He Mistook His Existence For Life

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It was a mistake that was easily made.

I’d walked a short distance from the bus carrying two suitcases (I’d long since learned that two small suitcases were less of a burden than one large one).

A friend, who wasn’t expecting me, lived around here — I just wasn’t sure exactly where. My confusion was of no matter, I have the ability to find my destination, and there is nothing mysterious about the process. I simply walk around, smiling at people and looking for familiar landmarks. On a larger scale, it worked for me when I drove a car. These days, there are insufficient funds for a wheeled vehicle, so I wear out shoe leather.

When the war ended, I stayed in Europe.

There was nothing for me back home.

My parents were passed, and my girl ran off with a Real Estate agent. My aunty misses me, but she has a family of her own to keep her company.

I teach English to businessmen and children of wealthy parents, and I get by.

Things don’t interest me much.

As long as there are books and wine and occasionally, women, I’m happy. My way of living, for that is what it is — living, confuses my friends back home. When the guns fell silent, they could not wait to go back to their old lives. Old lives! How could anyone go back after what we have seen?

It has to be said that I didn’t notice her at first, I was scanning at ground level, looking at faces to see if I recognised anyone.

I was here about a year ago, and my reason was the same as it is today — the library.

The staff here managed to move all of the ancient texts to safety during the conflict. The frontlines were hard to define, and at times it was only a few miles away, before being pushed back. Those were tense times for the people who had lived here all their lives. We, on the other hand, had come from far away. Even the local troops were from other regions. The townspeople treated us like heroes — we weren’t, but it felt good. We were just trying to stay alive in a country that was not at all like our own.

The lady in the white gown, in the high window, was a woman who had lived her life in luxury. One by one, she lost most of the people she loved. Every year, she stands in the window of her apartment wearing the dress she was to wear on her wedding day.

Her man did not come home. If he had, she may not have recognised him, loved him, wanted him, but we will never know.

A love lost in such a melancholy way is a love that endures.

When I wasn’t tutoring, I was reading in the ancient library. The staff knew me by sight, and I was allowed access to books that were usually only available to scholars sent out from the Vatican. “Don’t tell anyone,” said the head librarian who had lost his only son in the war.

When the library was closing, he would gently place his hand on my shoulder and say, “Antonio, we are closing up now.”

My name isn’t Antonio — I never corrected him. It isn’t polite to correct and old man. I never asked, but I had a good idea who Antonio might have been.

If there wasn’t a student to teach, I’d head for the cafe on the corner, the one with the parrot in the window.

I have several favourite spots, but the table by the window is my preferred dining place.

The owner makes incredible meals, and as long as the ingredients don’t involve seafood, I leave it to her to feed me. “What you got against seafood Michael?” she would say, at least once a week. “The same thing I had against it the last time you asked Etienne, I don’t eat anything that can look at me,” I’d say, and she’d laugh every time.

The cafe has an excellent cellar which mysteriously survived the larcenous behaviour of the soldiers stationed here during the war.

I rarely drink white wine, but the whites that Etienne has squirrelled away are to die for, so occasionally, during warm weather, I break my ‘only red wine’ rule.

Etienne will not say which bakery supplies her bread, and I don’t understand her reticence. The bread, with well-salted butter, could be a meal in itself and often is.

“Why you only eat bread today, Michael?”

“Because it is so good and it reminds me of you; warm and crusty,” and again she laughs at my words.

“If I were thirty years younger,” she would say.

“I wouldn’t have been born yet, so I wouldn’t make much of a lover.” This time there is only a smile.

Once in awhile the lady in the white dress, would come into the cafe and we’d dine together. She’d tell me about her fiancé, and I would talk to her about my books and my life on the other side of the world.

The first time I saw her standing in her window, resplendent in her wedding dress, I thought her behaviour was unusual, to say the least. The villagers seemed to understand where I only wondered.

In a world torn apart by war, there was understanding and compassion for a neighbour who had lost all the things that mattered.

All that matters to me is on my back and in my two suitcases — and in my head, of course.

Every day, the things I have learned are slowly pushing out the memories I’d like to forget.

Maybe one day there will be room in there for romance and love, but not just yet.

Dust If I Must

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There are people in this world who can identify dust by its aroma.

Book dust is widely considered to be the most aromatic and most likely to evoke memories.

I mention dust because the house we rented has lots of it.

If the building had been hermetically sealed before we got there I would have wondered how the dust got in, but it wasn’t, and it did. Get in that is.

The house is about as sealed as a sieve.

Don’t think I’m worried about it because I’m not. I’ve never been prissy about such things.

I like the bare floorboards (they’d polish up nicely — hardwood with an attractive grain), and I love old furniture (the house came furnished). The furniture is functional, but not at all stylish — not now nor when it was new, but that’s okay too.

It has an open fireplace and thin pointless curtains which don’t block out the light or give any kind of privacy during the evening hours.

Some bright spark said that dust is mostly made up of discarded human skin particles, but I know this is bollocks. I’ve explored buildings where no human being has ventured for many years, and the place was still full of dust — neatly settled on every available surface.

Renting the house happened on a whim. 

We needed to get away for a while. Someone suggested this country town because of the river and the pine trees and the old general store which doubles as a cafe during the day and a bar at night.

The quietness is deafening. 

I need quiet if I’m going to finish this book, but I worried about Rebecca. Would she be bored? She said not, so I had to believe her.

“I’ve got my sewing and my books, and it looks like a great place to go for long walks. I can cook and write and play with Billy (our small dog). That is if he can drag himself away from you. He really is the perfect writer’s dog,” said Rebecca, and I had to agree. “You finish your book, and we will look back on this time as being special.”

Billy, the dog, wandered into my life a couple of years ago when I was sitting at the garden table — I’d left the back gate open, and he took it as an invitation. He curled up next to me and went to sleep. It turned out that he belonged to the Mitchell family from Bent Street, about half a kilometre away. They had six children all under ten years old, and the little dog was exhausted from the morning’s chaos, so he came to my house to get a bit of peace.

Once I worked out where he was from, I left the gate open for him each morning.

When the Mitchells split up, Mrs Mitchell asked if I’d like to have Billy, “I’m taking the kids to my family in Queensland, and I don’t think Billy will enjoy the heat.”

I said yes, I would like to keep Billy and he’s been with me ever since.

Acquiring Rebecca was another matter entirely. Billy had a bit to do with it.

Rebecca worked for the local pet groomer, and I bought Billy’s dog food from them. Billy’s not the kind of dog who needs a lot of grooming, but he is small and white (except for the black bits), and he has a disarming smile.

Rebecca offered to trim his nails, which needed it even though he wore them down while walking with me every day.

I checked with Billy, and he seemed okay with the idea, so I handed him over. After that, he veered violently into the dog groomers every time we walked by. Rebecca would see us and come out from the back of the shop and pet Billy, who squirmed up against her loving touch. I wondered how Rebecca’s boss felt about these frequent trips, but I guess she was happy to put up with us because of all the expensive dog food that Billy consumed.

I’d been living on credit in the house my aunty bequeathed to me, and things were getting a bit grim when I sold the film rights to my first book. That gained me a bit of attention, and my publisher (I use the term loosely — about as helpful as tits on a bull) decided to reissue my first three books and actually put a bit of money into promoting them.

I paid off my debts with the proceeds of the film deal and suggested that Rebecca might want to join Billy and me in a spot of celebration.

Fortunately, she said yes, and the rest you can probably guess.

My publisher set a deadline for my latest literary effort. Rebecca is happy being my muse, Billy is happy to have Rebecca living with us and I’m just flat out happy.

This dusty little house is going to be our residence for a few months, and while we are here, we will make it our home.

It’s getting a bit chilly, so I’d better light the fire. 

Billy loves it when I light the fire.

Comfortable Old Armchair

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My grandfather loved books, and I think he loved me almost as much.
I know I loved him.
I can still remember the feeling of squashing down next to him in that comfortable ancient armchair.
No one sat in that chair except my grandfather. It wasn’t because we were scared of him or anything like that, it was just that it was his chair and to sit there without him in it, didn’t seem right.
I was working overseas when my grandparents died; one after the other with only days between them.
It wasn’t the kind of job that I could up and leave, so by the time I was back in the country, there wasn’t a physical sign that they had ever been here on this Earth. Their ashes had been scattered, and their house emptied and sold.
Indecent haste was how I phrased it.
“Where the fuck were you while all the work was being done?” was their reply. I guess I pissed my father off because he wouldn’t tell me what had happened to my grandparent’s furniture. It was the armchair that I was really interested in, but I guess it was landfill or in some op-shop warehouse somewhere. I hoped that it had been purchased by a house full of uni students. I could see a nineteen-year-old female English Literature student curled up with a tattered old copy of something by Somerset Maugham. Possibly, ‘The Razor’s Edge’. Yes, that would be good.
My grandfather introduced me to the delights of Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stephenson in equal measure. He didn’t treat me like a little girl, he saw only a curious, young person who had fallen in love with the worlds that existed between the pages of a book.
He had the most beautiful husky voice, and sitting close to him was like sitting in an old dusty closet. He was warm even in winter, and I got the feeling that it was because of some kind of inner glow caused by his love of books.
He always read me books that were a bit above my understanding, and I think that was on purpose. He would smile when I asked him what a particular word meant, and he would sometimes get me to run my finger over the word as he explained its meaning.
I collect bookmarks because he did.
I give books as presents because he said it was a wise thing to do.
His heroes were authors, and mine are too.
He thought that reading was as essential as writing, and so do I.
We will meet again someday, but for now, I have to be the person he wanted me to be, and I need to find a comfortable old armchair so I can sit and read and remember.

New Book: BORIS and the Rising Sun Hotel

So BORIS has an official launch date, December 22nd 2018. This will be the cover for the audiobook and the middle bit is the book cover. It is available now for pre-order.

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Boris lives in the KEEPER OF SECRETS universe.
Susan encounters him in the first book of the series and in SECRETS KEPT we get to know a bit more about him.
He is always there when Susan meets with ‘Backdoor Barry’, silently doing his job. Sometimes lipreading the mute old TV set, sometimes tending to his bartender duties. A quiet observer of everything that goes on at the Rising Sun Hotel.
When I finished the second book in this series, I couldn’t help wondering what was happening in Boris’ life when we were not around. Has he been a part of Barry’s adventures? Was he around when that chair acquired its famous bullet hole? Does he have a romantic interest?
As you can see, these questions needed to be answered.
Boris is more than just a bit part player in Susan Smith’s adventurous life — Boris has a life of his own.

DECEMBER 22nd 2018

Secrets Kept

More than two years in the making. The sequel to KEEPER OF SECRETS is due for publication on July 18th, 2018. The continuing adventures of Daisy and her granddaughter Susan. Daisy’s diaries inspire Susan to lead a secret life of adventure. Money, danger and a sense of freedom drive Susan. Daisy became a spy because her country needed her — Susan steals secrets because she wants to. These women, living in different centuries, are connected by the mysterious Keeper of Secrets.

Find out why Backdoor Barry prefers the dingy pub in Richmond as his office. Discover how Boris the barman fits into tight spaces. Learn the secret that Susan’s neighbour wants to be kept hidden. Will the time traveller return from who knows where? Will Susan’s typing skills keep her out of trouble? Does Daisy succeed in paying back her debt to the deadly Canadians? Is Precious enough for Terry or will he fall for the widowed librarian?

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JULY 18th, 2018