Madelie and Little Sparrows

Madelie suddenly realised she must be feeling better.  Or rather, on consideration, as she was singing along with the radio, happier.  She could feel herself jiggling with the music as she peered into the wardrobe and ran her fingers along the shoulders of the hangers and their draped clothes.

“This little piggy went to market……” as she twisted the cream and chocolate crimplene dress for a fuller view before moving on, “This little piggy stayed at home……..”. As she moved on to a purple square-necked cotton shift, briefly, before alighting on the orange trouser-suit and with a “wee, wee, wee” deftly unhooked the hanger and settled the suit smoothly on the bed.    A simple white-collared blouse followed though she had more difficulty over a choice of tie.  Three were laid over the orange jacket in the hope that one claimed her attention most.

Pleased at making these decisions she looked out of the window through the large-patterned net and at the sun creeping above the houses opposite.  The chimneys drew black shadows along the terrace of sloping slate roofs and the nearest added the skinny shadows of the television aerials.

Maybe it was the rising sunshine that had lifted her above that black line in her mind under which she had been hiding for so long.  Hiding?  Yes, she had been hiding, it felt like it.  But what from?

She folded her arms and took a step closer to the glass and saw some sparrows dipping into the gutter opposite, reappearing with tufts of lichen then disappearing in a flurry of wings.

She looked down at the thin red streaks on the inside of her left arm, just below the elbow.  Stared out of the window again and lowered her folded arms a little, hugged them tighter to her ribs so her breast hid the marks.  The sparrows returned and busily tussled in the guttering and flew off again as each grabbed some packing for a nest.

Madelie had almost lost that sunshine moment but breathed it in again as a cloud shifted in the breeze and a shaft of sunlight hit her eyes making her turn away from it.   The movement brought the radio back into focus and “didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Bangor!” made her smile again and back to dressing.

Fresh underwear stepped into,  bra settled into and hooks briefly struggled  with.  Sitting on the edge of the bed she folded first one leg of the tights over her hand then her toes into the toe of the nylon and unwound it over her foot to knee then repeated the operation before standing and adjusting the ridged waist-seam up to her hips.  Finally checking, straightening and smoothing the whole legs.   On the whole, she thought, tights were more comfortable than stockings, unless you snagged a leg, got a hole, then you had to bin the lot.  With stockings you stood a chance of having  a spare that matched.

Next was the blouse. Still smooth from being ironed though not that slightly crisp feel had it been freshly ironed.  Definitely not warm like straight off the ironing board!   She bent her head to watch her fingers button the blouse from top to bottom and brush away imaginary creases.

The radio chattered, early morning, bright and breezy cajoling from the ‘dj’ before another record, “now it’s time for ‘Mott the Hoople’ ” and the music slid into her head again.

Foot and leg, slight wobble, other foot and leg and she drew the orange trousers up high and adjusted her hip so she could pull the side-zip up then hook-and-eye the waist-tab securely.

She looked down at her flame-orange legs and indecision crept in. “Too bright?”  She had been a shabby dresser for so long that this was a dramatic step too far, she feared, briefly.

“No,” she said  aloud, “I’ll match the sunshine!”  And she turned to decide on the tie.

End over, hand over, round and under and through, eventually she got the rhythm and directions right and looked at herself in the mirror again to adjust the tie.   It was one of the newest style. Narrow Italian silk and design of bright horizontal bars of colour that eventually repeated after a scattering of red, white, green, yellow, orange, blue.

After a final easing the knot at her neck and removal of a defiant piece of fluff from her trousers she    Retrieved the jacket from the bed and eased into and buttoned it. Looked in the mirror and undid the buttons. More satisfied this time she left the room, grabbed her bag, checked for keys then rushed out of the little flat to try to gather some lost time.

Her rushing from the door down the short path and turning to briefly jog into town flushed the sparrows out of the hedge whisked them back up to the guttering in a series of squawks. Within a few steps Madelie slowed to a brisk walk and the sparrows had drifted back into the comfort of the hedge.

Walter didn’t recognise Madelie.

“Hi! Mr policeman.”

“Mornin’ …….”. No more than a word and a half-raised arm as the woman in the orange trouser.-suit walked smartly passed him. He watched the brightly coloured figure swinging away from him, her short black hair sculpted to her head. She turned the corner but he failed to recognise the side-on figure and features as she moved out of view.   He thought no more about it and went back to running his eyes around the street.  “Being observant” his sergeant called it.  So he continued walking, enjoying the sun warming the fresh morning with his people-watching and eaves-dropping on his way to a tea-break in a local cafe.

He too turned the corner, stopped briefly to click his radio and let the control room know he was having his break before turning the speakers volume down to a less startling level and entering his usual cafe.  The man behind the counter called a greeting and promised to bring the tea and sandwich to Walter, as usual.

“Thanks,” he called out and looked to his seat at the window.  The girl in the orange suit  was at his table in the window and he hesitated to go there.   She smiled at him, waved him to her and then he recognised her as Madelie, one of the irregular customers at the Jolly Puritan pub.  She used to sit near him, out of the way of the more effusive drinkers and darts players but more recently perched on a bar-stool and chatted with Angel working behind the bar.

“I didn’t recognise you.” He said, sitting opposite.  Her coffee was delivered and “I’ll bring your tea and sarnie” said to Walter by the man before he dashed back behind the counter to the kitchen.

“Good.” She said decisively to Walter. “I decided to change my wardrobe like I’m changing my outlook.”

“You mean from drab beatnik to flower-power girl?”  he meant it as a compliment but she looked at him blankly, stopped the grin before it appeared at his somewhat behind-the-times remark.

Madelie smiled inwardly as she forgave his comment.   “Not so much that. More that I decided I should try the happy, smiley person in me instead of miserable and mopey.  I woke-up this morning and today I changed into a brighter me.”

“You can say that again.”  He said. “In the pub you match all the shadows, dressed in that orange you can be seen for miles.”  Walter felt it lacked a complimentary feel so added, “You look great!”

Silence as his tea and sandwich were placed on the table.

Embarrassed, he took to stirring his tea then gave attention to his bacon sandwich while Madelie looked outside and watched the pigeons, no they were doves, trailing along the kerb bumping each other as they chased invisible crumbs.

“I’m just here for a quick breakfast break.” He spoke to break the silence.

She turned back to Walter and felt again how reassuring she found his presence with his solid form, especially in the safe police-uniform and his not unattractive face. He had let his hair get a bit longer since she had seen him, more over his ears than tightly shaved round them. Even his side-burns had been allowed to grow, she noticed.  Madalie surprised herself by thinking he looked much more fun now than when he had walked her home after the night in the Jolly Puritan. “Perhaps he has decided to go for flower-power!” She smiled briefly at this thought, echoing his out-moded imaging.

Walter caught her smile and passed one back, which they both held as their eyes also smiled to each other.    He broke away first, taking the serviette and wiping at the grease on his fingers. Not completely successful he shook his head sadly and took out his handkerchief to wipe a finger. He was relieved it was a clean one, if she actually noticed!   He quickly stuck it back in his pocket.

The young woman watched him over her coffee cup and sipped at it as he looked back at her.

“Time for me to go. I think of this as fifteen minutes community work as well as breakfast, you know.”   He stood and picked his helmet off the floor and adjusted it straight and strap tucked neatly under his chin.

“I didn’t realise I was your social work” she smiled up at him.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant” concerned he leaned on the table, prepared to sit and explain.

Madelie stopped him with a hand put on his, “I was joking,” she said up to him, “Its nice to see you.

Let’s talk in the pub next time. We can put the juke-box on and annoy them with the Stones or Bob Dylan.  They’ll all ignore us then.”

He relaxed a little. She moved her hand off his.

“Yes, that would be great. See you at the end of the week. My shifts change Thursday so, Friday then?”

“It’s a date!”

He nodded, “See you, then. Bye.”   Did she mean a date? As in date?  He paid for his meal, gave her a surreptitious wave as he walked passed her to the door.  Outside, as he walked on she returned the wave.  The two ring-doves hopped and flapped a few yards away at the policeman’s sudden appearance then settled to strutting and pecking again as he proceeded on his beat.

Madelie had suggested the meeting in the pub on a bit of a whim.  She often saw him at the pub, sometimes sat next to him but they rarely chatted except when it was a quiz or darts night.  On the latter it was more a shout than chat to get any words over the clamour of the players.

More recently she had perched herself on a chair at the bar when Angel was working.  At least  they could talk in the quieter moments.  Angel had become such a good friend. ‘Actually’, Madelie admitted to herself, ‘Angel helped me climb out of the black, lonely hole I was in.’

She went to the counter, purse in hand but, “The copper paid for yours too” added another little shaft of sunlight to her day.

The day breezed along as sunnily as it had started.  Working in a shop kept her busy. Meeting and greeting customers was sometimes daunting but often it was young women around her age and younger that were easiest to talk with.  The best parts was when she was able to help them chose from the new dresses that blossomed round the shop. Mary Quant was on everybody’s lips and bodies, for that matter.

At lunch-time several clutches of noisy girls came to rush their break in the dress-shop in preference to eating.   The newest and brightest dresses hung from the current mannequins on the staging in the windows. One or two models scattered on plinths next to the rack of special design or label, their backs to the rack where the carefully crafted pinning would be undetected down the back of the dress.  From the the front the nipping gave a glowing elegance to the dress despite the vacant chalk eyes and bald head.   Along one of the back walls stood the older models covered in pinafore and printed cotton. Large flowers or blocks of Parisian street scenes flowing down to the shins but failing to detract from the armless and headless upper reaches of the model.

The girls would come and go as individuals, the door opening and ringing the bell like an old bed-ridden aunt who is necessarily impatient for attention. Repeating as the door closed. In a small town most people grow-up together, young newcomers often getting whirled up with new friends.  Leaving school and first jobs means catch-up time when they meet and where better than a dress shop full of the latest, brightest and shortest clothes?

Labels, nippy copies. Bright colours and acid designs. Boucle with its softness and crimplene galore with its myriad of colours and prints.  Mary Quant held apart from Biba, or gingham versus Mondrian next to touches of Monet and Picasso.  The whole shop could echo with giggles and gossip as they dared each other to the lowest V or most showy thigh.  Pleated skirts that flew as they moved or denim that hugged and pleaded with outrageous zips.  Sometimes one would be dared too far and she would buy and hug the bag excitedly with an “I’ll wear at the next party!”  Or “I darent show my dad nor my mum for that matter” even a “Roy won’t know what hit ‘im.  I will have to keep me knees tight” and many variations on the theme.

Lunch time passes and the flocks of chattering girls drift away.

Madelie’s day moves along too and the early morning lady swaps brief notes and gossip with the replacement afternoon assistant.  Madelie, working a middle shift, as it were, makes them all a mug of tea, including the owner who arrives, chauffeured by her son in his new car.  He calls them all outside to coo over his vermillion, open top, Austin Healey Sprite.   “Best car I’ve ever had,” he chirps, “mind you I nearly got the new Mini but I was too cramped driving. This one’s only a two-seater but there’s more room.”

“He forgot to say his old car was a Ford Anglia!”  Said his mother. “He only got this to annoy me; and attract the girls.”

“Right on both counts.” He responded, “Can I take you home, mrs Emersby?” and opened the door for her.  She got in with a little difficulty, hoicking her skirt up higher than intended and trying to pull the hem over her knees after sitting down; failing and resigning herself to seeing her knees within worrying closeness to the gear leaver as he curled himself back into the drivers seat.

She started to wave but gripped the edge of the door as he lurched away.  He flung a ‘sorry!’ her way as he changed gear and they dashed off, the remaining women turned back to the shop.

“I must say, you’ve taken to brighter colours like a duck to water.”  Madelie was appraised by the owner as they stood behind the small counter. “And you make a fine mug of tea.” She took a mouthful and spoke again, a tender tone replacing the jocular, “And you’re smiling a lot more.”

Madelie took a slow sip from her mug and considered.  She watched as a couple hesitated outside, the girl quickly studied the mannequin’s dresses in the window, pointed at one and was ushered away by the young man at her side.  After a few steps she stopped, he stopped and shrugged as she pushed through the door. She moved for a closer look at the dress and he found a nearby lamppost to lean on and watch the traffic flow while he waited.

“Yes,” said Madelie, I do smile more. I suppose one smile just brings on another.” She turned and looked at the older woman. “Thanks.”

No need to recall the darker days of the last few months.  She had turned a corner and realised that music was still playing and new friends were better than the old.  She still missed the black jumper and cardigan and one day she would even dig them out.  Perhaps that little Chinese lady had been right!  Even the policemen were nicer these days.  She put her mug down.

“I had better get on and change these ladies.”   And proceeded to select the new blouses and jumpers for the assorted torsos around the shop walls.


PC Walter Copper’s day had proceeded in a similarly innocuous way.  He paced his way along his beat, stopping, chatting and observing and by lunchtime had worked his way back to the station.  A quick lunch break in the canteen and then a short time filling in his day-sheet, wishing he had more than a couple of memos in his pocket-book.  No actions other than a brief companionable chat with old Joe the tramp and a brief word on the time of day with several of the old chaps sitting outside on a bench sunning themselves.   A smile and cheery greeting from Winnie the new WPC at the station as they passed; he off home and she arriving for the evening shift.  He cycling, she walking.

A few minutes later and he was wheeling his bike to his front path and the shed at the side where it stood.  He tried to shut the low gate by leaning sideways whilst holding the bicycle saddle to keep himself and bike more or less upright. Just reaching, he pushed the gate and it crashed on its post and latch before catching on its rebound.  The noise of the clash scattered a ribbon of shouting sparrows out of the hedge and into the tree of the neighbour’s garden.

“Sorry spadgers,” he muttered, regained his balance and pushed on to park his bike and go indoors.

The house was sadly quiet as he sat to wait for the kettle to boil.  It took a long time for the water to bubble and the steam to build up enough pressure to push through the whistle on the wide spout.

He sat watching the kettle, knowing he shouldn’t.

“That’s another day without a story to tell.” he thought, “Except maybe the sparrows.”



from ‘It Happened in Burnthorpe’                    copyright wordparc         J Johnson Smith








Angel on Your Shoulder

Angel Lamb looked at herself in the mirror and wondered why her reflection looked back at her like an excited girl, her naive namesake with the cheeks and arched eyebrows, hair bouncing and curling down to the nape and the gold bangle earings just arcing out from under.

“If only!” She thought.


Madelie Carew sat at the back, closest to the wall, her view obstructed by the pillar nearest the altar rail. The rib at the top of the pew pressed into her shoulder blades as she leaned back staring at the arch from that pillar to the side-chapel, the lady chapel, and it’s wooden screen of spiked ornamental bars guarding the statues within.   She rose, stretched her shoulders back and shrugged to release the tension and walked to and through the gap into the lady chapel.  The paving stones were uneven around the slab where the donor generations before had been interred, their name now rubbed illegible.  She stood at its edge, toes on the still readable date ‘1666’.


Angel finished tidying her father’s vestments and the choir’s Surplices, this time ignoring the mirror as she passed it again.  Left the vestry and turned from the pulpit to walk the nave aisle and out.  At the old carved font where the draught from the open door was the nearest they got to cool air in the summer she turned to check all the flowers had been removed.  At the altar, at the window niches, at the feet of the surviving statuettes from the Civil War and the empty niches where flowers were laid as midsummer cushions or winter wreaths and lastly at the Lady Chapel. Where she saw the figure in the chancel.

There was no sun brightening the stained glass so Angel didn’t recognise the woman, almost a silhouette herself in grey jumper and slacks. She walked round the last pew to the white distempered  sidewall and on to where the Lady Chapel extension stepped out from the main church. Here the walls were still their original stone blocks, locally quarried and now dulled with their age. The surface had not been smoothed as the main church walls but remained almost in their rough-hewn state. Smoothed by tool but still scarred by the chisels themselves.

“Hello.” Angel spoke quietly as she neared, not wanting to startle the visitor she now recognised.  “Have you come for a chat or just a bit of quiet?”

Madelie turned at the words, smiled in recognition of Angel and said “Hi.”  Looking back down at the slab on the floor, ” I was just thinking about Anne.”  She tapped her foot lightly on the stone.

“Is she there, under all that stone, all those years?”    She drew her shoe over the name and date,  ‘Anne Rooker 1666′”.

“I suppose so.”  Angel felt the solemnity of looking down at the last resting place.

“Was she famous?  I suppose she was just a rich old lady that wanted to guarantee her place in heaven, or did they call it ‘Paradise’ in those days?”

Angel put one hand on Madelie’s shoulder and pointed with the other to the window.

“She paid for that window too.  It looks better when the sun shines through it and there is a little  inscription on that plaque near the top.”

“Oh, yes, I never noticed it before. Not that I have been in this bit often, nor the main church for that matter.  Its a nice old place; peaceful”.

Angel read aloud the words carved and black painted:

“This chapel and window donated at the insistence of Annie Rooker. 1600-1666.”

“Odd thing to say, ‘insistence’. Wouldn’t they have said ‘For the glory of God’ or in memory of some ladedah’s wife or daughter.  Was she some haughty lady of the manor who just expected vicars to do as they were told and build chapels whenever.?”

“No, It was the Parish that built it. I suppose the vicar and Bishop must have agreed.  I just read the words and keep this place dusted for my dad. Well he’s the vicar here and it’s part of my new-leaf doing it. Mind you a bit of sweeping and dusting takes no time. Polishing the screen is a bit of a drag but I talk to the two Mary’s up there.”

“Yes, I wondered about that”. Madelie wondered again, very briefly then shrugged and turned back to look at the window.  Dull colours broken by thick leaded supports. She stood back to interpret the design.  Two figures halfway up a hill, they seemed to be waving sticks.  Behind them stood a tower that seemed to be in flames, or it might just be the sun bursting out from the top of the tower.  Balancing the ‘tower’ and above and between the two figures could be seen the white drapery of a flying angel hovering in grey clouds.

“They say it was Annie Rooker’s design. It’s a bit odd, reminds me of Jack and Jill.”  Angel spoke.

Both women turned and and walked through the nave, each touched the rough stone font as they walked passed.  One of the oak doors stood open, it’s blackened panels contrasting with the still shiny internal blocks of the other door. They walked through the short porch and out.

     “Jack and Jill, my foote!  I fought tooth and nail to get this built. The villagers owed this to my girls”.

The sun fleetingly skipped through the colours of the stain-glass then receded again.

“I’ve seen you in the pub and around, I didn’t realise your dad’s the vicar. Do you live here?”  Asked Madelie as they walked the short distance down the slope from the church and into full sight of the vicarage.

“Yes, for my sins!”  With a small embarrassed giggle from Angel.

“You’re not living up to your name then?”

“Well, actually, I’m trying. Especially for dad.  I had a bit of an escape a few weeks ago and I’m keeping a bit careful.  Nearly had a run-in with old Walter.”


“One of the local bobbies, the young one. He gets in the pub a lot. I’ve seen you sitting with him a few times.”

“Old Walter! That’s his name!  No wonder he never told me..  I even got him to walk me home one night.  I was being eyed-up by a bloke I didn’t fancy.  You know, the one who turned up dead from booze and drugs.”  Madelie smiled at the memory of the friendly Policeman walking beside her. The women had slowly walked to the Vicarage gate and stopped automatically.

“Were you going home?  I just assumed……..” Madelie queried.

“Yes, I said I would do some baking with mum.  I am rubbish but offered and she took me up on it.

Better go. Oh, you never answered. In the church. Were you there for the quiet?  If so then I seem to have busted that, sorry.   If you need a chat, dad, sorry, the vicar, is in church for a while around six most evenings.  Or if you like we could meet up in the pub for a talk or just a laugh.”

“Just a laugh would make a change.”

“Tonight, tomorrow? I work evenings in the bar weekdays but usually drag off for a break. ”

“Okay, tonight is good.” Said Madelie decisively. ” and you can tell me all you know about that Annie what’s-her-name.”

“That’s all I know, what’s on that plaque thing.”     She walked up the path to the door, turned and called out “Bye!” with a wave of her hand and was responded to by Madelie as she was lost to sight by the trees.

Angel checked her varnished nails were still pristine after the little light dusting in the church before pushing the front door and calling out she was home.

“It’s Rooker, Annie Rooker!”


The Jolly Puritan was short of customers that evening.  Football on the television kept many regulars in their homes.  Some of the younger men had been nagging at the landlord to fix up a television in the bar so they could watch the sport, whether football or the latest craze of snooker from Sheffield while they drank.  The landlord was equally nagged by the old regulars to keep it quiet and let them get on with darts, dominoes and a quiet pint.   He had no problem either way but was concerned about having to fix the television aerial onto the the old chimney stack. Not so much his doing because it would have to be someone else using hooked ladders on the ancient ridge tiles and then fitting  bands on the stack to support the weight of the aerial.  Even the new-fangled ones would be pretty heavy, though not so bad as the giant ‘H’ that was most common.  Anyway, he suspected that in the current new age of historical-romanticism the local council would not allow it.  None of the old buildings around this part of town had aerials.  “Ruin the skyline” explained one planning officer.

Mind you, that hadn’t stopped them allowing the historic shops further down from ripping out the old interior walls to make bigger internal spaces. That led to one or two redesigning their shop fronts into plate-glass where the mannequins could spend their time staring out at the passers-by.  Leaving the old upper floors with their overhangs and still-stuccoed walls looking like left-overs from another Time.   Which they were.    Town planners and local politicians sometimes had best interests and made worst results.

The publican of the Jolly Puritan mulled this over as he sat figuring an order for the morning dray.

Above, the sombre Puritan on the swinging board looked down at the changes too.  Looked at the naked mannequins and swayed gently with the breeze. Held his good book more tightly to him and tapped a thumb on the leather in irritation.  “Came the Revolution, came the Witchfinder.”  His hand clenched and rapped more steadily.  As he rapped so the sign swayed a little more. A little more.

The breeze increased and slid leaves across the street.

Halfway up the hill, Church Lane, in the well of the small bell tower a step over from the LadyChapel the rope from the smallest of the six bells must have slipped off its peg in the breeze and swung heavily down.  The sudden pull on the bell rope, it’s furry ‘Sally’ and back-rope dangling almost to the floor must have been just enough to swing even that serious weight, followed by a single dolorous chime.

It was Friday night in the oldest pub in town, not quite as busy as usual.  The enthusiastic footballers had  boycotted the pub in favour of watching the live football on the newest twentyone inch television at the ‘Well-End’ pub the other end of town.   Dominoes and darts however were in full cry with the occasional shout from the bar-billiards table jammed in a corner.  Regulars and irregulars gathered and chatted with news and jokes. Supping beers or downing pints amidst the noisy, convivial atmosphere of the pub and its blue haze of cigarette smoke.

The vicar sat at his usual table and mixed his cigar smoke into atmosphere.  Beside him sat Walter and Busie who would sit briefly until the bar looked too busy for Angel to cover alone and then dash over to help.  Back to the table when the bar cleared, usually with a tray of refills for all.

“She okay?”  Said the vicar, meaning his daughter behind the bar.

“Yes, Madelie is keeping her company,” he referred to the woman’s back, sitting on the brass-legged bar stool.  Smoke from her cigarette curling up from the ash-tray and dispersing head height into the rest of the blue-misted room.

The evening blared and rattled on then faded down as last glasses were downed and people left in small groups or singles.  Four men stood outside and shared from a packet of cigarettes, all gently swaying in rhythm as they lit or shared a match to get the tobacco ignited.

“Who was third?”  Joked one, “Put that light out!” joined another.  And they swayed more as they grinned at what was once no joking matter.

Swaying above them, enjoying the scene below, the Jolly Puritan tipped the contents of his frothy tankard onto the oblivious men on the pavement. “Who lit the fire?”  He mouthed silently. His counterpart remained stock still, finger tipped between pages of his book.

The few remaining in the pub were sitting round the table nearest the open fireplace and its logs placed ready for an excuse of winter to be lit.

“Angel said you were interested in the Lady Chapel and Annie Rooker”  the vicar started the conversation once they had tidied up the empties ready for a final washing and closing up by Busie.   He always insisted on shooing everyone out before he finished the cleaning jobs needed and the last checks before he could relax in his back room and then try to get some sleep.

Madelie looked at Angel then the vicar,………..     “You would get every fact known to man, and woman, if you asked Lady Matilda.  She’s our Grand Master of the Historical Association, you know.  But,” he paused, “she might give you the written facts as she sees them and a bit less of the gossip.  Any village has factions, you know.   You’re quite new here but you must have seen some of it already.  This place was Saxon, then Viking followed by whatever until the English Civil War.  Many villages were one or the other, or pretended to be to survive the Puritans’, or Cavaliers’ armies and looting.  Not necessarily your good old rape and pillage after battle but often looting, or rather ‘requisitioning’ of supplies for the troops.  Anyway, I doubt if Burnthorpe was much different to other villages.”   He took a gulp from his pint of bitter and a slug from his whisky chaser.

He continued,  “I can give you my version. The long one or the shorter one, depends how interested you are.”   He smiled, giving Madelie an option to back out of any storytelling if she wanted.

“The real story is good, but not too long.”

“Yes, don’t go on like you do with your prehistoric war stories, please don’t.” Mock-pleaded Angel.

“Okay.” He cleared his throat, “It was a dark and stormy night and the cavaliers were seated round their camp fire….” Angel clapped her hand over her fathers mouth.

“No! No! This is serious! Madelie just wants the bare bones of how the Lady Chapel got built and why she ‘insisted’ on it, like the plaque says.”


     “You want the truth eh?   I was rich in those days.  Not the richest but I owned the brewery after my husband died.  ‘E ran off and died later, if truth be known.  Where you sit now is where I sat.  My daughter Mary helped me and her friend Sarah from the Smithy.  Plus the menfolk we hired hereabouts to do the little jobs we couldn’t.  And the mill, as it was then. That was mine by inheritance. So you see I was rich enough. Paid me way, didn’t need finery but could’ve.   

     I could read and write through having been taught by the vicar. He always had his eye on me, from too young an age.  Taught me letters and numbers well enough but when he tried to teach me more. …… I taught meself with the Brewers son.  Marriage and death are all but one so it happened.  There I was, a rich widow-woman with a business to run, mill and brewery, and a scarty daughter.  I alone taught me daughter Mary. I needed no man, nor she.

     She was bright and took to running the mill while I stayed in the brewery.  I could cuff the men to keep them right and give better than I got.  Sarah, the smithy’s daughter had a mouth and hand like her father’s but took to Mary and kept the buggers’ hands and mouths off her.  But they looked like angels.  Both on ‘em.”


Her father held up a hand in surrender  as Angel removed her hand from his mouth.  They sat with assorted smiles and head shaking as the vicar slowly,  ceremoniously raised his beer mug to the bar. “It’s a longish, shortish story but here’s the gist.   At the beginning of the Civil War, here, Burnthorpe was in the middle of neither side but both Cavalier and Cromwell, or rather Puritans, quite fancied a prosperous little village as it was, even then, so would make forays into town. They never did much actual harm.  They took it in turns to visit, as it were. In between linking various yeomanry or cavalry units of whichever  side to wherever their main army was.  Down to Oxford probably but generally not here.   She……”

     “Annie Rooker!”

“Owned the brewery and the old mill on Rookery Hill”

“It’s from her name then, I thought it was because of the birds there!”  Angel spoke.

“Here is where you get the short version”, continued her father, “At the last spasm of the Civil War the village was ‘hosting’  a straggle of seriously loyal Royalists, seriously Royal too if you will forgive the way I put it.”   He looked around but the studied silence meant continue.

“A unit of the Model Army under the command of a somewhat ferocious major sat themselves the other side, below the summit of Rookery Hill and scouted the town, well, village.  As the mill was handy they broke in and raided the food store and took both young woman captive.    That we know because it was their story after the event.  Cromwell’s lot then planned to attack, ‘sack’, was the term the girls used; the village. ‘Lay it waste’.  I believe Mary said.  I didn’t know they did such thing.  I assumed the Model Army was just that.”

     “Don’t believe it, all men sink to animals and worse when their blood’s up and their hands is red!”

“The upshot was that the girls escaped.  On purpose or not the mill got set on fire.  Perhaps they set the fire to escape, maybe just an accident.  Sarah, or one of them, bashed a couple of men with a pole or some such to get past the guard.    With the mill quickly bursting into flame behind them they escaped down the hill and crashed their way into the brewery.  Well, this place. The brewery was this building and the outhouses.  I s’pose they drank in this very room and whatever they called the lounge.”  He directed his beer hand at the connecting room and took another, finishing swallow.

“More beer, more beer for more story!” He pleasantly appealed.

     “They were caught, besmirched and tied by thugs. They wasn’t soldiers despite their uniforms or their religion.  It was that very smithy’s son that set his sister and Mary free, who set the fires for the village folk to see they were about to be attacked. God save ‘im; as ‘e did.    Yes, Sarah smacked a man about the head with a broom handle.  Brave maid!  And they came down the hill, shoutin’, yellin’.   Where was the Watch in the church tower?  Why was no warning sounded?  He wasn’t asleep, he was well-bribed!”

“So, it ended up like a Viking raid, there was plenty of those in this area, well, here.  The major got mad.  Sent his men down to do as much damage as they could despite no one in the village being armed or had ever cared to put up any resistance at any time over those years.  As far as I have read.

Well, they ransacked all the houses, drank this place dry.  It was the brewery but a ‘drinking-hall’ as the Vikings might have called it.”          He took a sip of his replacement beer.

“Then it got too savage.  They did the usual trick of stabling themselves in the churchyard and quartering in the church itself.  The major commandeered this place for himself and a couple of henchmen.”    Vicar looked at his watch. He was enjoying his storytelling too much and was creeping into the long version.   ” Sorry, I am getting too old for this story. I am going to be really brief, assuming you just want the ending.”

Angel put a hand on her father’s shoulder and in mock tiredness said, “Why was the LadyChapel built? And the stained window?   Otherwise we will all be asleep.  You can tell us the gory details another day, if we really need to know.”

     “Gory! I had gory, I saw gory. I saw death no one should be witness to”

“The soldiers stayed a few days, a week or so.  Have you heard of Mathew Hopkins?  He was there.  At the start or soon after, when, I don’t know.” He paused.  Madelie, at whom the question was aimed, shook her head.

“Mostly known as Witchfinder General, self styled, self appointed. Brilliant at inciting, crowd-baiting and getting his own way.  And finding a witch wherever he looked.  Here, in Burnthorpe he found two.”

Madelie guessed their names “Sarah and Mary.” She nodded as he spoke their names.

     “WItches!  Burnt because they were two women living alone in the mill.  Burnt because they could argue in words bigger than I knew, because she could read and write. So-called trial!  Burnt because they dared to escape and never explained how. Because they defended themselves.  Were stood on faggots, tied together, killed by flame and smoke because they killed a man with a broomstick.  Because they were two loving girls!”

“So-called trial in the church.  Nothing written except it happened.  Sentenced and executed, just outside the church itself.”

“Where the chapel is” Again it was Madelie.

The vicar nodded, finished his latest bitter in a long pull, Adam’s apple jogging as he swallowed.

“No idea where the money actually came from.  Took years.  Annie sold the ruined mill, to a new-rich landowner who gained from the years of war and settlements of the Commonwealth.  She eventually went to London for some months canvassing for compensation.  When she returned she had money but not enough so she petitioned the church, anyone with land and money and begged from everyone in the village. Years it lasted and another trip to London at the Restoration.   The Restoration, bubonic plague and the 1666 fire of London all came and went.  Right after that fire, days after, Annie got permission to build the chapel, found she had money enough to start and pledges from the village to finish the job.”

st-laurance-trimmedHe tapped both hands on the table in a miniature drum roll.     “She wanted a memorial to Mary and Sarah and she didn’t rest until it was done. Twenty five years it took, give or take.  Sold and borrowed everything except this place. She it was that re-named the brewery to the pub name it has now; ‘The Jolly Puritan’.  When she went and died the parish made certain it was finished. Scared not to, some say.”

“There y’go,” he stood up, “and so must I, sermons to write and all that jazz.”  The group all moved, murmured and started to say goodnights.  Busie waved Angel away when she offered to help lock-up so the final trio left with cheerful calls as he bolted the door.  He moved to the other bar to check it was bolted too.  On his return he noticed the Bible that had been knocked to the floor.  He picked it up without comment and placed it on the shelf.

     “I warned them there would be consequences. They brought it on themselves.”

The vicar, ex-major Lamb walked pensively up the lane to the vicarage.  Behind him, strolling more slowly were Angel and Madelie. “Well, at least we know,” said Madelie.  “Three hundred years ago it must have been so different, so tough for Annie, Mary, Sarah and the others.”

“I still find it tough most of the time,” Angel said, slowed a little and leaned into Madelie’s shoulder.

“Yes, there are rubbish moments,” agreed Madelie. Their fingers linked as they walked on.



a tale from  ‘It Happened in Burnthorpe’

copyright wordparc     J Johnson Smith







Copper Man Turns to Gold

As I have said before, Burnthorpe is a small town of remarkable age with an old history of invasion and creation, followed by invasion and destruction and more to-ing and fro-ing through the Civil War.  Generations of competition as to who were the original settlers, which family surname survived or was  depleted by rank outsiders.

Enclosure had some effect and the early days of Industrialisation meant even closer ties between the outliers of weavers.  Following the advent of cotton mills in the region there was further thinning, or rather distribution, as those more desperate or adventurous moved away for work at those rising cotton factories.

The high hills around the town were scarps of chalk, remnants of the ocean life that covered the area millenniums ago. If you travelled a few miles away and a few hundred feet into those stiff hillsides through the white smokey chalk and flints you would have found the thin seam of coal.  Enough for a peasants winter fires.   Follow it vertically and the seam spread wider into a compressed forest.  Coal that was easy digging and firm enough to rouse local industry.

Water power as good as succumbed to steam except where the milling was fine or the engine housing could not be built on the weavers mill.  The farmers brought in static engines to their timber yards and steam tractor could plough a larger field in a day that might take a man and plough-horse five days.

So the town, with its occupants, ebbed and flowed like the sea, a just-visible line on the horizon from the hilltop.  Always there, always full of undercurrents, flotsam, jetsam and people trying to stay afloat.

The two churches stayed, emptying as the years rolled on. The Elizabethan inn remained, re-daubed and propped up on the old stable wall.  They did not demolish the stables in the yard, they just fell away. The narrow bricks finally crumbling back to their Dutch dust though the Elizabethan oak beams were usefully carried away to their final resting places as heavy mantelshelves, lintels over fireplaces, by an enterprising builder in the mid sixties.

New houses, a new area built almost as a giant lintel itself to support the old market town. Or more like a great balloon of houses with crescents galore sitting along the top line of a capital T and the original High Street the bole with short roots protruding at its base which were the original lanes and footpaths into the depths of the country.  Terraced houses wound up the hillside with their neatly tiled roofs  as a legacy from the early NIneteenth Century.  Always changed but never moved.

So what?

The Burnthorpe and District Local Historical Society was assembled in the large back room of the Jolly Puritan.  Busie Warboys, publican, sat on his high stool behind the bar and absent mindedly wiped the brass edging with a cloth while he listened to the meeting in progress.

The vicar sat back in his chair, cigarette in the fingers of the hand that his chin was resting on. The smoke from the tip of the cigarette curling up into his eyes and hair.  He blinked, shook the half inch ash onto the floor, took a final long draw and stubbed it vigorously into the  saucer by his pint glass.  He was there as a pillar of the society rather than for History, though the Civil War did have some attractions.

Madelie Carew sat beside Walter Copper, the policeman.  Both were regulars to the bar and sat in the meeting as a matter of politeness.  Busie now considered them a bit of an odd couple as they sat together whenever they were both in but never seemed to speak.  One bought the other a drink, the other passed money for a few choices on the juke box that was in the public bar but loud enough to seep into the back-room where they all now sat.

Angel came through the gap between the service area of the bars and collected four bottles of tonic water from the shelves behind the publican said feet.  He fidgeted them out of the way.

Angel looked across at the group and studiously avoided the eyes of Walter.   He was trying to decide if she was old enough to work behind the bar.  Vicar’s daughter or not, it might not be legal.  But then he knew she wasn’t drinking, Busie would see to that, so maybe just knowing where she was was enough.

The librarian continued talking, “So very little has happened in the last year.  We have re-visited the Danish Camp and done some more measurements to map out the site more fully.  There has been a request that we investigate the old timber yard. It was suggested that we might have an old charcoal burners camp there.”

“More like it is old Joe’s camp fire.”  Walter threw in the comment to break the rhythm more than be useful.

“Not exactly in the yard but up in the woods a bit. There is a small clearing that fits the criteria.”

“Is that where they did the training during the war?  I recall there was exercises all round there. Caused havoc with getting the timber out.”

“That was the 14-18 war?”  Queried the librarian.

“No, ’44, it was.  Mind you timber was a bit ropey anyway, only useful as logs, most of it.”  The gamekeeper, Sam Roach, was the fount of knowledge on his acreage, attending the meetings as a duty to his work and his employer.  Big, bluff and ruddy outdoor complexion he was a stalwart of the village.  The vicar, as the others did, knew him also as a deputy undertaker and pall-bearer.  Despite his size and strength when dressed in the sombre black of his second trade he was a symbol of consideration and care. In the fields he could wring a neck in the flick of a wrist but beside a grave his handshake wrought nothing but sincerity and consolation.

Several others sat in a half-circle set away from the main table, each man and woman a mainstay of the Society too, but as they lived in the new town and visited the Jolly Puritan only for such meetings they had felt honour-bound to take the outer seats.  Anyway, they were nearer the door so could make their excuses to leave when the business was done.

Last round the table was Lady Matilda, widow of the late estate owner……..SIr Mortimer  Rissome.  She was a loyal supporter of the Historical Society, especially where the research entailed  members traipsing across her acreage or entering the old estate church now seemingly buried in its own private copse of bramble and ivy.  And tonight it seemed the old timber yard was even considered particular in maybe having a remnant of charcoal burners.  “Hardly historic”, she thought of this last item.  She looked across fondly to the gamekeeper and was sure he would look out for the estate and herself. Then returned her mind to the librarians reporting voice.

“So we ought to continue writing up the results from the Danish Camp for the County Records and get together a group to investigate the charcoal burners site.”

“You might find it wuz gypsies”. Said a voice from the back row.

“Maybe, but no harm in checking the site.”  Replied the librarian, “A couple of us can volunteer to visit there.”

Lady Matilda closed her eyes briefly and sighed quietly.

“I will have a careful poke around if you like. Said Walter, realising too late his wording could have been better for the librarian, ” My beat takes me up there so an extra ten minutes ferreting about wont be missed”.  More errors in choice of language, maybe.  Heignored the warming glow spreading into his neck.   ” I will read up on it, and take notes.”   Hoping this would retrieve the situation for the librarian.

“Thanks, just a careful recce. then.  We can get a full group up there after you have reported back”

Matilda’s eyes closed briefly again to hide her heavenward look.

The meeting drew to its anticlimactic end.  The librarian replaced his briefcase, the outlanders called out cheery goodbyes as they slid out.  Sam Roach held the door open for Lady Matilda to follow her to the car in which he chauffeured her home and the librarian downed the last half of his beer and rushed out to get home in time for his radio programme.

“Last orders everyone. Get Busie busy for once” the vicar raised his voice and glass as a sign for refills and went to stand at the bar.  Busie pulled him a pint. Vicar dropped silver and copper coins onto the slop-mat.

“I’m off home.”  Said Madalie.

“I’ll do the same.” Said Walter. They both called goodnight as the door closed on them.

The Puritan, swinging on his sign above, one side with hand on a Bible, other side with hand firmly on a tankard, rocked gently and wondered when the young man and woman walking down the short steep to the road would start listening to each other.  He took a crafty pull from the tankard and tucked the Bible more firmly under his arm.


PC Walter Copper called out for Joe as he rounded into the old yard.  Surprisingly Joe was not around so Walter abandoned his bike to the ground, called out again to no reply and so decided to wander into the trees in search of the charcoal-burners remains.

He followed the directions in his notebook from the recent meeting.  There was no need really as he had been there several times before to quiet the local youths having there late night party and bonfire.  Oddly enough, it seemed to have been exactly the same place as the old charcoal pit was alleged to be.    Looking around the black scarred circle, the bare earth with its tussocks scattered about and the few old logs was depressing enough. The beer bottles and a couple of the new seven pint beer tins, all empty, were scattered about. A few screwed up bags and paper plus a plentiful supply of cigarette butts complimented the scene.

“Charcoal burners aren’t what they used to be”, he tutted.  He had no real idea of what to look for but found the semi-clearing just into the woods they had talked of.  The big black circle that dipped into the ground had obviously had years of  fires in it but whether it was a slow burn, carefully stoked by watchful burners or just where years of men had kept themselves warm between cutting the war- timber, he had no idea.  Bits of rubbish spread even here and he collected some of the more obvious cartons and match boxes from the scattered area of undergrowth and threw them into the centre of the ash-black circle.

At the further end of the clearing, if you could call it that, he found three large stones sitting in the ground that reached knee height.  They were surrounded by tall wild ferns and lichen covered the tops and sides like thick velvet and only visible as he stood beside them and bent down to remove fern spores from his uniform trousers.  He stood straight, hands on hips and studied them.

Too large and heavy to be your average or just old gravestones.  Too small to match the towns symbolic large boulder at the end of the HIgh Street yet could be as old and as oddly placed. Three, close together would be a coincidence too far for dear old Mother Nature, he thought.

It’s not an outcrop. Not part of a building as far as he could judge.

He looked around for more. Parting the ferns with rustles and more spores clinging to the serge of his trousers.

‘Dammit’ he said, looking at the myriad of green spores clinging to his legs, bent down and tried to brush them off.  Bent lower as he found he had to pick them off, one by one.  He sat down on the end stone and twisted the nearest stalk out of his way, out of the ground. The first came easily so he pulled at another to get them away from his clothes, it too flicked out of the ground easily, the clump of root flinging the layer of loose mulch around.  One more cleared and he could sit and pick the green spots off his legs. With the confidence of previous success he grabbed two close stalks with both hands, fronds waving in his face and pulled mightily.  They flew out of the ground and the sudden release of their tension  flung him backwards.  The change of angle from shoulder to hip, the auto-countering reaction of his body and the lush deep padding of the slippery lichen surface sent him crashing onto the ground, face down onto stalks and fern leaves and all.

Your perspective changes quite radically when you are suddenly lying on your side.  In Walters case he could see the skeletons of curled ferns and the rising stems of this year’s growth.  To his surprise he even noticed a few ants progressing up one of them to the black aphids secreting at the branch of the leaf and a lone ant descending from them, clambering over the ascending ants with no thought that it might be vertically challenging.  He twisted onto his knees, mentally checked that he wasn’t hurt more than he was embarrassed.  Hesitated as to whether to grab at a stone to haul himself up or just push up off the ground. Looking to put his hands in a flat, cleanish place he picked at a small stone that dug into his palm.  ” Flint most likely”.

Walter could have moved his hand an inch or two but the complex of curiosity, a stubborn eccentricity as to why he should move one hand from his chosen spot (!) and the shape of the flint encouraged him to scrape at the dirty stone.  Determined, he took out his jack-knife and applied the tool for taking stones out of horses hoofs.  “One day I will learn what it is called, might even use it on a horse if the worst really happens,” he muttered as he prodded and scraped a hole round the seemingly growing flint.

He never minded the dirt on his knees or the scores of bobbed spores all over his uniform but looked around carefully before he stood up.  Shutting the tool away with a spring-snap and shoving it into his pocket, he then took out his handkerchief and wrapped the object.  It was blackened with the ingrained mulch and charcoal dust, the size of a large coin.  Convexed each side with caked mud and the size of a cartwheel penny.  Which was his guess as it was quite heavy but did not feel as solid as flint.  Checking that no one was watching, he stuffed the protected token into his tunic pocket.  A quick brush of his knees and he strolled back through the trees to the path and his bicycle.  Climbed on and pedalled on the road home. Whistling as he pedalled, returning the wave of the woman in her garden hanging washing out.


At a special meeting of the Historical Society they all sat round the small table, tightly shoulder to shoulder so they could all get a clear view.

“It will have to go to the Coroner.”

“It’s a museum piece.” Confirmed the librarian.

“Where did you find it?” Asked Matilda.

“I was looking at the charcoal burner site.  Found by accident really.”

“So it was on the estate, then.”

“It will be in the report to the Coroner, I shouldn’t say more exactly in case people get wind of it.  It looked like a gathering of the clans up there with all the rubbish.”

“It’s the party-place.” Put in Angel from behind the bar. “Everyone goes there for a drink and a bash in the summer, most weekends anyway. ”

“I didn’t know that,” said Walter.

“Everyone else does.” Said the vicar.

Walter picked up the the object.  ” It was black with dirt.  I assumed it was an old copper coin. One of those large penny things you might get at a jumble sale.”  He turned it in his hand so the lights from the electric candles in the candelabra above their heads could catch the amber set in its centre. The insect inside seemed to wriggle a little at the movement.

“I washed it in the sink and thought it was some sort of copper clasp but that colour washed off as I rubbed it.  Well, shaving brush and soaped it.  Anyway, the green bits floated away and a bit more warm water finished up with this.”  He weighed it in his hand and they all looked harder, as if it had cleaned itself as he spoke.

“It’s not copper, its Viking gold”  said the librarian.  “I think it is a clasp for a cloak, that is why it is so big.  And when I looked at illustrations in the library I am certain it is a Viking design.  It looks Celtic but the dragons heads and twining round the stone are similar to confirmed Viking designs.”

“Is it worth much?”  Asked Matilda.

“In itself?  Maybe if it can be linked to a king or somebody particular. Obviously a few pounds but most importantly if it can be linked to Burnthorpe history in some way and not just a bit of lost property it will be valuable to the town”.

“Well, I suppose we will have to wait and see. Have a proper look at the site.”  Said Walter, putting the clasp back on the table.

“I can see the headlines now,” said Busie, ” local copper cleans up in Burnthorpe”

“Maybe: ‘Copper clasps gold at last’ ”

“Amber lights for golden copper”

“P.c’s copper becomes Viking gold”

“Copper turns up gold”

“Copper wants another drink!”  Walter picked up the clasp, stood and moved to the bar to forestall any more headlines.















Madelie Carew in Idol days


Sitting cross-legged, waiting patiently, he looked across the room.  He had been waiting for quite some time, but then time was immaterial for some things.

In the opposite corner sat Madelie.  Short-cropped, raggedly cut black hair that paled her face.  Each of her full lips was reddened from being sucked in between her teeth and pressed, thoughtlessly, until the pain automatically rejected that lip and her listlessness sucked in the other to repeat the process.

She sighed again and put a hand to the gold stud in her ear, thumb pressing on the pin at the back and index finger rubbing on the jade stone at the front.  She pulled at the lobe, cartilage strained and at that stress she stopped.  Pushed both hands down into the large bean-bag she was sitting on and with the rushing sound of the polystyrene balls shifting in the giant bag she stood up from cross-legged to vertical in one swift, decisive action.  Madelie looked over to the corner at the silent figure waiting patiently for her.

“Okay, you win.” she felt like a little girl again, defiantly doing what she knew she should but pretending to herself it was under coercion.  She ignored the figure as she stomped past and into her bedroom.  The noise of her dragging drawers open and slamming them shut.  Wardrobe door slid with a crash into it’s recess and back again a few seconds later.  She muttered to herself as she struggled into the purple T-shirt, catching it’s neck on an earring with a squeal in her hurry and temper.  She sat on the bed to put feet into tight trousers and as she raised them up, standing, in order to pull them tight to the crutch and over her hips.  She did not check herself in the mirror but grabbed the black hooded fleece and strode out of the room.  In the passageway she stopped and bent slightly as she put the two ends of the zip together and pulled the tag to her chin then lowered it an inch.

She felt eyes on her but ignored the feeling, using her anger as a shield, walked, blinkered to where her boots lay tumbled on the floor.  Pulled them on.  Stamped each foot into place and stood still, captured by the frame of the window and the scorched orange curtains presenting the view outside.  It was empty.  Still empty. Still and empty, not even a dog sniffing at the bins.  The street was flat and calm, the houses opposite were mostly black and gaunt windowed.  Two houses had zinc plates shuttering their windows and where their front doors.  Behind this first parade, above their roofs, was layered, row over row of slated rooves as the streets stepped up the hill behind.  Each terrace threading, curving round the hill, held some forty houses, all linked by their grey black spines and cherry red bricks. Madelie saw them as giant dragons, red scaled and grey winged, waiting.

Waiting for what?  She had no idea.  She looked down the road and at the green motte that seemed to straddle the end of the road, the end of the town.  It used to be her magic mountain.  Her black slag of a mountain with spiders creeping along their thin silken threads to hover over the peak and then rewind their way back down as others followed and completed their own obeisance before retreating to the lower station.

The mountain dream was gone but the dragons lay there still.

Why should he say anything?  She knew all she needed, would do what she would. He may seem indifferent, others might say ‘kismet’ or at a push compassionate but he did not believe in such things.  Why not drag others into the equation?  Why bother?  He was just being himself, sitting in the corner.  Being.

Madelie grimaced at the silent dragons and spun round from the window.  As she moved the sun slipped into a window opposite and the reflection, like a flashing eye, caused an amber glint in her own.  She folded her arms and stood briefly as a living statue.  The door, the front door with its shimmered glass, waited for her decision.

“No thinking, just do it.”

With a burst of determined energy she moved to and opened the door wide, stepped back and picked up the statuette from the floor and scooped it with both arms to secure it.  Out on the step she had to twist round and stretch out a hand to finger-grab the inside lip of the letterbox to pull the door closed.  The statuette slipped and she had to catch it as its weight seemed to increase. The same energy pushed her down the short path and through the old brick columns that used to support the long-gone gate and turned her up the slightly inclined footpath.  Madelie, arms crooked round the heavy body, walked briskly up the slope and the low sun followed her from along the top of the dragon’s spines.

The sun had any warmth knocked out as she walked up the hill, “North, to the mountains”, she spoke, habitually, as she pushed herself at speed up the steepening slope.  “Well, it used to be”, she corrected herself.  This, as she walked past the old mid-terrace with its wooden name board and its poker-burned words: “Khatmandu”.

Many years ago when the miner’s terraces were first built some young and eager couple had re-imagined the view of the slag-heap. Time had passed and the houses and the people had aged and crumpled. The sign was split and black from years of weather and coal-dust; each letter, once indented, was now sealed with the grime of a lifetime.  Madelie, as a child had always skipped past this house with its mysterious far-away name and had joined in the imagination of that unknown family.  She too had dreamily seen those distant snow-capped mountains climbing into the clouds.  “And now there’s a grassy lump, pretty but grassy!”

She hesitated and readjusted her grip.  Her fingers, now cold, slipped on the curves and the weight pressed onto her hip uncomfortably like an overweight child. The weight, the cold and the hill had slowed her.  She stopped, pulled it up so the head of the statue tucked under her chin and shrugged it tighter to her chest then was off again, trying to regain her earlier momentum, determination.

The terrace leaned round the hill and Madelie followed.  The sun descended behind the sleeping dragons as she struggled onward.  Nearly there and the weight in her arms was almost too much.  Numbed hands with the chill wind and now cracking lips while the fixed hug forced the golden shoulder into her heart, or so it felt.  She stopped where the light flooded out of the window, washed through the open door.  One final hesitation and she stepped through the space and into open area of the take-away.  The blue fly-catching light perched above the shelf on the wall and flickered towards the shelf full of sundries.  Bottles of vinegar, cans of drink, jars of pickled onions and boxes of cheap serviettes lined along it.

A television sat on the high counter offering soundless soap stories.  Newspapers of the day lay half read beside it.  At the other end of the counter was a calendar propped against the wall next to a pale circle on the surface of the plastic.

The owner looked up at the young woman rushing to the counter and smiled.

Madelie hoisted the statue and manoeuvred him into his old position next to the calendar.  She hadn’t meant to cry, it was the chill wind as she rounded the corner. Setting him at his accustomed position she stood and left her frozen hands adrift on the counter.  Madelie Carew turned her head to the woman before her, blinked to focus and shook slightly, shook her head disbelievingly and managed to croak,  “I stole him.  I stole him?  It just happened.”

She looked down at her hands, “I brought him back.” She bit her lip as she glanced across at the yellow face and green eyes that had watched her for the last few days, “I stole him.”

The old woman continued smiling and put one hand reassuringly on Madelie’s.

“No. He borrowed you.”



from   ‘It Happened in Burnthorpe’

copyright wordparc   J Johnson Smith

Madelie Carew, a brief description

Straight into the mirror, eye to eye, unflinching.  She looked into the black cores of her pupils.  Relaxing slightly her view widened as did her pupils and took in the amber of the iris and the whiteness of her sclerata.
Her focus expanded, flickered over her curled eyelashes and pink lids and followed the arch of her eyebrows, dark and plucked into a point where they highlighted the space between and the bridge of her nose.  A good, straight ridge that ended in a small, acceptable snub which had an annoying off-centre crease over the dainty bulge to lean over and fade into the slightly flared nostrils.  If she raised her head she felt they gaped but holding straight, face to face, she could imagine the nostrils as small, gently curved shells that sat delicately above the skeins of fine hair that added depth to her upper lip and the tweak, the uprising, of the still-red lip, full-curved out and down to balance with the the lower lip and it’s slightly fuller pad.  She twitched her right check and her lips responded.  She twitched the other and her image reacted.  Still absorbed, she snarled silently and bared her teeth.  Neat, white, large.  She inspected the array and rested her lips.

She shook her head violently and water sprayed around from her chopped black hair.  Spikes pushed away from her ears while other hair clung shortly on her forehead and a bead of water slicked down via tear duct.  Down the beck between cheek and shell, sliding to the corner of her now pressed lips, slipping the curve of the dimple-less chin to hang in wonder, reflecting light as a minute snow-globe.

Madelie raised her left arm and with flat hand washed down the condensation on the mirror from top to bottom, waved away the image.


from  ‘It Happened in Burnthorpe’

J Johnson Smith,  Wordparc copyright  2019