Friday 25 August 2023

Dog walk stories. Number 1

I've probably gone on about this before - the fact that I'm a writer who is finding it difficult to write, not from lack of inspiration but from an annoying face pain complaint which rears up after about fifteen minutes of typing, whether computer old old typewriter, even pen and paper. It's a bit like walking carefully past an open gate knowing there's a pretty nasty dog that could shoot out and maul oneself. I tiptoe past in effect - words issuing forth onto screen watching out for the curled up dog that sleeps but could awake at any moment. If I hesitate too long the dog/pain does wake and hurtles towards me. Time to run, or stop writing in this case.

So . . . one way might be to write small stories rather than immersing myself into a massive story - which I prefer to do, something that needs deep concentration and half hours flashing past. Below is the first of my Dog walk stories. Dog walk, as I have most ideas while walking, and an average dog walk is about half an hour. Time to let a story suggest itself then rattle it out as quickly as possible in a stream of conscious fashion on my return, which I also enjoy. 

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The scratch card.  © Kate A Hardy 

Sam left the canteen with its clatter of china and voices. She took the stairs - not the lift, in order to wear off the cinnamon bun effects. Of course it wouldn't work. You had to run about fifteen miles to forget you ever ate a burger and its associated fat elements, didn't you? or was it ten miles, or three . . . no matter, these days running to catch a bus as it reverberated towards setting off was almost an impossibility, let alone a mile. 

A mile. That's what it was to her new flat. Old flat - very old; part of a mouldering, Victorian, bay windowed, once-elegant house situated in a once-elegant part of London which had somehow been overlooked by ravening developers and estate agents.

Four hours until she could nod a casual goodbye to Sean who worked in the next booth to her. Four hours until she could buy fish and chips to take back to the depressing wallpaper, plastic sofa, reality TV crap . . . and . . . no-one. She could smell the off-white paper packet already, beguiling grease leaching slightly from its so-satisfying contents. 

That bloody sofa. Beige, pretending to be leather, not convincingly - those telltale signs of aging plastic, a certain smell of a churn-em-out factory on the outskirts of Basingstoke, or somewhere. Jon had taken the other one; the Heal's couch squatting self-importantly in palest grey wool. And he'd had taken the decent coffee maker, the good towels, the new printer and himself to a flat on the edge of Battersea - near to where she lived. Bitch.

The four hours passed somehow. She wasn't sure what she actually did anymore. The slinking lines of figures on the rectangle of illuminated glass made no sense, but it must have made sense enough. No-one complained from higher up on the hallowed seventh and eight floors of Snapesville and Crabbet. She glanced up from the screen. People were moving, coats being shuffled on, goodbyes dashed about across carpeted office intersections.

Sam glassily checked and saved whatever she had been doing, scooped her phone into her bag, slipped on her jacket and left the building along with everyone else keening to reach the safety of their own abode, glass of wine in hand, Netflix choices scrolling, tomorrow pushed firmly to back of their collective minds. 

The chippy was quiet, just the eternally cheerful whistling Italian dude cracking the frying basket into the recesses of a stainless steel chip box.

"Heya, love. The usual?"

"Please. And a cold Fanta if you have one."


He whistled. The fat sparked and chuckled in the fryer. People came in and consulted the board, complained cheerfully about the weather. Her order was wrapped with the practice of a million previous orders. He grinned, canine teeth oddly longer than in most mouths, eyes dark rimmed with heavy lashes. She imagined him singing in an ochre-stoned church somewhere hot. She paid. He nodded and handed over the blue plastic bag.


"I will. Thanks."

And she would. Too much. No-one to suggest a few chips could be left - reheated tomorrow. Disgusting but weirdly nice.

He'd forgotten the Fanta. So had she. Too busy wondering about his teeth. The red neon sign of the newsagents zizzed a few paces away morphing the raindrops into garnets. She stepped in and approached the cold drinks fridge, slipping out a beaded can of fizz. The sofa shuffled into her mind again, the thought of sitting on its squeaky surface, holding this cold can was unappealing. The Heal's couch had been warm and inviting - and extremely expensive. Oh for an extra two grand or so . . . or a bit more - new towels, a coffee maker, all the stuff he'd somehow managed to cram into a van that Sunday morning. 

The newsagent turned tired eyes onto the customer before her.


The customer pointed to the shelves behind the weary guy. "Twenty Marlborough, ta . . . and a gold edition scratch." He snorted a quiet laugh, "yer never know, eh?" He took the goods, peering at the card on his way out as if the numbers might reveal themselves mistily through the silver-grey patches. 

Of course, people did win money - just like that. Just like that . . . a quid, then suddenly you had thousands, millions even. She'd had only ever bought a card once, at the start of the whole national lottery thing, quietly convinced that she would be propelled to notoriety with a windfall of some outrageous sum. Nothing, of course. She had flicked the scrap of paper into a bin and dropped the whole idea. Until this moment. Her eyes scanned the choices. Treasure hoard. Golden millions. Champagne life. Super winner. AI dream ticket.

"What's the AI dream ticket?" She asked the newsagent.

He shrugged. "No idea. I just stack the things - new one, I think."

Dreaming was for her. "I'll take one of those, thanks."

Out in the street the rain had changed to a gentle mist; early evening lamps wore their halos of orange. Sam stopped under a cone of warm light and slipped the smooth rectangle of card from her pocket. The bag of food beckoned but her curiosity won. Her other pocket revealed a ten pence piece. She scratched hesitantly at the first grey patch. Won! the square revealed a tiny photo of a sofa - a pale grey sofa. Her fingers trembled a little was she dragged the coin's edge over the rubbery surface of the next square. Won! A stack of blue towels emerged. The coin scratched again - an ivory coloured Smeg coffee maker appeared, followed by a printer in the next square. Sam felt dizzy, like when she had looked out over London from the Shard on that last time she had seen Jon. This probably was a dream. She would awake on the plastic sofa in a moment, a plate of ketchup-ed chips sliding down her better office trousers.

Rain replaced the mist again, soaking her face as she looked up into the lamp's glow. The fish would be cold. She should get back. The card was obviously a dud of some sort, or she'd misinterpreted its function - she'd go back to the newsagent in the morning. The plane trees of her road loomed in the increasing darkness. Crap sofa or no crap sofa it would be good to get inside, switch on the gas fire and curl up for the evening. She turned into the gateway, nearly slipping on the autumnal leaf sludge part covering the black and white checked tiles that led up to the door. In the porch she scrabbled for her keys, dislodging the scratch card. She caught it as is tumbled. One square remained. Whatever . . .

The coin scratched away the grey once again. Won! Won what? The space was blank. Then as if emerging from a soft cloud a man appeared. Dark haired, holding a bottle wine, a wide inviting smile. This was getting more than surreal. Annoying even. Sam shoved her key in the lock and turned it, bashing the almost certainly cold fish in its bag against the door. The door opened but not from her doing. A man stood in the hallway, dark hair glowing from the shadeless central bulb. He held a bottle of wine and his smile was what she might have termed electric.

"Ah-there you are. Thought I'd cook us a carbonara - just been out to get the wine. You look chilled - shocked? Is everything all right?"

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