Story Thread: July 07- July 20 Flash Fiction First Line Contest “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne…””

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20 thoughts on “Story Thread: July 07- July 20 Flash Fiction First Line Contest “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne…””

  • July 7, 2016 at 2:56 pm
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    Champagne…

    “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne, but then again, maybe it wasn’t.”
    ‘Hmmn’, I thought. ‘Speaking to myself again.’

    “But what did I drink? Apple juice? Naw, it couldn’t have been that. I got drunk, yeah, maybe it was champagne; it had to be. My head hurts.”

    It wasn’t long before the phone began to ring. Try as I might, ignoring that sickening ring tone drilling into my head did it for me – I finally answered.

    “Hello?” I said, rather defiantly. “Jasper’s Pizza Parlour. Can I take your order?

    Blessed, peaceful silence was interrupted by a click. The caller hung up. Seconds later, the phone rings again. “Jasper’s Pizza…” but, was cut short by the voice at the other end.

    “Aaw c’mon Billy. This is Harrison. I know it’s you,” he pleaded.

    “Our special today comes with bacon, real Canadian bacon,” I responded, trying to sound cheery.

    “Dammit, Jasp, I mean Billy. Cut it out. We only got a day left around. Let’s make the most of it,” he said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. Get ready.”

    After a quick shower, Billy Armstrong squeezed the last of the Brylcream onto his sweaty palms and caressed the cream into his hair. A crisp white t-shirt tucked neatly into faded overalls above dusty cowboy boots always made him feel like a rebel. After one last look in the mirror, he headed out onto the driveway where Harrison had the car running. Billy jumped in and gunned his hot rod down the road,

    “Well, whaddya figure Bill?” questioned Harrison. “Another night on the town? You got tanked last night. Ol’ Harriet Gundlock had her eyes peeled on you all night long, and you didn’t even give her a glance. Damn, man, I was wondering what was wrong with you?”

    “Ahhh, she just wasn’t in the cards last night, bud. I was too busy tryin’ not to think too much, you know.”

    “Yeah, I know. It’s gonna be tough isn’t it,” said Harrison in a voice that crackled innocently. “Like I said buddy, let’s make the most of it.”

    The tires squealed as they rounded a corner and screeched to a stop at the raunchy Pig’s Head Tavern near the outskirts of town. The saloon type doors framing the entrance announced their arrival.

    “Hey Billy,” shouted the bartender. “More of the same?”

    “Well, bro, why don’t we just ease into this one today, okay?”

    “Aww heck,” the bartender responded. “That apple cider champagne too strong for ya’?”

    “You know, it might’ve been. Ol’ Harriet sittin’ over there kind of began to look like Marilyn Monroe. Lucky for me the lights went out.”

    “Yeah, lucky for you Billy,” laughed the bartender. “You would’ve have eight kids draped over you by now. So what’ll it be?”

    “You know what? Since this is my last day here, why don’t we make it a double of the good ‘ol champagne you have there. All I’m doin’ is tryin’ to forget.”

    “This one’s on da’ house okay?” he yelled. “You just make sure you get on home son.”

    One of the last thoughts running through Billy Armstrong’s mind as the bullet-riddled plane spiraled downward was his last night back home in the tavern. Harrison, seated beside him, was gone. And as he managed to jump from the plane and float slowly into unfamiliar territory, he wondered if the enemy had apple cider champagne.

  • July 7, 2016 at 10:24 pm
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    “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne. Doesn’t do it for me, but you do. I’d love to watch your lips…do that…all night.”
    “You can’t afford me.”
    “True. I just wanted to watch.”
    “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
    “What part?”
    “The part about you wanting to watch?”
    “Why wouldn’t I want to watch you?”
    “Watch me do what?”
    “I don’t care. What do you feel like doing?”
    “I feel like puking.”
    “Well, I’m not really into that. What else do you like to do?”
    “Screw you!”
    “Now that I could watch.”

  • July 8, 2016 at 3:27 am
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    ” It’s been a long time since I drank champagne,” she said. ” Well drink up, this is a celebration.” I held out a flute glass to her filled three-quarters of the way with the bubbly pink liquid. She took it and held it up. ” Make a toast, and not a milquetoast one. That last one about drinking to a sunny day was a bit too bland.” I shrugged my shoulders and said ” Okay. Here’s to swimmin’ with bowlegged women.”

    “How did you come up with that one?” She began to laugh. Her hands convulsed and she nearly spilled the champagne down her shirt. I chuckled, holding back my indignation at her dismissal of a Jaws quote, and said, ” alright then, you make a toast.” After throwing her head back with laughter, she returned my gaze, nodded, and raised her glass. “Here’s to Miss Mary Mac. May she finally get money from her mom. ”

    I began to feel a little tipsy. Years of sobriety had erased my tolerance for alcohol. From the way she giggled at everything and wild look in her eyes, she was beginning to feel it as well. She winked at me and said, ” let’s go swimming. The lake look beautiful tonight.” “yes,” I said, ” but its only the first week of June. The water is still a little cold. Besides, we shouldn’t swim drunk.

    “You’re right,” she said, grabbing the collar of my shirt, ” come on.” She made a clumsy attempt to pull me across the kitchen towards the hallway, which led to the bedroom. ” Oh no you don’t, Devil Woman. You will not tempt me. ” I intoned in a contrived Latino voice.

  • July 8, 2016 at 1:17 pm
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    It’s been a long time since I drank Champagne… out of nowhere this thought meandered through my brain. I really like beer but mostly drink red wine, but beer is my favorite. I even think about beer while taking a swig of the old red. It doesn’t work, nothing tastes like beer but beer. Sometimes at Old Keg In, they have these new beers, called artist beers… or artisan which means someone makes them in a backyard still… or at least that is the picture in my head. Probably not… it couldn’t be sold in the liquor store.

    “Hey, how you doing… thank you…” you’d think he could afford more than a quarter… people are really tightening their belts these days, luckily I don’t have a belt to worry about… I’ve been thinking about making a beer with apples and cherries.. sounds good to me… something different and then maybe even peaches and ….

    “Ok, looks like we have a new friend this morning, would you like to introduce yourself?”
    Oh…yeh, my name is Josh and I’m an alcoholic… but I never drank champagne…

  • July 8, 2016 at 9:52 pm
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    Mosquito Sunset on the Human Horizon – Election Night

    It’s been a long time since I drank champagne. But then again, it’s not every day that I’m elected President of the United States of America. This occasion most certainly warrants champagne.

    “Richard, keep my glass full to the brim all night with Dom Pérignon. Have a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Reserve Rosé put on ice in case I change my mind and want something fruitier.”

    “Now, change the channel to CNN for me.”

    “What, no election night coverage? Try NBC.”

    “Nothing there either? What about C-SPAN? Surely they have something about my historic win.”

    “Try ABC and Fox.”

    “No and no? Maybe ESPN?”

    “There! At the bottom of the screen. I knew I could count on ESPN.”

    The ticker reads “Charles Montgomery Elected President as Thousands of Americans Succumb to the Zombie Virus.”

    “Turn it off, Richard.”

    I sit the champagne flute down on my desk. Its contents are no longer pleasing.

    When I started this journey to become president eighteen months ago, the Zombie Virus didn’t exist. Then six month ago, an American woman in France died of a mysterious illness. Less than twelve hours later, a French national died of the same illness. From there, two more deaths. Then quiet. Just like that, what was being pegged as potentially the latest super virus was silent. There were more no deaths until four months ago.

    Five Australian tourists, who were in Moscow on holiday, were visiting a well-known ryumochnaya for drinks when one of them became sick. The following day, they were all dead. Because of the deceased symptoms, Zombie was suspected. A team of medical professionals, led by Ilana Lazare, who had discovered the virus, was flown to Moscow to perform full autopsies.

    It was during these autopsies that it was revealed that parts of their brains appeared to have been systemically eaten away in the same precise locations in all eight of its victims. On the streets, the unnamed virus became dubbed the Zombie Virus.

    From the incident in Moscow, the virus began to rapidly spread across the world. September 1st of last year the first case of Zombie was reported in the US—in Montana of all places.

    #

    I’ve lived in Livingston, Montana my whole life, which only consists of seventeen years, but that’s a long time when you live in a small, remote town nestled along the Yellowstone River. My favorite activities are fly fishing with my grandfather, John, playing varsity football for the Panthers, and taking my girlfriend, Candice, to the movies. Honestly, there isn’t much else to do, but I get to do all three this weekend, starting tonight with our first football game and then the movies.

    We lost. And the movie was terrible. But Candice looks pretty tonight. She has her brown hair tied up in a ribbon, like all the other cheerleaders, which shows off her pretty face. My varsity jacket is too big for her but it’s a cool night. Summer is waning and it looks like it’s going to be a harsh winter. That’s all pushed to the back of my mind as we lie in the bed of my truck and gaze up at the stars from our favorite spot on a hill in Peacher’s Field.

    “You played good tonight, John,” Candice says her head resting on my chest.

    “I hope to play good the entire season so I can get noticed by Coach Day at NCMC.”

    My dream is to play college football at North Central Missouri College like my father did in the early nineties. He wants it as bad as I do. That’s all he talks about these days. Candice doesn’t like when I mention it. She thinks we’re going to go off to college and forget about each other. I don’t think it will happen but I don’t say anything else about my dream of college ball.

    We lay there in the dark until I feel her hand snake its way slowly up my shirt. She pushes up until she’s hovering over me. She gives me a soft kiss, which I return but not with the same fervor as other nights.

    “What’s the matter?” she asks noticing the difference.

    “I have a little bit of a headache. I think I got hit pretty hard on one play.”

    “Think it’s another concussion?”

    “I don’t know,” I say sitting up. “It doesn’t feel like the last one.”

    “Do you want to go?”

    I look at her in the dark and feel her body close to mine. I remember what happened the last time we were out here. It was our first time. I want to stay but my head doesn’t feel right.

    “Yeah, I’ll take you home.”

    A short while later my dad drives me home from the hospital. My second concussion. My dad is in the process of lecturing me about playing smarter.

    “You have to keep your head up,” he says slapping my chest with the back of his hand.

    Thankfully, my cellphone rings saving me from his lecture. It’s Candice’s dad.

    “John. Candice has been rushed to the emergency room. She was complaining about a headache and she threw up. What did you guys do tonight?”

    #

    That first American casualty spawned the thousands I saw being reported on every news channel tonight. I stare at the champagne and sigh. I never dreamed the night I was elected president would be spent in a bunker to keep me from contamination until I can assume control of the country.

    I open the folder that’s been sitting on my desk all day waiting for me to read the papers enclosed. I skim the classified sheets. It details the birth of a child in Marrati, India, a month ago whose parents died of Zombie. It’s news because she lived. She appears to be immune to Zombie and her immunity may lead to the discovery of a cure.

    I let out a whoop. Finally some good news. I don’t always drink champagne, but this is a reason to celebrate.

  • July 9, 2016 at 9:03 am
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    THE MISTAKE

    It’s been a long time since I drank champagne. It’s been a long time since I drank anything interesting – unless you’re counting the potato-peel hooch Dempsey made one Christmas. And I wouldn’t call that interesting as much as devastating: it took my guts a week to recover, and I don’t think they have entirely, even after all this time.

    You get to miss a lot of things here. I was just musing the other day about ice-cream. I’m not talking about the chemical stuff they give us in the canteen. I mean the authentic stuff, the Italian type, the one with real fruit. I was there in the yard remembering the little dance it used to do on my taste-buds. And it wasn’t just the ice-cream itself. It was everything that went with it.

    I’d go to the pictures, and if I was with a girl, after the film I’d walk arm-in-arm with her down to the port – that’s where the best ice-cream was. It’d be a warm summer night, she’d take off her cardigan and I’d put my arm around her bare shoulders. And she wouldn’t mind, because that’s why she brought her cardigan – so that she could take it off and invite me, without saying so, to touch her skin.

    We’d lean on the railings on the dock, enjoying our ice-cream and watching the night-shift dockers loading cargo, swearing all the time. I’d apologise for them, she’d laugh. She’d have vanilla ice-cream, I’d have raspberry. Then when we kissed, the flavours would mix and I’d have a new taste to savour.

    Later, I’d walk her home, hoping that she’d ask me up. When we got to her building, she’d give me one last kiss – just lip-flavoured now, but sweet – and she’d go up the steps to her door. I’d turn to walk away and from behind me she’d say “hang on”, and I’d know right there and then that I’d be making love to her after all.

    In the morning, we’d both be a little embarrassed; night-time covers embarrassment like a blackout curtain. But she’d get up and make breakfast and bring it to the bed. We wouldn’t have much to say, so I’d just have my toast and tea, get up, get dressed, peck her on the cheek and say I’d call. And as I said it, I’d know that she knew I didn’t have her number. It was the game – both sides knew the rules, so I wouldn’t feel guilty.

    In the street, I’d look up and see the curtain move and wonder if perhaps I should have got her number after all. But then I’d know where she lived, so if it came to it …

    And I’d stroll off down the street towards the corner shop, my jacket slung over my shoulder because it was a bright summer morning and warm. I’d buy the paper and 20 cigs and go to the park – my favourite bench to watch the ducks.

    There’d be a mother and her children, laughing and feeding the ducks, and I’d look on and get a glowing feeling somewhere around my heart. One of the kids would come over and ask my name, and I’d tell them and chat for a while, then the mother would call them away. And I’d open my cigarettes and my paper and pass a mellow hour in the morning sunlight.

    When I got home, there’d be a message to call Jimmy, and I’d know what it was about. I’d ring him to confirm, and I’d say yes, okay, I’d do it. And I wouldn’t realise that the “yes” would turn out to mean missing a lot of things for a very long time. Like ice-cream, and girls, and champagne. And that thing I’d felt in the park, that I’d never have now.

  • July 10, 2016 at 2:03 am
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    “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne.” Marilyn smoothed her hair back off her face, full red lips pouting, her eyes widening with interest as he carefully poured the bubbling liquid into two flute glasses.

    “Well, my darling. Let’s hope the time between this and the next, will be shorter by far.” Arthur bought the two flutes and placed one in her hand and raised his glass.

    “To us! And to your success.”

    “To us.”

    They linked arms and drank deeply looking into each other’s eyes and souls. Arthur had loved the aspiring actress from the first moment he set eyes on her. He had yearned to hold her close and to drink in the scent of her warm body and to feel her pliant curves in his arms. Now he had her and it seemed an impossible dream. It was the dream of millions of men and he was the one chosen. For now, he was content. She was his and his alone.

    However there were some things that unsettled the perfection of their union.

    “Marilyn, my slippers?”

    “Oh, Artie darling, where did you put them?”

    “How the blessed hell would I know. That is your department, isn’t it?”

    “I am your wife sweetheart. Not your household slave. Perhaps they are under your side of the bed?”

    “Well, woman, don’t just stand there. Go look for them!”

    “Oh Artie, pppllease don’t…”

    “Oh, don’t start that again. Blubbering like a needy little child, when I, your lawful wedded husband asks a little thing of you!”

    Someone would run off and a door would slam.
    Then again they would try at different times to share.

    “Chekhov is such a deep writer. He deals in ordinary people. In the mundane matters of their loves and lives, he brings out their …..”

    “Please, Marilyn you’re an actress. Don’t try to be an intellectual. It doesn’t suit you. Don’t be what you are not.”

    “Arthur, are you saying I can’t have an opinion about Checkhov as a writer, because I …because I’m an actress?”

    “Marilyn, I’m not saying that. Stick to what you do well. Be a good actress. Checkhov is for intellectuals to discuss. You’ll only make yourself look foolish.”

    “So Arthur, you are saying to me essentially this; ‘because you are an actress, you are not an intellectual.’ Aren’t you?”

    “Not at all. I am simply saying that Checkhov discussions or deconstructions of his writings are for those who have studied the man and his work. Not simply, umm, those who’ve read the odd short story or play of his.”

    “I cannot bear it when you belittle me so.”

    “Oh for goodness sake, Marilyn stop being so sensitive. And for God’s sake, don’t start the water works again. Go have a pill or a drink. Quieten down. Don’t take everything so personally.”

    So Marilyn would have a champagne or two or three. Then a pill or two or three to ease the hurt. To numb the pain. Then she did not care what was said. Neither did he.

    The distance between them grew into a gulf that yawned open and swallowed them both. Then they were spat out on the opposite sides of a chasm. Arthur found what he was seeking almost. Marilyn found a peace of sorts.

    The next time Arthur had champagne on ice was the birth of his son that was not his. Or at least, he said he was not.

    “There is no other solution. He will have to go into a home.”

    “But Arthur he is a baby. He is my baby. I need to look after him. I don’t care. I don’t care what anyone says.”

    “It’s a mongoloid. You cannot look after it. It will be better off among its own kind.”

    “It’s not an ‘it’. It’s he. And what do you mean, ‘among its own kind’? We are his family. He’s our flesh and blood. Please Arthur, I am begging you. Let me take him home. He will be no trouble.”

    “Definitely not. It’s not coming into my house. Think of Bec. What will she have to endure? Everyone knowing she has a mongoloid in the family. No. I am doing this for your good and hers. NO.”

    He was walking from the room, just as the nurse brought a little bundle in from the nursery. It mewed softly. His mother sat up and stretched out her arms to the nurse who placed the child in them. She brought the baby close to her chest, her tears spilling down onto the newborn child’s face.
    Arthur whirled around at the door to the room.

    “Don’t make this any harder. You should not even hold it.” Then he turned and strode down the corridor.

    He reached the house a half hour later.
    The champagne was on ice. He went to it and lifted the bottle from the bucket and brought it up to his lips, tasted it and spat it into the ice bucket. Then in a swift motion he hurled the bottle against the wall. It smashed into splinters of green glass.

    Arthur sat at the table and put his head on the smooth mahogany surface and wept great sobs that shuddered his whole being. Finally, an hour later, he rose and walked unsteadily to the bathroom and washed his face and hands. Then he took out a phone book and began to ring the appropriate institutions for ‘the thing’ his wife had birthed that last day.

    He never wept again. He decided he did not like champagne. He never had another bottle in the house.

    • July 18, 2016 at 7:12 pm
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      This is outstanding. It leaves me with the acrid taste in my mouth it ought to. Great writing.

  • July 11, 2016 at 9:09 am
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    Vengeance
    By Dean Hardage

    “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne,” remarked Captain Jeffries.

    “There’s been precious little reason, even if we had found any before now,” replied Lieutenant Karlson, his second-in-command.

    “True enough. How long has it been, twenty-three years now?”

    “Twenty-three years, seven months, and twelve days if you want to be precise.”

    Jeffries thought back to the date his comrade was talking about, the day their civilization had died. When he thought about it the story sounded like something out of a “B” grade science fiction film but it had actually happened. Aliens had attacked and invaded Earth.

    He remembered listening to a famous scientist talking about a theoretical alien invasion in a documentary on television, comparing it to what had been in the movies. He’d said it wouldn’t be David versus Goliath, but Bambi versus Godzilla. Turns out he’d been right. The human race had exactly zero defensive capabilities that had any effect on the invaders. They bombarded cities from space, beyond reach of any weapon of any nation, landed unopposed and began slaughtering the survivors. Only a tiny percentage had been fortunate enough to survive to go underground. Even as he thought the world ‘fortunate’ he laughed bitterly. It probably would have been better to be killed outright.

    “Do you think they know what’s about to happen?” Karlson asked.

    “I have no bloody idea, Lieutenant. All we know for sure is that they haven’t taken any action we are aware of to prevent it.”

    “Is this the only thing we can do?”

    “You know it is. We have no technology left, few weapons, food supplies are virtually non-existent. This find was a miracle, considering the thorough way they destroyed almost every military asset before they landed. It was probably a black ops thing, might not even have been a government project.”

    “Who else could have built it?” the junior officer asked rhetorically. “The design is way beyond similar devices.”

    “Maybe a psychic, someone who knew what was going to happen. I know that sounds ridiculous but someone not only built it but left easily accessed instructions that were so simple a child of six or seven could operate it. That indicates some kind of foreknowledge.”

    “Or after-the-fact justifiable paranoia”

    Captain Jeffries laughed, this time with genuine amusement.

    “Or that, yes. In any case, it’s here, it’s functional, and it’s ready. All we have to do is literally press the button.”

    Lieutenant Karlson nodded, then poured the recovered champagne into the fine crystal goblets found with it.

    “Ave atque vale,” he intoned as they lifted their drinks and touched glasses.

    “Indeed. Hail and farewell,” responded his commander.

    Both men sipped the sparkling beverage appreciatively. Captain Jeffries picked up the small transmitter sitting on the table by the bottle. He touched one switch and the button in the center lit.

    “It’s been an honor, Lieutenant.”

    “The honor has been mine, sir.”

    With a nod of acknowledgement Captain Jeffries pressed the lit button.

    Instruments on board the alien fleet registered an energy pulse followed by the detonation seconds before the first shock wave struck. A cubic kilometer of the planet’s center had been converted into anti-matter and instantaneously annihilated itself with another cubic kilometer of the core. The cataclysmic energy release that followed cause the shock wave, followed by a wall of expanding energy that engulfed it and destroyed it.

    The final thought that had passed through the Captain’s mind had been a line from movie he’d seen as a child. “We may not be able to protect the Earth, but we’ll damn sure avenge it.”

  • July 12, 2016 at 12:04 pm
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    Mr. Lucky.
    © 2016 By Ken Cartisano

    “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne…”

    I snuck a glance over at the guy on the next bar stool. I was in no mood to chat with a drunken stranger.

    “But then,” he added, “I guess I haven’t had that much to celebrate—eh?”

    “I wouldn’t know,” I said, as I lifted my glass to my lips and added, “or care.” I took a hefty swig.

    “My name’s Pete,” he said.

    I sighed. Some people just can’t take a hint. “Luke,” I mumbled, by way of response. I kept my eyes on the TV hanging over the mirror behind the bar. The sound was turned down but they were selecting this week’s lottery numbers. The little balls were bouncing around in a big glass dome, getting sucked into a tube, one by one.

    He tipped his fluted glass toward the TV and said. “Do you play? The lottery, I mean.”

    I shrugged. “Rarely.” I’ve always been lucky though.

    “You can’t win if you don’t play,” he said.

    “You can’t win if you DO play,” I replied.

    He chuckled softly. “You have no idea how true that is.”

    I frowned. “Don’t I?”

    We were both silent as two more balls were sucked into the tube.

    “Look at this.” He slid a lottery ticket toward me on the bar top.

    I glanced at it and grunted, still trying to ignore his unwanted friendship.

    “No—look at the numbers,” he said.

    So I did. They were all sixes. I snorted in surprise. “Good luck with those numbers.”

    “That’s what I thought too,” he said.

    The whisky was starting to effect me, so I turned slightly to look him up and down. He appeared normal, average: Khaki pants, plain shirt, a belt, slightly scuffed shoes, gray hair, clean shaven face. I returned my gaze to the TV as the last two balls were sucked into the tube. My unwelcome ‘friend’ Pete, nudged me in the arm and then tapped the bar top with his finger. I looked down at the lottery ticket again. Either I was hallucinating, or my eyes were playing tricks on me. The numbers on the ticket had changed. 9-5-2-6-1-3. I looked up at the TV as the lottery agent was adjusting the balls for best visibility. I admit, I was a little slack-jawed when all the numbers matched those on the ticket. They were even in the same order. 952613. I picked up my glass and looked at my drink suspiciously.

    As if reading my mind, Pete said, “There’s nothing in your drink. Go ahead, pick it up. It’s real.”

    He was referring to the ticket of course. I picked it up off the bar. Examined it in the dim light. It had the proper date. Then I looked him over again. I couldn’t hide my skepticism if I wanted to.

    “You want it?” He asked with a straight face.

    I looked at the TV. The winning numbers were worth 50 million. I smiled and slid the ticket back in his direction. “Listen pal, you think I was born yesterday? I don’t know what scam you’re pulling, but…”

    He looked mildly chastised, but he didn’t pick up the ticket. In fact, he merely took another sip of his champagne.

    “So? What’s the deal?” I said. “You some kind of magician, or just a run of the mill con artist?”

    He leaned toward me and whispered in a confidential manner. “Neither,” he said. “The ticket’s as real as it gets.”

    For some reason, his voice chilled me to the bone. I downed my drink and headed for the men’s room. On the way, I got the bartender’s attention. He was a big burly man with a beard. I could never remember his name. I asked him about the friendly stranger at the other end of the bar.

    “Nope, never seen him before. Why—he bothering you?”

    “No,” I said. “Just wondering. He’s harmless enough I guess.”

    I returned to my seat after visiting the men’s room and found that the annoying stranger was gone. I looked around the bar and didn’t see him anywhere. The lottery ticket was gone as well.

    ********

    Months passed before I returned to that particular bar. I took a seat and ordered my usual double Bourbon on the rocks. A new face was tending bar and waited around while I wrestled my wallet out of my pocket.

    I noticed a familiar figure at the end of the bar, a big man with a beard. He looked troubled. “Hey, isn’t that the old bartender down there?”

    The new bartender glanced over at him. “Yeah, now he owns the place.”

    “He owns the place? Well good for him. I wonder how he managed that?”

    “He won the lottery. Some guy got up and left a winning ticket sitting on the bar. Never came back for it. It was worth 50 million.”

    I was dumbstruck. The new bartender snapped me out of it. “Uh, that’ll be nine bucks please.”

    As I counted out a five and four ones I said, “Why does he look so miserable?”

    The bartender leaned forward and whispered, “His brakes mysteriously failed and his wife got killed in the crash while he walked away without a scratch. Now his kids won’t talk to him. The former owner of this bar owed tens of thousands in back taxes; the IRS is auditing him; his relatives are suing him for half the lottery winnings.” He looked around cautiously and then said, “The bar is going down the tubes too. I’m pretty sure I won’t have a job in a few weeks.”

    “Christ,” I said, “that’s an awful run of bad luck.”

    “To tell you the truth,” the bartender said, “he hasn’t had any good luck since he found that damned lottery ticket.”

    I got a familiar shiver down my spine, so I polished off my drink and left. Like I said—I’ve always been lucky.

    • July 18, 2016 at 7:18 pm
      Permalink

      Great stuff. Left me chuckling. Good story line and narrative quality. Just one pointer: change “effect” to “affect.”

  • July 12, 2016 at 7:49 pm
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    Nightbreak
    by Ralph Jensen © 2016

    “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne…”

    The words keep going through my head these days.

    Though I drank it a few times, by coincidence rather than intention, I never cared much for it, couldn’t relate to the entire world it stands for: high society, cultivated brainless talk, wealth and power – a world I was never a part of even if I had wanted to. I don’t care for it, not for the world. Not for champagne.

    Still, the upcoming event would be a fitting occasion.

    #

    In front of me palm leaves are swinging in the evening breeze. The sunset is spectacular, the solitude comforting. In the sky, a pale moon makes its appearance. It’s a matter of moments now, then it will rule the night sky – a night that until now never arrived.

    #

    Over the years I have greatly reduced my use of alcohol and drugs. After a few years of adjustment I took up what I call a journey to the inside. I learned to draw pictures, how to express myself with words, studied creative writing but never went for degrees. I have no use for them.

    I read a lot, all kinds of things – even about religion though I never found there is a point to it. It’s all conjecture. Still, today you could almost call me a monk if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t believe in anything.

    #

    I can smell the ocean, hear the waves. Almost.

    It reminds me of my childhood, the few good times and the bad. When I started my inner journey I used to blend out the bad but memories have their ways of insisting. Over the years I have come to accept them – distant companions, shadows in the dark. They don’t bother me now. More often than not I am at peace. Almost.

    #

    Champagne. I remember clearly now when I drank it the last time, close to twenty years ago.

    Bud and I had decided to crash a party. We were drunk and a couple of joints had transported us into a cool mood, delicious in one way, volatile in another. So there was this party – we were driving by in Bud’s Chevy. A bungalow in a beach community, college kids mostly, spoiled brats having a good time with the old folks out of town.

    Bud pulled to the curb, took his shotgun from the trunk. There was a .45 in the glove box, loaded. I took that. We just wanted to scare them and pick up some cash in the process. But as these things go…

    I think the kids didn’t take us serious at all. We were almost their age though from a different neighborhood, different world. And they were pretty loaded themselves. One of them started talking to Bud as if he were his buddy, even offered him a joint. He probably thought he was pretty cool, tolerant – bridging the gap to the lower end of life’s spectrum.

    I had a bad feeling about this. Bud had zero tolerance when being patronized.

    He took the joint, though, had a smoke. The kid kept talking. Bud’s answers were terse. It wasn’t his level. This wasn’t our crowd.

    Someone offered me a glass of champagne. I took a sip, downed it, my eyes on Bud.

    Maybe it was something in the joint. Maybe Bud just had enough of it. He suddenly raised his gun and blew the guy away.

    A girl started screaming. There was panic when the kids realized that the party was over. Two of them headed for the door. Bud shot one in the back. The girl became hysterical.

    I hate screaming. There’s no point to it. And I think the champagne made me more sensitive – on top of all the other dope we had had that evening.

    She just wouldn’t stop – until I shot her.

    We decided to leave but the cops were right there. They probably were in the neighborhood. There were shouts, very aggressive: “Drop your weapons, raise your hands.” Too aggressive. We were not inclined to comply.

    A second cop car pulled up. Bud fired and the shooting started. All together it took ten minutes or less. Bud went down in a hail of bullets. He probably wanted to die at that point. I certainly did – not the worst way to go out.

    It wasn’t meant to be, though. It was dark and I wasn’t hit though the cops thought they got both of us. One of them steps around the car, sees me moving, gun in hand. He starts shooting instantly. I hate to be pushed and fire back.

    #

    The faint sound of waves breaking on the beach mixes with the noises of the day from the cell tract.

    I know what every minute of my remaining days will bring. Today I will be asked to order my last meal. I intend to put champagne on the list but I have my doubts. Alcohol is against the regulation and while I have earned a certain level of respect from guards and warden, their goodwill toward cop killers, even on their final day, should not be overestimated.

    I look at the poster. I have no one to give it to. They will probably throw it away.

    That’s fine with me, but I wonder… when the sun finally sets will there be a moon in the sky of the night? I’m just curious.

  • July 13, 2016 at 8:06 pm
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    Survival

    It’s been a long time since I drank champagne. It was at my sister’s wedding. I miss her. I miss everyone. I’ve been alone since the bomb dropped. I used to like being alone. I don’t anymore. I don’t know how I survived. I wish I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I was in the darkest corner of my basement when it happened. This is where I’m living now. The house above me is leveled. I have enough canned food to survive for a while, but I don’t know if it’s contaminated. My wooded backyard has a stream. I drink from there. I don’t know if it’s keeping me alive or killing me. Part of the woods serves as my bathroom. The worst part of that is seeing all the dead trees around me.

    My sister lives down south. Or lived. I don’t know. I should have headed down there by now to see if she’s alive. Fear has kept me here until now. I’m heading down there. I need to know. My journey will be spent walking. I can’t drive because corpses and dead animals are all over the place, including the roads. The smell has gotten bad. I’ll tie a bandana around my nose and mouth and look like a bandit from the 1800s. I’m glad I have some lavender oil. That will help too. I’ll bring some books to help combat loneliness. I love my books. I wish I could bring them all. I hope I find a survivor along the way. Even a dog would be nice as long as he or she doesn’t want to attack me. I think this radioactive air is getting to me. I need to sleep. If I wake up, I’m packing and leaving.

    I felt like I was coming out of a deep sleep. Someone was holding on to my wrist. I opened my eyes.

    “Rene? How are you feeling?”

    “Where am I?” I managed to say.

    “You’re in the hospital. Remember me? I’m Dr. Warren. We need to stop meeting like this. You gave us quite a scare. Do you remember anything?”

    “I had a dream. A strange dream. Actually it was more of a nightmare. A bomb dropped, and I was alone. Everyone and everything around me was dead.”

    “You must be relieved it was a dream.”

    “I am.”

    “Do you remember what happened before that?”

    “No.” I was able to read his face and quickly figured it out. “It was another overdose, wasn’t it?”

    “That’s right. This one was worse than the last. We almost lost you. If the EMTs* arrived minutes later, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    “Is my sister here?”

    “Yes. She’s sitting in the hall.”

    “Can you call her in?”

    “I can, but we should let her compose herself first. She’s out there sobbing. I asked the nurse to sit with her.”

    “Oh, Lisa,” I put my face into my hands and cried.

    Dr. Warren said, “You know it doesn’t have to be this way. You can turn your life around. I wish you’d let me help you. Last time you were here, you didn’t want the help. Please consider it now. Like I told you, there’s a rehab place near here. I highly recommend it. I’d be happy to get you in there, but in order for it to work, you have to want it to work and put every effort into it.” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m going to check on Lisa. I’ll tell her she can come in here when she’s ready.”

    “Thanks.”

    The door opened, and my sister appeared. Her eyes were red and her lids were puffy. “Oh Rene,” she cried. “Why? Why do you do this to me? Why do you do this to yourself?”

    “I’m sorry, Lisa.”

    “Sorry isn’t enough anymore. As much as I miss Mom and Dad, I’m glad they’re not here to see you like this.” Lisa sat down at the edge of my bed. I have never seen her look this bad.

    “Is there something wrong?”

    “You’re kidding. Right?”

    “No. I mean…is there something else going on? I know you like a book. I can tell there’s something else.”

    Lisa looked down and started studying her fingernails.

    “Please tell me.”

    She looked up. “I wasn’t going to tell you today, but I should probably get it over with. This isn’t easy.” Tears started streaming out of her eyes.

    “Oh my God, you’re dying.”

    “No. I’m…I’m…”

    “You’re what?” I was crying again.

    “I’m pregnant.”

    “Why is that a problem? You’ve always wanted to be a mother.”

    “I…I don’t want you to be a part of my child’s life.” She got up and ran out of the room.

    I tried to watch TV. I tried to read some magazines. I couldn’t concentrate. It seemed like an eternity before the door opened again. Dr. Warren came in to check on me. When he was done he said, “We’re releasing you in the morning. You have two choices. Choice number one is you can begin rehab as soon as you get out of here. They’re ready for you. Choice number two is to continue using and possibly…”

    “Are you okay?”

    “I need to sit down.” He pulled up a chair, sat, and took a deep breath. “I’m okay now. There was another heroin overdose. He didn’t make it. I just got finished talking to his family. No matter how many times we lose patients, it never gets easier.”

    His eyes were moist, but he didn’t cry. Either he was trained not to or is stronger than Lisa and me.

    He got up. “I’m sorry. That was unprofessional of me.”

    “Don’t be. I’m the one who should be sorry. I’m sorry for what I put you through. Twice.”

    “Don’t be sorry either. You have an illness. What matters now is that you do something about it.”

    “I’ve made up my mind. I want to go to rehab.”

    *EMTs – emergency medical technicians

  • July 15, 2016 at 9:24 pm
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    Charm and Insecurity
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    It’s been a long time since I drank champagne. The last time I can remember having any was at Eli’s New Year’s Eve bash. He pulled out an $11,000 dollar bottle of Veuve Clicquot, and I nearly orgasmed after that first sip. I shouldn’t say this, but the rest of the night was an orgiastic blur.

    What? Oh, that was at least 15 years ago. It was also the night he gave me a ring —it was beautiful. ‘Keep it,’ he said, ‘One day I’m going to ask you to marry me.’

    To think I was dumb enough to believe him.

    –I don’t know if I want to talk about this anymore, I’ve spent a lot of years trying to forget Eli.

    Of course I loved him, what kind of question is that? I fell for him hard too. In fact, I never really got over the relationship, and that infatuation cost me my marriage. I can’t blame my husband for leaving, he simply grew tired of living with the ghost of Eli.

    I know I built him up in my head —made him better than he actually was. But I think we all do that with our first love, don’t you?

    I met Eli just after I got out of college. I was the secretary for an attorney who represented his business interests. Eli came in one afternoon for an appointment, smiled at me and said, “It’s about time he hired a beautiful woman to be the first face clients see.”

    I was hooked. The other secretaries in the office told me it was a pipe dream, that a man like Eli would never be interested in me.

    And when he asked me out —at lunch, in the cafeteria, with all of the other secretaries watching, I was on top of the world. And for six months, my life was a blur of parties, dinners, and Eli. It all culminated on New Year’s Eve, with that beautiful ring, and a promise of marriage.

    —Excuse me…I just need a moment.

    But Eli knew how to pick ‘em. He preyed on the desperate; those of us who didn’t believe we deserved him, so of course we’d do anything to keep him. I can’t believe the things I did for him…with him. Still I hoped against hope that I would be the one he chose.

    Here’s the ring he gave me. It’s not even as special as I thought. I found out later it was a fake, and he gave dozens of them to the many women in his life —all with the same promise of marriage.

    Why do I keep it? Because Eli gave it to me.

    All of it came to an end though, when his wife Laura paid me a visit. She was his female equivalent in every way —rich, tall, and gorgeous. “You’re just another one of Eli’s whores,” she told me, “Don’t think you’re anything special, he’ll always come back to me.”

    I told Eli about her visit, thinking she was just some jilted ex-girlfriend. I thought we’d laugh it off and continue as usual. But Eli gave me this sheepish grin, and said, “At least we had a good time, didn’t we?”

    And that was it. We were over. It was all a game for him, and I simply became a footnote in his life. From then on when Eli came into the office, he ignored me, as if what we had never happened. I almost felt like I didn’t exist anymore.

    But I couldn’t shake him, and believe me when I say I tried. Fifteen years, and one marriage later, I thought I was finally moving past it. Then I see the article in The Times, “Elias Kincaid – The 15 year old mystery surrounding his disappearance.”

    Why did they have to dredge it all up again?

    I saw him one last time before he went missing —right here in this room in fact. I truly thought I would be able to convince him to give me another chance.

    He was agitated when he arrived, “Alright Michelle, what’s so important that I had to come all the way over here?”

    The way he spoke to me hurt more than I was willing to admit. “I thought maybe we could remain friends, see each other on occasion.” I said

    He just stared at me. Those grey eyes that at one time made me feel so important, now cut through me. “Michelle, it’s over.” Then he shrugged as if I was nothing.

    Thinking back, it was the shrug that did it; it was just so callous. Before I knew it, Eli was lying on the ground with blood oozing out of a gash in his head. I don’t even remember what I hit him with, but he fell right there where you’re standing now.

    I kept waiting to be found out. I was certain that one day I would come home and the police would be waiting to arrest me. But it never happened. No one thought that a mousey little nothing like me could bring down the mighty Eli Kincaid. Everyone always underestimated me.

    After the article, I thought it was time people knew what happened to him, they needed to know who the real Eli was. And he wasn’t that watered down caricature the papers created. That’s why I dug up the body —that’s why I called you.

    Where is he? My garden has always been the place I loved most, where I feel the most comfortable. It only made sense to put Eli there. I know he would’ve appreciated it.

    It’s too bad you couldn’t see him with his dark, wavy hair, and beautiful grey eyes —he was so handsome. Unfortunately you had to meet him like this, all skin and bones. But I can still see him the way he was back then; my Eli, the only man I ever truly loved.

  • July 18, 2016 at 3:37 pm
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    An Unexpected Surprise
    © July 2016 Anika Madison
    998 words

    “It’s been a long time since I drank champagne.” Michelle thinks to herself as she pours the good stuff in tall glasses. She cannot wait for this night to begin.

    Henry is full of surprises. Michelle never knows what to expect. Henry usually has something in his hands when he comes home. Being a part of a very popular band keeps him on the road for weeks at a time. Therefore, when he comes home, Henry always wants to have something special for the love of his life.

    Michelle developed a crush on Henry in junior high, but thought she never stood a chance with him since he was so gorgeous and popular. His popularity grew in high school when he became the star football player. Unbeknownst to Michelle, he always wanted to date her but thought she just saw him as a friend. Then she made a terrible mistake.

    Michelle got involved in a relationship with Marcus, Henry’s childhood friend. Marcus was never any good at relationships and Henry never understood why Michelle wanted to be with him. He dreamt of the day he would rescue her and show her a better life. Then one day, she told Henry she was done with Marcus and he got that chance. He wasted no time before asking her out and they dated for a year before getting married.

    Twenty-nine years of wedded bliss have gone by in a blink of an eye. Tonight is Henry and Michelle’s twenty-ninth wedding anniversary. It literally seems like yesterday, Henry replaced one of the M’s in the M&Ms as Marcus and Michelle were often called by their circle of friends. One of those friends who joined Henry and Michelle’s new circle wanted to start calling Henry and Michelle, H&M. Henry put a stop to that immediately. He and Michelle had their own relationship and it was never going to be anything like the one she had with Marcus.

    Earlier that day before leaving the hotel, Henry was busy putting the final touches on the big thirtieth anniversary party that he had been planning for the past three years. The twenty-ninth was going to be a sneak peek that will leave Michelle excited for the thirtieth. As Henry left the airport and began his drive home, he went over that night’s events. It will be a night, Michelle would never forget.

    Michelle follows the instructions Henry left for her to do on the day he was due home. She sits on the couch, trying to stay cool and not become too excited as she awaits his arrival. Michelle hears a key turning the lock on the front door. Henry set up some rules for his entrance and even though it is difficult, Michelle follows the set rules. She has her back to the front door and her eyes are closed. Visions of romantic gestures, loving kisses and a warm embrace fill her head. She can barely breathe.

    She hears the front door unlock and takes in a deep breath with the expectation of the cologne that she loves to smell on the love of her life. The cologne is the same, but the smell is different. Even the footsteps sound different than what she remembers. An uneasy feeling starts to come over her, but she shakes it off. She is expecting to have a glorious night filled with romance, passion and wonderful surprises. So she ignores the obvious as she awaits the start of an amazing night.

    Within seconds, the fantasies that once filled her head fade and a sense of dread takes over. The touch on her shoulder doesn’t feel as wonderful as the touch she felt in her dreams last night as she dreamt of the reunion with her Henry. She opens her eyes to see that the wedding ring that is on the finger of the hand that is touching her shoulder is different. Now fear has taken over.

    She leaps out of bed…wait…she pauses as though she were in a movie. She thinks to herself, “I thought I was on the couch.” She looks around to find the romantic table, candles and rose petals that were scattered all over were all gone. Then she notices the song she and Henry danced to at their wedding was no longer playing.

    Michelle quickly shuts her eyes and slowly turns around like she is in a horror film trying to have her last few moments of peace before she sees the terror that is about to take place. She allows her head to go first and then her body slowly catches up to face what she fears will be a horrible scene. She slowly opens her eyes and it is worse than she expected.

    The twenty-nine years of wedded bliss to the love of her life was just a dream she had the night before. It is now morning, but it feels like she is living a nightmare. Instead of seeing Henry, she sees Marcus staring back at her. He is holding a small bouquet of carnations which he always forgets is her least favorite flower and a box of M&Ms.

    Suddenly her head begins to pound and she quickly sits down on the edge of the bed. Marcus comes around to her side and sits next to her. He gives her what he considers anniversary gifts. Instead of looking at her husband, Michelle looks at the nightstand next to the bed and sees two champagne glasses and two empty champagne bottles. Marcus lets out a huge laugh which causes Michelle’s head to pound even more. Suddenly she remembers that this is the anniversary weekend celebration planned by Marcus, not her beloved Henry.

    “It’s been a long time since we drank champagne, but I am feeling OK. You my dear, are a light weight.” Marcus says in a condescending tone.

    Michelle’s last thought before climbing back into bed, pulling the covers over her head and trying not to cry is, “I hate champagne!”

  • July 18, 2016 at 6:56 pm
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    So Long I Can’t Remember

    It’s been a long time since I drank champagne.
    Faces fade into shadows and I am alone in a crowded room tucked in a labyrinth of floors and hallways in a land filled with strangers.
    Some of the men and women wear white. They take my hands and lead me kindly, dutifully from room to room. Why must they insist upon calling me “Rose,” or “Mrs. Witherspoon?” Names that evoke thoughts of flowers left pressed in centers of large dictionaries, and boxes of over-dried prunes behind glass jars of condiments on dark musty shelves? “If this is heaven,” I ask them, “How can you have forgotten my name is Emma?”
    Visitors come to humor me with the pretense of being my family relations. A stately, seasoned gentleman has shown up today with photos of himself and the wife he claims is me. Though I find it flattering, I see no resemblance whatsoever; save the eyebrows, arched above her eyes like two question marks laid on their sides. And with him: “Our children, Tom and Mary…” or did they say “Dottie and Harry…?”
    “I think you have the wrong person,” I tell them. “I do hope you find her.”
    The gentleman tries to prevent the tears from welling in his eyes. “Me too,” he whispers, clutching the photo album as he sets a vase of blue and lavender forget-me-nots on the table next to me before they go.
    Sometimes I think I’ve always been here. In this building with rows of globe lights in high ceilings and windows gated and closed. But there are strange glimpses into another past, superimposed ghost images. Elaborate halls with musicians performing Schubert string quartets. Children competing on backyard swings, skinning their knees on concrete, hurling water balloons. Fine linen tablecloths, candlelight… forget-me-nots…
    When they have left, a woman wearing white sets a tray of food beside the vase and exclaims how lovely the flowers are.
    Tonight I am not much hungry. “I’ve told you time and again, the peas and carrots should be to the left of the baked potato, and the meatloaf where you insist on placing the applesauce.”
    But in truth, it’s because tonight my thoughts aren’t at all on food.
    They’re on champagne.

  • July 19, 2016 at 6:33 am
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    Rejection

    “It’s been a long time since I last drank champagne,” said Alex. He stared into his glass of Chardonnay, and smacked his lips together.

    I didn’t respond, as he had the look of a man about to continue in any case.

    “I think it was 2005. I cracked open a bottle of Dom Perignon 1981, and we toasted the expectation of success.”

    “That was when your novel was accepted by an agent?” I wanted to cut the story short.

    He looked irked that I knew this. Or irked that he’d told me before, and forgotten. I’d heard the story over many bottles of cheaper wine over the years.

    “Then a few months later she said no publisher would take it ‘without substantial rewriting’. She didn’t say ‘editing’. But ‘rewriting?’ Are you kidding? I said I’d get another agent. She said, ‘Go ahead.’ Hah!”

    Alex summoned the bartender for another bottle of wine. At the end of the room, the bass player completed a complex and melancholy solo. The saxophonist broke in sharply with the remnants of the jazz standard they’d started with, and the handful of friends and aficionados at the front tables burst into tepid applause.

    Alex recaptured my attention by topping up my glass. He swung the new bottle over to refill his glass, leaving a trail of wine across the bar between our glasses.

    “Na zdravie!” he said, raising his glass. “Slovakian.” Alex liked to say cheers in different languages. I guess it’s a literary thing.

    “Prost!” I clinked.

    He smiled briefly, then his brow furrowed and he returned to his favourite topic. “Of course after that I vowed never to drink champagne again until my book was published.”

    I nodded.

    “Of course it’s OK for you,” he slurred. “Your trainspotting books. Non-fiction’s a different game. The joys of being niche.”

    I write about transport history. I can’t say it’s lucrative, but it gets my name about. Time to divert the subject before I heard again his vitriol about the launch party for my last book “Puff and the Dragon: The Steam Age in Late Imperial China”.

    “Alex, getting a book published isn’t the only thing worth celebrating in life, is it? There’s – ”

    “There’s what, Mike? The anniversaries of my divorces? Or my birthday? The birth of grandkids? I’d love to have some grandkids.” His voice became softer. “But – Jack’s had the snip. Too many children in the world, apparently. And Jodie, she told me she’ll never have kids after what she went through as a child. What does she know about going through anything?”

    “I know you’re keeping that bottle on ice. Something will change,” I said, patting him on the arm and easing myself off the bar stool. The room was becoming unsteady, or maybe it was me. I knew when I was hitting my limits, and it was time to go.

    I made a decision as I tottered to the Tube station. I’d pass up on our meetings for a few months. Sure, he was one of my oldest friends. But as I see it, there are two kinds of writers: those who get on and do it, and those who sit in bars talking about it. I needed to stay resolutely in the first camp.

    As it turned out, I didn’t see Alex for about 8 months. I made excuses the first couple of times he suggested we meet, and he stopped asking. Then “Puff and the Dragon” really took off, and the launch of the Chinese translation took me to the Far East.

    Alex was the last person I was thinking about when I got a call one Friday evening, inviting me over for breakfast the next morning. He sounded cheery and upbeat, and I thought, why not?

    As I arrived I could smell the bacon frying. He opened the door in a large and incongruous floral apron, beaming a large smile. “Mike! Great to see you. Come on in!”

    He’d lost a lot of weight since we last met. His hair, which had been greying at the edges, was much thinner and almost completely white. In truth, he looked much older. Yet his eyes seemed almost to shine, and he looked uncharacteristically upbeat, instead of his usual morose demeanour.

    On the kitchen table stood the bottle of Champagne he’d been keeping on ice, a jug of orange juice and a bottle of Grenadine.

    “Buck’s Fizz,” he announced. “We always used to have this for celebrations when I was young.”

    He opened the bottle, then mixed the drinks: two parts champagne to one part orange juice.

    “Your book’s been published!” I guessed, and raised a glass.

    “Cheers!” he said. “But no. I’ve given up, and that’s what I’m celebrating. No more literary pretensions.”

    I eyed him quizzically.

    “OK, Mike. Here’s the truth. My liver is shot to pieces and cancerous as hell. And it’s spread. I’ve had one round of chemo, and that’s enough to know it isn’t going to work. Three to sixth months, they say.

    “Oh, Alex – ”
    He raised his hand to cut off any sympathy. “You know, I haven’t felt this good for years. It’s like a huge burden’s been lifted from my shoulders. Now I know for sure I won’t be immortal through my writing, through grandkids, or even by living very long. The absence of hope is truly liberating!”

    We talked throughout the morning, into the afternoon and evening. It was like old times.

    Over the next 3 months – for that is all it was – I saw Alex almost every day. He read voraciously, and we talked about books – other people’s books. His eyes lit with passion as he talked about them.

    I was with him, alongside his two kids and two ex-wives, as he passed away peacefully.

    About a week after his funeral, a package arrived from his solicitor. It was his manuscript. And inside a note, saying:

    “If anyone can make something of this, you can, old friend!”

    [995 words]

  • July 19, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    Champagne

    The last time I drank champagne. Yes, I remember it well; not for the celebrations that preceded it, but for the devastation that followed it.
    Laura and I had struggled for 20 years building the business. 16 hour working days, endless stressful hours battling with unions and hostile take- over attempts. We were not getting any younger, my lovely Laura was showing signs of strain, her once lustrous black hair showed a hint of grey and the lines around her eyes were deeper than before.
    This was our time, a time to call in our assets and embark on a lifestyle free from all the tensions that running a business entailed. As the clock struck midnight I turned to the computer, activated the finance site, and with a deep breath clicked the button that would make us rich.
    Over the years the value of the business had grown by a substantial amount. Yes, in the beginning we had encountered difficulties, it got so bad at one time that Laura had considered selling her jewellery. I vetoed that, of course, and we muddled through. Slowly, slowly the tide turned and we found that, as our product was a good one, buyers were beginning to notice and reward our efforts. Now, as a well established brand name I deemed it time to call in all our assets and retire to sunnier climes.
    The amber bubbles rose to the top of the frosted glass, slowly climbing as had our ambitions. Laura had never looked as beautiful as she looked that night. Her blue eyes sparkled, reflecting the colours of her sequinned dress. I held her close as I outlined the plans for our future. First of all, a long holiday in the sun while we thought out a plan for the remaining years. Maybe a small yacht – we could afford it, it was what we deserved after the hard years. My relationship with Laura had been forged in the fire, and we were closer now than we had ever been.
    We retired to bed that night with feelings of relief and hope for the future. I awoke early, and not wanting to wake Laura, I made my way to the study. With a surge of anticipation and excitement, I turned on the computer.
    I blinked, then blinked again. What was I looking at? Something was wrong with the screen. I was confronted by a sea of red. This couldn’t be happening. A cold fist gripped my heart. I rushed round to the television in the kitchen, the headlines were blazoned across the screen. At first it appeared to be just a blip in the market, but as the day wore on the devastating truth dawned. Our shares were virtually worthless. How would I tell Laura? The stock market crash that destabilised the civilised world had carried us along in its wake. All our plans, made with such optimism the night before, the protracted holiday in the sun, the yacht, our retirement, all lay in ashes.
    At that moment I sensed a movement behind me, and as I sat with my head in my hands Laura appeared in her dressing gown. She could see clearly the news headlines and the red computer screen. She sat down heavily and said nothing for several minutes, then my darling wife put her arms around me; I could feel her strength seeping into me.
    “I guess we’ll have to put our plans on hold.”
    I fought to control the tears that welled up in the face of such fortitude.
    That was 10 years ago, life has not been easy in that time. We learned to drink beer rather than champagne and at times we were reduced to drinking water, but others fared worse than us. We had each other, and you can’t put a price on love.

  • July 19, 2016 at 5:11 pm
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    It’s been a long time since I drank champagne. It was the night we said goodbye. We danced a long, embracing dance to the slow version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” We both cried. I took her home and at the door I held her for the last time. We kissed. I told her how much I loved her and pleaded with her not to go away. I knew it was useless. We both did. She slipped from my arms, our hands lingering in each other’s hands, then she was through the door and gone. I walked into the darkness alone. It’s been a long time since I told someone I loved her.

  • July 20, 2016 at 10:48 am
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