STORY OF THE MONTH
by Steve Slatter
An English summer’s day. Hampshire, golden-green. Flat shadows and whispering air in the oaks. The sound of crows and the lazy gravel of the car park I’ve stopped in. The drone of an A road in the distance, funnelling trippers to and from the coast. The rattle of a freight train dragging wearily from Southampton docks, miles off, yet in the still air, it seems as if it’s next to me. England again at last. Holiday tours, brief encounters and cream teas. England wandering as a ghost, always in her yesterdays, reminding me of my own favourite yesterday, too.
I’m back here for the first time in ten years, driving aimlessly on a vacation that started with the desperation of an escape from yet another disastrous relationship. Girls who just want to own me seem to be endless. I should have known where I would finish the week. The very same New Forest car park. The one where a local girl named Lynette and I watched a truckload of racing pigeons released into a cloudless sky a decade ago. Circling two or three hundred metres up, orienting themselves, before heading back north towards their homes. The address on the truck read ‘Blackburn, Lancashire’.
We kissed here for the first time.
“Lynette, ich lieb’ dich.” I slipped into my native tongue, unawares. She smiled. Our words became international, before silence fell and our caresses gained an unstoppable urgency. Darkness came, and under its cover and the heather’s, we finally made love, celebrating the luxury of a togetherness that promised to be forever.
The next day it rained and the news came that my mother had been taken ill. I cut my studies and my love-life short to return to Hamburg for her last few months – and the inevitable funeral. By then, Autumn had come, cold and grey, and I was persuaded to enrolL in a local college instead of returning to England. Father needed me, it seemed. And Lynette never wrote to tell me she did, too.
And now, impossibly the dream girl is here again. Straw hair tied up, a swishing summer dress of pink roses and chintz to her knees. Slender-bodied still, despite the extra years. A full woman now, when I knew only the student. Beside her a child. Hand in hand. Long golden hair, and a straight face like mine. Something reminiscent also in her stride. I feel a lurch of inexplicable joy to see the child beside her mother.
I get out of the Merc. Lynnette spots me at once. I assume the German registration plates have already drawn her gaze. I watch her face empty of blood as it fills with emotion, and I know she has remembered me too. I am not mistaken about her.
“How odd. You’re here. Wolfgang?” she says without breath, or grammar.
“Der bin ich,” I say. That’s me.
“This is my daughter, Gotti,” she says recovering some composure. Her eyes sparkle as always.
“It’s short for Gotthilde,” says the smaller version of her mother.
“A strange name for a little English girl. But a beautiful one. Echt Deutsch.” Genuine German.
“I’m not so little,” she says. “I was nine in April. And I can ride a pony as well as any twelve-year-old.”
Her palm feels like a kitten in mine, as we stroll the glade beside the car park, heather still the same as it was. The little girl’s hand is soft and warm and alive. It belongs in mine.
“How old are you, Wolfgang?”
“Don’t be rude, Gotti. You don’t ask adults their age,” says Lynette.
But I laugh. I tell her I am thirty-one. Only the way I pronounce it makes the girl laugh too. “Zirty-Vun.”
“Are you foreign, Wolfgang?”
“He’s from Germany, Gotti. Now, no more impertinent questions, OK?”
“I’m driving the Merc back to Harwich overnight,” I say. “I sail for Hamburg tomorrow.”
I watch Lynette’s face. I’m pleased to see it fall.
“Mummy, when’s Daddy coming home? I want to ride Gladiator out.”
“He’s working late tonight, Gotti.”
“Again? He’s always working late. Can’t he work early one night, instead?”
Lynette laughs. “Honey, no. ‘Working late’ is just a euphemism. Actually, Daddy won’t be back tonight at all. He has a friend he’s staying with in town. You can ride out alone for one night, as long as you don’t go too far and come back before dark, OK? Maybe tomorrow I’ll ride with you.”
“Mummy, what’s a euphemism?”
“I’ll let Wolfgang tell you on the way back to the house.”
“But I thought Wolfgang was driving back to Germany tonight.”
“Not necessarily tonight, Gotti. Maybe he won’t be going back till the morning.”
“Maybe not even then,” she mouths at me over our daughter’s head.
I smile at her and squeeze Gotthilde’s hand. It’s as if the frozen decade is already melting.
Steve Slatter is 52 years old. He is married and has one teenage son. He lives in the New Forest in Hampshire , England . He worked for many years as a freelance computer professional. Now he is enjoying semi-retirement, writing keeps him busy.
CONGRATULATIONS, STEVE! WE LOVED YOUR BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN STORY! NOW, TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF!
R. I have had short stories published online by Flash Fiction Offensive and Hackwriters Magazine,among others. I have won prizes for two stories: "Case of Merlot" (fifth in a Clarity of Night competition), "Bar Libertad" (third in a reader’s choice competition in Delivered Magazine). My story, "Alphabet Soup", is included in the Gold Dust Anthology, available at Amazon and Lulu.
Q. What would you want our readers to know about you?
R. I’m quite a reclusive person. In any roomful of people, I’m the one in the corner observing the others.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?
R. Genres? Hmm. I have written some noir thriller stories, but I usually seem to avoid genres, and just write about characters that interest me.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
R. Interesting characters that behave in a realistic manner are more important than intricate plots.
Q. How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
R. Ha. Well, that’s not so easy to say. I guess the characters just come to me from somewhere. The plots usually evolve from the characters’ interactions with one another.
Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?
R. I watch football and play poker. I also cook and eat quite a lot.
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
R. What inspires me? Nature, people showing their hidden strengths, music, poetry. I don’t have any specific heroes. I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick, Elmore Leonard and Agatha Christie.
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
R. I’ve always got several stories on the go. Oh, and at least two unfinished novels.
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
R. I don’t find anything frustrating about writing. Most rewarding is finishing a story and knowing that it works.
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
R. Make the characters as real as possible. Write about them in scenes containing dialogue and description intermingled. Let the reader get to know the characters just as they would if they were real people. Don’t tell me what their inner feelings and opinions are, let me find it.
Q. What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
R. Write as much as you can and find someone who will give you honest feedback.