there all right. Someone must have dumped it though it seemed a strange thing to do. He’d heard of puppies and kittens being dumped often enough, but never a horse. He’d been toying with the idea of going back to bed since frankly there was nothing else to do with the morning, but now he knew that would be a waste of time since he’d never be able to get back to sleep with the pony on his mind.
Poor little sod would probably starve on that bare bit of ground. There wasn’t enough grass to keep a couple of rabbits going for long, never mind a pony. He’d go and have a rootle round the kitchen, see what he could find. Mum wouldn’t mind if it was for an animal. She’d never been able to let him have a pet, but she’d always had a soft spot for animals.
When Elspeth arrived at the field, she was astonished to see the pasty-faced youth from further down the street talking to the pony over the ramshackle fence and stroking its nose. She wouldn’t have expected to see him up and about this early, but perhaps he hadn’t been to bed at all. Maybe he’d spent the entire night drinking with those other young reprobates he hung about with. Probably never worked a day in his life, she thought crossly. Just took it for granted other people would do all the hard graft leaving him and his mates to spend their benefits on drinking themselves silly.
He turned towards her with a broad, beaming grin.
‘Morning Elspeth. Come to have a look at your new neighbour?’
If you’d like to know more about the mystery pony and the people who live nearby, you can find the full story in The Best Afternoon Ever, which is currently available in book form direct from me and will soon be up on Amazon.