Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Love Story

From FB group 12 Stories in 12 months (September)

    A Love Story

 © Hazel Campbell 2018

Prompt: Delete | Word count: 1250 words | Genre: Romance

                        facebook meme
Anxiety grew as I opened the door of my apartment. I had been away for a week taking a break from modern life in my mother’s deep rural home. I had even left my cell phone behind, cut off all means of communication from work and friends; drastic, yes, but a necessary respite. But now, something was wrong. What could it be?

I looked around but everything seemed normal. I knew there would be several messages on my house phone, and decided to check them before turning on my cell. I didn’t get beyond the first frantic message. “Brit, where are you? Why don’t you answer? Call me. JB is dead!”

You know how you hear something but your brain refuses to understand the words? I flopped on the couch and for some minutes I didn’t feel anything. This could be just a dream, for all I knew.

Eventually, I pushed the repeat button and the message was the same. JB is dead! How could that be? I don’t know how long I sat there not feeling anything but bewilderment before I picked up my cell which I had left on charge and tapped Bianca’s name.

“Where have you been?” she screeched.

“What happened?”

“Heart attack. He was at his desk. Got up and just fell …”

I put down the phone. I could hear her voice jabbering for a few moments until she realized I was not listening.

JB was my very best friend. There were times I wished it would be more, but it had never happened.

I never made any serious move without consulting him. It was he who had suggested that I take the week off to recharge before starting my new job. How could he be dead?
The house phone rang. I knew it was Bianca.

“The funeral is Monday. Will you come?”

“Maybe,” I replied.

“I’ll book a seat for you for tomorrow. Mom is expecting you. Please come,” she said.

Coming meant getting a seat on one of the small planes plying the islands. It meant talking to people. It meant behaving as if the earth had not shifted and pushed me into a dark place. So dark I could feel nothing but disbelief.

As my brain remained numb, I automatically did the usual when I was disturbed by anything; I touched his name on my cell. A recorded voice said: “I am sorry to tell you. JB is dead.”

I felt the scream in my throat. I heard the phone shattering against the wall, then the tears came. I cried for a long time. I probably fell asleep as my next conscious moment was way into the night. I got up, made myself a cup of tea and wondered what life would be like without JB.

We had met some 20 years before at a conference. At first, I thought he was cocky and abrasive with his questions and attempts to analyse everyone’s contributions. He often held up a session with questions which baffled everybody; questions to which he had his own answers.

Then, one morning, the only vacant seat at breakfast was at his table. His ready smile was an instant attraction. He spent the rest of the meal showing such warm interest in me and my activities that by the time we got up to prepare for the morning’s session I was hooked. I remained hooked.

We lived on different islands and I only saw him when he visited mine or I, his, so we talked by phone for long hours. He was a good listener but cagey with his personal information even after I met his family and his sister, Bianca, became my friend. He kept me updated on current affairs with erudite commentary I often had trouble understanding. Sometimes he got frustrated with my down-to-earth point of view. He was generous. He made me laugh. He talked me through problems; always there for me. Once, when I was in hospital, he came and helped me through the worst of that ordeal. It was a friendship that, on occasion, could become passionately sexual. He had so completely wrapped up my heart I never found other men attractive.

I was devastated when, as time passed, I realized that it was never going to be anything more, but I treasured his friendship enough not to make any demands. Besides, I wasn’t sure he could give more. He had many friends who, like me, valued him, but eventually I realised that he could only exist by screening himself from others. There was a part of him that he would never allow to be breached. He couldn’t love in the way most people think of love.
After a while, I sat at my computer to check my emails. There was nothing of interest until I saw mail from him. I opened it with a jolt of excitement.

Brit dearest, (My heart flipped. It was so intimate.)
“I know this will surprise you and I apologise in advance. These past few days I have felt the urge to tell you a few things. I know that women think I am a ‘cold fish’ and that has been fine with me. Kept me out of a lot of problems. I have always felt that I couldn’t cope with the demands of an all-out commitment to anyone. I have succeeded in the things I wanted to do because I didn’t allow myself to be distracted by any ‘close encounters’.  

You were the one temptation. I really can’t explain the utter selfishness which prevented me from getting a closer relationship with you. There were many times that I had to hang on to my resolutions to prevent myself from asking you to marry me. I am so sorry. I never allowed myself to say, ‘I love you’. Not even after our torrid lovemaking. 

I hope you can understand what I am so clumsily trying to say. I didn’t want to give up what we had. I convinced myself that a closer relationship would burn out our passion for each other and kill what I cherished so much. I have seen it happen too many times. You will never know how hard I had to fight not to ask you for more. 

You know that I don’t have a superstitious bone in my body. Anything that doesn’t yield to a formula is suspect. I don’t understand premonitions, but I am telling you this, now, because I don’t want to die without saying ‘I love you’. I have loved you throughout the time we have known each other. Through all the ups and downs. Through your frustrations with me. Through our quarrels when you couldn’t understand my need for distance, and I was deliberately cruel. 

But there, I have said it. Thanks for the journey. You are the best thing in my life.
Yours forever,
For many minutes, I sat there with my mouth a big ‘O’ of surprise and disbelief. He had known he was dying and he had opened his heart to me for the very first time; even signed his real name, a name he hated.

I read the letter again and started crying. It was . . . PAINFUL. As I contemplated the wasted years, my sadness turned to escalating anger.

“I wish you were here, JB,” I whispered. “I would kill you myself!”

I finger-stabbed the delete button so hard the computer took a few moments to process the command.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


 Challenge 12 stories in 12 months

© Hazel Campbell 2017
Prompt: The Club | Wordcount: 750 | Genre: fairy tale)

Disney Princesses
Snow White was bored. Prince Charming was away on Kingdom business and she was lonely. Then she had a brilliant idea. She would invite some of the other fairytale princesses to form a Happily Ever After Club. They would meet regularly and tell their stories.

Six princesses came to the first meeting. Cinderella arrived in her pumpkin carriage. Two of the twelve dancing princesses came in a carriage shaped like a slipper. Belle and Rapunzel rode horses. SweetPea, the Delicate Princess, came in a coach padded with cushions.

There was much excited laughter and exchange of greetings when they met in the palace.

When they were refreshed and comfortable, Snow White explained her idea for the Happily Ever After Club, and they were all enthusiastic for they all shared the same loneliness when their Prince Charmings had to leave home.

"I'll go first,' Cinderella offered." I'll tell you about my happily ever after." So they eagerly settled to hear Cinderella's story.

"The first year was pure bliss," she began. "Prince Charming and I set up house in our part of the palace. The king didn’t give him any duties, so we played games and had picnics and balls and he helped me set up a sanctuary for my forest friends. It was wonderful!

"But, at our first anniversary ball, the king stormed in shouting, 'Babies! Where are the babies? I want to see my grandchildren.'

"He kept muttering about babies and quite spoilt the ball.

"That night, when we were having our usual bedtime snack of milk and cookies – Charming prefers to drink a glass of wine with his cookies – I asked Charming why the king was in such a temper. Did he expect us to go out and buy some babies? Charming was just as bewildered.

"When Charming left to go to his room, I couldn't sleep. I paced back and forth and finally decided that I needed to talk to Fairy Godmother.

'Goodness, Cinderella,' she said, when she arrived. 'I was in Far, Far Away Land. What could be the matter? You got your Prince Charming.'

'It's the king,' I told her. 'He wants grandchildren.'

'Well?' she said.

'He wants babies!' I wailed. 'And I don’t know where to get them.'

"Fairy Godmother's eyes popped wide open.

'You mean  . . .'

'You have to help us,' I interrupted her. 'I don’t know where to get them. Should we buy some, or borrow, or what?'

The listening princesses gasped, looked at one another with eyebrows raised, or rolled their eyes.

'Seriously?' Rapunzel exclaimed.

"Fairy Godmother looked at me as if I was Dopey or a Silly Goose," Cinderella continued.

'Where is the prince?' she asked.

"In his room, of course."

'You don't sleep together?'

'Of course not. After we have our bedtime snack he goes to his room and I to mine.'

'I see. And you don’t . . . ?'

'Don’t what?' I asked.

"Fairy godmother waved her hands. 'You know . . .  ' And she coughed.

"But I didn't know.  'What should we be doing?' I asked her.

'Cinderella, this is a fairy tale. I can't tell you that here.'

"She tapped her forehead as if she was thinking hard, then she waved her wand and a small Vial appeared.

'Tomorrow night, make sure you have your bedtime snack in your room,' she said. 'Put three drops of this in Prince Charming's milk.'

'He drinks wine,' I told her.

'Even better. Don’t let him see you, but put exactly three drops in his wine.'

'"How will that give us the babies?" I asked.

'We'll find out, won't we?' And then, POOF! She was gone."

"So did you?" The other princesses were hanging on to Cinderella's every word.

"Well, the next night, I made sure there were only two cookies on the plate, and sent Charming to get more. While he was gone, I put three drops from the bottle Fairy Godmother gave me into his wine, and when he came back, he drank it all."

"And. . . and . . . and . . .?" The others were eager to hear more of the story.

"Girls! Girls! I don't know if I can tell you anything more," Cinderella said. This is a fairytale."

"Tell us! Tell us!" they chorused.

"Well, he fell asleep, right there in my room . . .


"He fell asleep and I had to undress him and put him in my bed."

"And? And? And?"

Ran out of words:TO BE CONTINUED   

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Sister Strangers by Hazel Campbell

12 Stories in 12 Months

Sister Strangers
©Hazel Campbell 2018
Prompt: I never knew | Word count: 1800 words |


A sunny disposition. I coveted it. My sister had a sunny disposition. She was everybody's friend and everybody wanted to be her friend.

Me? I hid all my emotions like a broody hen with eggs on which I sat and didn’t allow anyone to see. If they hatched, I hid them under my wings.

Having a younger, prettier, talented sister made for a very uncomfortable childhood. It was always Tuffy this and Tuffy that. At family gatherings, when I played the piano pieces I had laboriously learned at music school, people only clapped politely. When Tuffy played, they loved her pieces, paid attention to her flourishes and showoff-ness. They always wanted encores from her when she played the piano, played the piano AND sang, and especially when she danced. She was like a child prodigy entertainer.

I was too tall for-my-age and ungainly. I was sulky. I was this and that – everything she was not. Since I was older, I had to be responsible for myself and her. When she got in trouble, they blamed ME.

But, I didn’t hate Tuffy. Nobody could. The sunshine in her spilled out and covered you with warmth when she was around.

Everybody knew she would become a dancer from the day she stood up. Her steps were balanced, from the beginning - so I heard them say. Any piece of music set her dipping and swaying.  When someone told her that there were schools in Canada catering to her talents, she sent for the information and chose one specializing in dance. That's where she wanted to go to school, she told our parents.

She got an immediate 'No'. It would cost millions in our local dollars to send her to boarding school in Canada.

 'You can get good after-school tuition in music and dance right where we are.'

'There is no family in Canada, except an aunt with whom we are out of touch.'

'Pay attention to your schoolwork. Few can make a living from music and dancing.'

Tuffy kept up her campaign until she was 11+ years and passed her entrance-to secondary-education exam. She did very well, but was adamant - she would not go to school unless it was boarding school in Canada where she could learn to dance 'the right way'.

My poor parents! We were a fairly comfortable middle-class Jamaican family, but the kind of schooling Tuffy wanted would cost much more than they could afford.

Tuffy begged and cajoled and promised she would work hard and do well.

'There's a scholarship programme. I am sure I will get a scholarship that will make it easier for you.'

'Just give me one year and I will show you.'

Tuffy questioned every family member until she got the address of the distant aunt.  
Tuffy wore them down. Eventually, they agreed to make the application before the deadline expired. They spoke to the distant aunt who seemed delighted at the renewed contact and promised oversight. They mortgaged our house to pay the initial costs. And so, while the rest of us homies were still on summer holiday, Tuffy, aged 12,  was travelling to a new school in a new country; on her way to new adventures, taking a completely different path from any other child we knew.

The rest of my growing-up years were a bit dull even if more emotionally stable without the ever present comparisons to the brilliant Tuffy. True to her word, by her second year, she did so well she was given a scholarship. Tuffy never came home. She did holiday courses, and later, jobs, which kept her there. My parents went to see her from time to time, without me. 'We can’t afford all the plane fares.'

Tuffy became a tutor at the school. Then, she joined a prominent modern dance group in America and soon became understudy to their principal dancer. My parents went to some of her concerts.

'She's excellent. You should read the reviews.'

I did. The reviews and pictures of my talented sister were kept in two big albums on the book shelf, still housing the many books on dance that Tuffy used to devour. Every now and then, the local newspapers did a story on her various successes in dance. I always ducked the interviews they did with my proud parents.

The next time I saw Tuffy in person was when, in her 35th year, our National Dance Company invited her to be their guest for their summer season of dance. She would be lead dancer, choreographer and teach some master classes.

I was, of course, the stay-at-home family caretaker. Tuffy hadn't come home even for my father's funeral. Something about her visa. It was decided that Tuffy would stay with Mom and me for the four weeks of her engagements. All the many years she had been away, I had never gone to see her - even when I could afford to. I don't really know why, but we had never corresponded. We were sister-strangers.  

"And, how about you?" Tuffy asked. She was sitting on a bar-stool watching as I made her lunch according to her instructions. Her special meals had to be prepared to a strict schedule. She cotched on the stool as if it was a theatre prop from which she would soon launch into a mesmerizing glissé, or something such.

In the short time she had been home, everything had to be changed to make her comfortable. I had to call for help to move furniture around, clean curtains and disinfect every corner of the house.

"I am so sorry we lost touch.  Mom tells me you've published a book."

"Poetry," I replied, thinking that my one slim book could never compare to the fat albums of photos and reviews of her career.

"I teach," I continued. "I am glad you came during the summer holiday. We can devote some time to catching up."

I was really curious about her. I had wondered what she would be like. I imagined an extremely sophisticated, elegant dancer- looking woman with an engaging smile, spreading joy wherever she went.

I recognized her from her pictures, of course. She was beautiful and elegant; back straight, floating when she walked as if there was a layer of air between her feet and the ground. But, the ready smile I remembered from childhood had been replaced by a haughty, slightly sneering look of displeasure with everything she saw. It screamed diva, prima donna and all the stereotypical arrogance people usually associate with a highly successful artiste.  

She floated off the stool to stand before a picture of our dad,stared at it for some moments then returned to the stool.

"I couldn’t come to his funeral, you know."

"I know," I replied. "Your visa."

"That was the excuse because I could not come. I was sick, undergoing treatment for severe depression."

Depression? I never knew that someone so successful could be depressed. Leave that to me, I thought.

"Failed marriage," she continued.

"I never knew that you were married!" I exclaimed.

"Nobody knew. We kept it very secret."

I didn’t say anything, but she seemed anxious to talk.

"I couldn't let anybody know. Anton was the company's messenger and handyman. My manager would have had a fit and so would Asha, our Director. Bad press and all that. Liaisons often happened in the company, but not MARRIAGE. Don't ask me why.

"But Anton was so handsome and sweet. He used to bring me flowers from fans and pretend they were from himself. He would hand them over with a flourish and some silly poem he had made up. He kept me laughing. Then one day I was alone in my dressing room, and …."

"So you married him," I interrupted. I didn’t want to hear any details.

But, she was determined to talk. "It was as if that corny picture of Cupid shooting his arrow at someone was really true. Anton pierced through the many layers I had developed to protect myself. You have to do that to survive in the theatre. He reached right into my heart and set it blazing. That night I danced with such inspiration, everybody was in awe. There were rave reviews, but only I knew the reason.

"It was wonderful at first. He made me so happy. He energized me. But, it couldn’t last, I suppose. He began to get restless. He hated keeping our marriage a secret. He wanted the world to know he was my husband. He expected better employment in the company and when it didn’t happen, he just left. I was devastated. I had to go into therapy.

She looked at me speculatively. "Have you ever been Forsaken? Discarded? Deserted?

I shook my head. I had never formed any relationship deep enough to cause me to use such dramatic words. I felt sorry for her.

"I let down my guard," she said with a soft moan. "I let him in. I was the one who used to break hearts. Before Anton, mine never got broken, never got touched.

"Never again," she vowed. She was silent for a few minutes, while I clashed a few pans to hide my embarrassment.

"I was happy for the invitation to come home. My therapist thought it was a good idea. The change would be good and reconnecting with my family would provide the healing I need."

 "We'll keep you so busy, you won't have time to mope," I told her. I didn’t know what else to say, but she was not finished.

"I used to admire you when we were children," she said.

I was so shocked, I dropped the pan I was holding. I never would have thought that possible.

"You always seemed so calm and in charge of yourself. I was flighty. I needed to show off and be praised. I was selfish and self-centered. I guess I was destined to be on the stage from the very beginning. You probably hated me."

"We . . . We all loved you," I stammered. Then it slipped out. "They all loved you best."

She smiled. "I'm giving it up, you know."


"I'm giving up dancing. I'll probably just teach or start my own small company or something, but I am giving up the stage."


"It demands a special kind of energy that I no longer have. The critics will soon start noticing."

I looked at my gorgeous sister. Surely she was in the prime of her life as a dancer. Why was she giving up? Then it hit me. Burn out. She had started shining so soon that she had burnt out too soon.

As I placed her lunch on the counter, I wished I could hug her and peel away the layers of protection which had smothered her soul and eclipsed her sunshine.