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A MAN OF DISTINCTION

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					Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction




                 A MAN OF DISTINCTION




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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction




                               Beware the Sleeping Crocodile


                                    For if it should awake


                                  It will snap off your head


                              And cause your heart to break.




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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction




                               Where do I begin?




   The source of Julius Pope‟s oddness was not immediately apparent. There was nothing

unremarkable about his appearance. His choice in clothing was conservative. He favoured

block colours of grey or navy, believing these a better match for his eyes and even on the

hottest of summer days, his shirts were long sleeved and remained buttoned at his wrists.

Equally, there was no abnormality to be found in his face. When viewed singularly each

feature was pleasant. His nose in particular was strong and enviably roman. At forty eight he

considered himself fortunate to still have only one chin, his own teeth and a thatch of strong

hair. Yet collectively his features did not sit together well. He often regretted his mediocre

appearance.


   Five days a week he journeyed to Cartwright‟s Carton factory where he was the longest

serving member of staff. He filled in paperwork, entered information onto a data base and

placed completed files into a colour coded filing system he had devised himself when he was

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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



the office junior, some twenty years before.          Staff turnover was high at Cartwright‟s on

account of the dullness of the work and the temper of the boss, Peter Cartwright. For reasons

beyond Julius‟ comprehension, Peter had made him a favourite and while others were derided

and sacked by the acerbic owner, Julius was regularly thanked for his efforts and in recent

years had received a little extra in his Christmas wage packet.


   Julius‟ working life was solitary.          He had stopped any attempts to befriend new

employees thirteen years before. Although he rarely thought back to the incidents that had

led him to this decision they had been powerful enough to rock him to the core. Even the

death of his mother, which had until then been the benchmark for pain against which all other

hurts had been measured, had not left him feeling so exposed, so raw.


    If anyone had bothered to notice the reading material that lay open on his lap during his

thirty minute bus journey to and from work, they would have seen that his preference was for

popular thrillers. He favoured Grisham and King but occasionally he punctuated their action

with ventures into the world of humorous travelogue. If anyone had watched him long

enough, they would have also discovered that he read no more than a page of any book on a

single journey. His attention was too easily distracted by his fellow travellers. Julius loved to

watch people. If someone caught his eye, he could, with one look, take in every detail of a

person‟s appearance and invent their whole persona and story.


   He had noticed, for instance, the young girl who had walked down the aisle of the bus

towards him that Tuesday afternoon; the day it all began. It was her hair that had drawn his

eye. In his mind he described it to himself as a tangerine sheen. He liked to do that, to find


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



words to describe what he saw and if, like tangerine sheen, the words rhymed, Julius gained

more pleasure from his little game. The girl, for example, whose tangerine sheen hair was

held back off her face by a navy and white, polka dot scarf, he imagined a truant. In the large

floral canvas bag, that seemed to weigh heavily on her shoulder, he envisaged a scrunched up

school uniform and sensible shoes.


   Her cheeks glowed from the rush of the May breeze and Julius was willing to look into

her future and see her as a beauty, pursued by many men. Better get yourself an education,

he almost tutted aloud at the thought. Men like good conversation in their partners. Or at

least Julius assumed that all men did. The girl wore a simple skull and cross bones tee shirt

above a cream boho skirt. A denim jacket fended off the chill and at her feet, her platform

shoes were fastened by a glittery red star. The confusion of her apparel touched Julius. She

was young, still struggling to find her identity and how to express it. He sighed and smiled at

her as she passed him; he had lived for nearly half a century and had not yet found his style,

so he felt an odd kinship with her. The girl did not return his smile. She flicked her kohl-

rimmed eyes away from his and folded her arms. Her gaze lowered to her feet as she

quickened her step to the back of the bus.


   Julius didn‟t give her another thought and turned his attention back to his book. He had

just found his place on the page when he felt the subtle vibration of his mobile in his shirt

pocket. His hand flew to retrieve it before the music started but a moment later a loud,

electronic Elvis started to sing Viva Las Vegas. A couple of people near him turned to look,

but mobile phones no longer shock or annoy. Only mild curiosity and humour could be seen


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



on their expressions but Julius felt heat rise to his face nonetheless. He grabbed his phone

and flipped it open as soon as his fingers could co-ordinate themselves.


   “Hello?” His voice was muffled and low.


   “Jules?”


   Julius relaxed and smiled into the phone. Only one person called him Jules. “Millie.

What‟s wrong?”


   “Nothing.     I was just phoning to say I phoned my order through to Mrs Sharma at the

Spar and wondered if you‟d be able to pick it up on your way home?”


   “Yes, of course. I‟m on the bus now. I won‟t be...”


   “Thanks. And I ordered one of those pies, you know, the ones you like, in the tin. I

thought you could come to mine for your supper tonight.”


   “Yes that would...”


    “Oh and a letter‟s come for you. And it‟s not a bill. It‟s got proper writing on it and an

Oxford postmark.”


   Julius‟ heart sank. An Oxford postmark meant his brother, Giles, had written. He

wondered what Giles wanted this time. The last time he had heard from him was when Giles

had bought his yacht and sailed to Nice. Julius had received a phone call from a champagne

fuelled Giles at two in the morning one Sunday the previous June. For twenty minutes he had



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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



listened to his brother‟s technical description of the boat and how much it had cost. When he

finally ended the call, Julius had realised that Giles had not even asked how he was.


   “Ok, I‟ll open...”


   “Oh and Jules...”


   Julius was so accustomed to Millie‟s telephone manner (she had once told him that she

used the phone for one way transmission only) that her interruptions were more endearing to

him than annoying. “Yes.”


   “The cherry blossom is out.” Julius could hear the smile in Millie‟s voice and without

realising it, as he said goodbye, he was smiling too.


   Millie was his best friend; his only friend and he had thanked the providence that had led

him to rent the flat above hers on St Mary‟s Road.


   He tucked his phone back in his pocket and looked out of the window. To Julius, it felt

like the first sunny day of the year. In the distance, beyond the fields and the railway line he

caught a glimpse of the sea as it launched itself against the cliffs in an explosion of spray and

froth. In the sunlight each drop would be a prism of colour and Julius who had spent hours of

his life sitting on those cliffs, studying the waves, sighed in contentment. After the dullness

of the wet spring, the colours in the grasses and their contrast to the sky and cliffs were vivid.

The sun had brought them into sharp focus, like when someone fine-tunes a T.V picture or

focuses through a camera lens.




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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



   Julius, who had been named for his month of birth, loved the sun. The vitamin D would

do everyone good, he thought, as he watched the landscape drift past him. People were

always kinder to each other when the sun shone.


   As the landscape shifted and the cliffs disappeared he got his first glimpse of the holiday

camp near the broadest sweep of sand along the coast and Julius closed his book. The camp

was largely ignored by the locals but it fascinated Julius. Soon it would awake from its

hibernation and the population of their small town would swell. For a few short months

business would be good. No-one knew, nor cared, where these strangers came from, all they

cared about was that they came and brought their pounds with them.


   Viewed from above, the camp was the shape of a wagon wheel with a series of neat rows

of static caravans and cabins pointing out from the entertainment centre at its heart. Each

accommodation was rented or privately owned. There were always a few people to be found

on site but for the majority the season started now. Although it had opened briefly for Easter

and May Day weekend, it was the coming bank holiday that would see the entertainment

centre open its doors for the summer. The bars, shops, arcade, cinema and theatre would

soon throb with the pulse of life and Julius couldn‟t wait.


   He felt cramped suddenly by the confines of the bus on this beautiful day. He was

accustomed to the faint smell of dust and occasional waft of body odour on the busy bus

journey home but suddenly he felt as though the smell was sticking to the inside of his lungs,

choking him. He felt suffocated and stood up. With mumbled apologies, he pushed his way

to the door. For the rest of the journey he concentrated on taking shallow breathes of air and


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



holding it in his lungs as long as he could before forcing it out, in the hope that the air

wouldn‟t pollute his lungs more than necessary.


   By the time he got off the bus, one stop early, he felt more than a little dizzy and

immediately drew in large gulps of air until his light headedness passed. Revival was fast

and minutes later, he arrived at the Spar shop, where Millie had asked him to call.


   The Spar shop was lit by a pair of strip lights and Julius took a moment in the doorway to

adjust his eyesight to the sudden dimness. The Spar was the kind of shop that sold a little bit

of everything; from aubergines to greetings cards, firelighters to tinned peaches. He liked the

echo of his footstep on the wooden floorboards and the shelves, so badly illuminated that the

customer had to work at buying, instead of the shop working to sell. It was old fashioned,

and Julius liked it for precisely this reason. He loathed the impersonal jostling of the

supermarket and although he knew he would have to pay more to Mrs Sharma, he had always

felt the sacrifice worthwhile.


    As always, Mrs Sharma, stood behind the counter by the till. Her hair was tied back

behind her head and she wore her customary white shirt, black trousers and flat, androgynous

shoes. Julius had once seen her dressed for a wedding in an emerald sari and had been struck

by the radiance of the woman. The brilliance of the cloth illuminated the dark caramel of her

skin, drawing out the beauty that her western clothes denied. Julius had thought her quite

lovely.


          “Mr Pope!” Mrs Sharma greeted him as though announcing him to an audience.

Genuine warmth lit her chestnut eyes. “How are you this evening?”

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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



   “I‟m very well, Mrs Sharma, thank you. Happy to feel a bit of warmth in my bones, at

last. How about you? Have you had a busy week?”


   He browsed as he spoke, lifting an orange from its crate, feeling its weight and the

dimpled skin beneath his thumb. He put it back and moved to a selection of bananas. He

chose a small bunch of three and placed them near the till at the short end of the L shaped

counter.


   “Oh yes, busy enough, Mr Pope, busy enough. I‟ll just nip out the back to get your order.

And Millie called me earlier. I have her things ready too. I hope that‟s alright?”


   “Yes, of course.”


   Julius waited as Mrs Sharma disappeared behind a floral curtain for a moment and came

back with two neatly packed carrier bags and placed them on the counter between them. She

started to ring the items through the till but had not finished one bagful before she paused and

gave a loud tut.


   “Did you hear about the trouble over on Albert Street last Thursday night? Honestly, Mr

Pope, I don‟t know what the world is coming to.”


   “Why what happened?”


   “They only put a lit newspaper through George Lewis‟ letter box.”


   Julius, who had been touching his fingers across the selection of chocolate, stopped

abruptly and looked at Mrs Sharma. Like all the locals, he knew who she meant by they.

Well, he knew there was a small group of youths who had been causing trouble for their own
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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



amusement over the last couple of months, although he didn‟t know their exact identity.

There had been many rumours about that. Millie had told him that the general view was that

a new family had moved from the midlands into Empire Court and could find no other

occupation for their time than mischief. Empire Court was close enough to hear of trouble

but far enough away not to cause concern. But Albert Street was just two streets away and

George Lewis was a pensioner.


   “Luckily, George was home and heard the commotion,” Mrs Sharma continued, “He was

able to put out the fire before it got a hold and did any real damage. I‟m surprised you didn‟t

hear the sirens. But honestly Mr Pope, it‟s very worrying you know.”


   “I can‟t understand why they don‟t lock the little ba... blighters up.”


   “I know but people are getting too afraid to speak up against them. I had a customer in

this morning. Mr Jenkins, he lives on Albert Street, just up from George. Do you know him

Mr Pope?”


   Julius shook his head.


   “Nice old gent; flew spitfires in the war he told me once. Anyway, he said he‟s thinking

of moving into a home now because he‟s getting so fearful that he‟s not sleeping. You hear

such things these days and here we have this trouble on our own doorstep. It makes me very

nervous, Mr Pope, I don‟t mind telling you.”


    It made Julius nervous too but he thought it best not to cause Mrs Sharma additional

worry by voicing this. So, he shook his head and made a bland comment about hoping they

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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



were caught soon. But he resented the idea of them making good people like Mrs Sharma

nervous and although it was an uncharitable thought, he hoped they would not venture closer

than Albert Street.


   The sun was warm on his cheek as he walked down the rest of Victoria Avenue. When he

arrived at the corner, where it met St Mary‟s Road, he stopped and smiled. Just as Millie had

told him, the cherry blossom trees that stood at both ends of the street, like exclamation

marks, were in full bloom. Some of the branches seemed to sag under the weight of their

burden while others held their petals aloft, in triumph. In the sunlight the blossom covered

the tree like candyfloss. The trees had not looked so full that morning when Julius had gone

to work. To him, it seemed that the sunshine had teased the flowers from their buds in a day.


   Julius and Millie took particular interest in the cherry blossom. St Mary‟s Road was a

row of pre-war, semi detached houses. There was no verbal or legal agreement in place

between the residents that Julius knew of but all the houses were painted white. For the three

years that Julius had lived there, there had been no attempts to break with this tradition. It

made St Mary‟s Road uniquely attractive among its neighbours. But, as Millie reminded him

every spring, it was never lovelier than when the Cherry Blossom was in full flower. And as

Julius always reminded her, it also meant a storm was coming. It was a belief he had held

since childhood.


   Every summer from the age of four, Julius had spent his school holidays at his

grandmother‟s house in Sussex. The memories of those visits were the ones he called on in

low moments, for his time with her had been idyllic. While Julius had been despatched to


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



Sussex, Giles, ten years Julius‟ senior, had been allowed to stay at home in Gloucester to play

with his friends. The absence of Giles had made those visits even more perfect as far as

Julius was concerned. For six weeks every summer, Julius basked in the limelight of his

Grandmother‟s attention. They were the only times in his youth when Julius had taken centre

stage.


   The picture of her bird like frame, hidden for most hours of daylight behind a floral

pinafore could, he found, be produced in his mind at will. The scent of Lily of the Valley

soap, which regularly wafted from her hands when she cuddled him, was a more elusive

memory. The smell had enveloped him in a feeling of safety. For Julius, it was the smell of

profound love. He had given Millie Lily of the Valley soap for Christmas when they first

met, but it hadn‟t been the same.


   His Grandmother had often told him of how she had not been able to go to grammar

school, even though she had been awarded a place. As one of the oldest of twelve children,

she had been sent out to work to help her parent‟s support their increasing family, yet Julius

had never met a wiser soul.


   When he was nine, Julius had been sent to his Grandmother for Easter. To visit her twice

in one year was a great treat and he had hardly contained his excitement in the car journey to

Sussex with his father. But his father had been unresponsive to his chatter and Julius had

eventually contented himself with humming quietly as he watched the countryside slip by. It

was many years later that he realised he had been sent away so that he would remain ignorant

of his mother‟s first operation for cancer.


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



   Easter was late in April that year and the Cherry Blossom had been early because of the

mildness of the winter. It was as he walked through the park with his grandmother one day

that she told him the simple belief that had since become his own.


   “See these blossoms, Julius,” she had begun. She had stopped walking and taken his

hand in hers. He remembered the feel of her smooth skin against his; so loose that he could

feel her bones beneath. “They‟re a beautiful sight every spring, and very welcome. But you

mark my words; there‟ll be a storm in a day or two that will blow those petals down to the

ground like confetti.”


   “Really, Grandma?”


   “Yes, really. It‟s the way it is. Cherry Blossom is nature‟s way of telling us there‟s a

storm coming. Simple as that.”


   Julius had been sceptical but as time passed, he had made a study of it. He had found that

more often than not, his Grandmother had been right; the sight of cherry blossom usually

heralded a storm.


   St Mary‟s Road was unusually quiet that afternoon. A handful of vehicles passed him as

he walked towards the end of the road, to number twenty two. No-one tooted a horn or raised

a hand to wave. As he approached the house, he saw Esmeralda cross the road in front of

him and settle on their step. The little cat was there most days when he got home from work

and Julius, who was unfamiliar with the indifference of cats, believed that she was waiting

for him. Esmeralda had black fur that felt like velvet to stroke and Julius, who had always

considered himself a dog lover, had been surprised by how quickly his fondness for the cat
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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



had grown. He had found her beneath one of the bushes in the garden the previous winter

and liked to think that he had saved her from certain death.


   Julius switched his shopping to one hand and felt in his trouser pocket for his key. As

soon as the door was open, Esmeralda ran in through the door and up the stairs to Julius‟ flat.

The hallway was small and featureless, the walls had not been re-painted for many years and

the mustard coloured paint had faded and streaked in parts. It was gloomy and unwelcoming;

not a place Julius liked to tarry. He hesitated for a moment as he contemplated whether he

should drop off Millie‟s shopping first or feed the cat. The sound of Esmeralda scratching at

the doormat upstairs decided him and he turned to the stairs.


   His leather soled shoes were noisy against the bare wooden steps and he heard Millie

shout, “Jules, is that you?”


   “Yes, it‟s me. I‟ve got your shopping. I‟ll just go up and feed Ezzie. I‟ll be down in a

minute” He was half way up the stairs, when he added, “And put the kettle on, will you? I‟m

gasping for a cup of tea.”


   He didn‟t wait for a reply. When he arrived at flat 1b, Esmeralda rubbed herself against

his leg. A strong purr began to rattle in her throat. Before the door was fully open, Julius

was abandoned as Esmeralda trotted to her bowl under the window in the kitchen and began

to lick at the few morsels left from her last meal.


   As always when he arrived home from work, Julius found his living room dull. It was at

the rear of the building and by the time he returned from work the sun had disappeared to his

bedroom leaving the living room cool and cheerless.
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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



   He had tried different things over the years to make it more appealing: he had painted the

walls a light cream and hung a painting of a field of sunflowers above the mock fire place.

After much thought and a little embarrassment, he had even gone through a phase of buying

fresh cut flowers and placing them on his coffee table so that they would be the first thing he

saw when he entered the room. He stopped after a couple of weeks when it struck him that

the flowers seemed sad to be stuck in such gloomy surroundings. He felt it almost cruel that

they should end their existence in such a miserable room. So he stuck with the painting and

although this enhanced the room, it never completely took away the dullness of early

evening. Adding accessories like jewel cushions or quirky ornaments never occurred to

Julius, who seldom purchased what he did not need.


   His furniture, which comprised of a two-seater sofa and armchair were dark fawn leather.

A solitary green cushion, flat and lifeless after years of loyal service, slumped on the equally

well-worn armchair where Julius always sat. In comparison, the sofa looked slippery and

new, despite its age. The T.V. in the corner of the room was small and old fashioned with a

bulbous behind and a coat of dust clung to the screen. Along the wall behind his armchair a

bookshelf was filled with paperback thrillers. Occupying the central shelf was a hardback

series on the history of Rome. There were no photographs displayed anywhere in this room.


   There was no door separating the lounge from the kitchen but the areas were clearly

marked by a strip of silver metal. On one side a beige carpet covered the lounge floor; on the

other side the kitchen sported smooth, grey floor tiles. In comparison to the lounge, Julius‟

kitchen was appealing. A burst pipe two winters before had meant that the landlord had had

no choice but to redecorate, and to his credit, he had done it tastefully. To Millie‟s great
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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



envy, Julius now had a kitchen with matching oak units, a black granite worktop and stainless

steel trimmings. He had often told her that he wished it had been her kitchen that had flooded

so she could have had the benefit of the re-fit. This was a practical wish, as Julius hated to

cook and ate at Millie‟s at least four nights a week. The other evenings he either stopped for

chips on his way home or found something that could be micro-waved and eaten in less than

half an hour. His new kitchen seemed a waste.


   Julius re-filled Esmeralda‟s bowl with the dry biscuits she preferred and then began to

empty the shopping bags he had carried from the Spar. He separated his own shopping from

Millie‟s. The few meagre items; tins of rice pudding, baked beans and lentil soup, he had

bought for himself fitted easily into the cupboard next to the fridge. A small box he had

bought at the chemist that lunchtime was set to one side before he re-packed the bag for

Millie and went down stairs.


   “Tea‟s in the pot,” Millie said as she opened the door to him.


   The sight of Millie always made Julius smile, even if he wasn‟t always aware of it. In

front of him, Millie was a rainbow. She had what he affectionately called an if you don’t

know what colour suits you, wear them all, approach to fashion that he found endlessly

entertaining. In front of him in purple doc martins, green tights, an orange tie die skirt with a

long-sleeved, cream tee shirt and purple waistcoat; she was at her resplendent best. Her hair

had been twisted and clipped in a way that made the ends fan out like a peacock‟s tail behind

her head. Large silver hoops hung from her ears and without looking, Julius knew that a

silver locket would hang around her neck.


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



   Julius preferred the days when she wore her hair loose, so it brushed her shoulders as she

moved. The colour of oak bark it shone in the sunlight until it almost appeared to be silver.

Unlike the tangerine sheen girl on the bus, Millie‟s style was clear. It was not a style that

Julius would have admired on anyone but Millie. It was too abstract; too bright to appeal yet,

on Millie, the clothes looked like they belonged. They cried out for her height and slender

frame to show them off. On Millie, Julius thought them perfect. They never discussed her

wardrobe but Julius had long suspected that Millie hid behind the clothes just as she hid

behind her front door.


   The air in Millie‟s flat was stale and heavy with the legacy of incense.


   “You‟ve been burning that stuff again.” It was a statement of fact not a question.


   Millie explained anyway. “I‟ve had three clients this afternoon. You know I like to build

the right atmosphere for them.”


   “Mumbo jumbo,” Julius muttered.


   “Mumbo jumbo that helps me pay my way.”


   “Hmph.”


   They had had this conversation many times; even the words felt scripted to Julius, yet he

felt compelled to complete the ritual, just as Millie seemed compelled to respond by turning

her back on him and pouring the tea as he dismissed her livelihood.


   “Do you want me to do your cards then, Jules?”


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



   “You‟d have a shock if I said yes.”


   They laughed then; comfortable, light laughter that floated from them like butterflies. For

the first time that day, Julius felt a sense of happiness settle over him; for the first time that

day, he felt as though he was home.


   Millie‟s flat was bigger than his. She had the benefit of an extension at the back of the

house that housed her bedroom and bathroom. It meant that there was space in the main body

of the house for a dining room. Occupying the same floor space in her flat as Julius‟ lounge

occupied in his, in early evening it was gloomy, yet it felt very different. If pushed, Julius

would have admitted that despite the aftermath of Millie‟s mumbo jumbo it was a

comfortable room to sit. In the centre of the room was an oblong table covered by a black,

chenille throw on which Millie read her tarot cards.


   The idea of anyone being able to communicate with spirits or tell someone their future by

the turn of a card was one Julius had never been able to understand. He found it disturbing.

He was intrigued that so many people paid Millie to burn incense, shuffle cards and make up

a load of nonsense about their lives, that even they believed by the time they left. Yet he

knew that Millie believed in what she did and had protested with vehemence whenever he

had suggested that what she told her clients was make believe. It had taken time but Julius

had finally realised that Millie believed with all her heart that she was helping people. She

had taunted him many times, to let her try to convince him by reading his cards but he had

declined. She had accused him of being scared. He had dismissed this, of course, in a swift

and firm denial but there was some truth in her accusation. Julius didn‟t know how Millie


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



worked but he had his secrets like everyone else. They had debated her work less often after

that, although, neither one of them ceded the point. They had come to an impasse and now

their bantering was more frivolous habit than serious debate.


    Around the room, covering every possible space Millie had scattered small tables that she

had filled with laughing Buddhas, candles, dragons and fairy ornaments. The triffid-like

wallpaper was covered with framed pictures of fairies and motivational sayings, like Nothing

important ever happens until someone takes a chance and Discover your inner spirit and you

will never be alone.      For reasons he had never understood, Julius found these sayings

irritating.


    Millie laid a cloth over the chenille throw and set down their tea, a plate of bourbon

biscuits and a white envelope that had been sent by recorded delivery.


    “Giles,” Julius sighed. He reached in his shirt pocket for his reading glasses.


    “Ugh, that prick, what does he want?”


    “He is my brother.” Julius picked up the envelope and turned it around in his fingers.


    “Doesn‟t stop him being a prick. Go on open it; find out what the selfish bugger wants

this time.”


    Julius looked at her over the rim of his glasses. “Can‟t you just turn a couple of cards and

tell me? Save me the bother?”


    “Aren‟t you hilarious!”


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Student: Annie Bell-Davies

Tutor: Dr Jeni Williams

ENW/705: Dissertation – A Man of Distinction



   They shared a grin then, they‟re eyes connecting for a moment before Julius looked away

and pulled at the seal.


   The letter was brief and Julius scanned the lines quickly. When he had finished, he set

the letter down and took a deep breath. As he exhaled, he rested his elbows on the table and

let his head drop into his hands.


   “Well? What is it?”


   At the sound of Millie using her gentle voice, Julius raised his head from his hands and

looked at her.


   “He‟s coming to stay on Friday night.”


   “Is that all? I thought someone had died by the look on your face.” Millie scolded him

gently before adding “I know he‟s a pain in the ass, Jules but hopefully he won‟t be here long

and then you won‟t see him again for another year.”


   “I know, but...” Julius stopped mid-sentence. His brother‟s timing couldn‟t be worse.

The implications of it were just starting to unfold in his brain.


   “But what?”


   “Friday; It‟s not a good day.”


   “Aw, Jules, we can play cards another night, don‟t worry about it.”


   Since the previous Christmas, they had got into the habit of spending the whole of Friday

evenings together. They ate dinner and watched Coronation Street before Millie would
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produce a set of playing cards. Then one of them would choose the music to play in the

background; Frank Sinatra or Elvis if it was Julius‟ turn to choose, Queen or Bon Jovi if it

was Millie‟s, and they would sit at the table and talk as they played whist. Their evening

would end with hot chocolate and marshmallows.            For Julius, Friday had become his

favourite night of the week.


   He had known for weeks that their Friday evenings together were going to have to end

but he had not found the right moment to tell her. He could easily spend a different evening

with Millie but her services were popular and she read cards most evenings. Her clients

fascinated Julius and sometimes he would sit in his bedroom, by the dressing table in his bay

window, to try to catch a glimpse of them as they arrived. He liked the groups of women

most. They usually arrived giggling and pushing each other up the steps. For a few minutes,

as they met Millie, he could hear their laughter as it floated up to his living room and then the

silence as Millie worked. Only when they had left and they were back on the street did Julius

hear their noise again. Even from his bedroom, he could hear the amazement in their voices

as they left.   Despite Julius‟ protests, he was curious about what went on in Millie‟s flat

when their giggling stopped.


    It was Millie who had suggested that she could refuse bookings on a Friday, so they could

spend the evening together. Millie‟s reliance on his company was not lost on Julius. For

reasons that he had never been able to discover, shortly after she moved in to the ground floor

flat, which had been a month before him, Millie had decided never to venture outside again.

She had always denied any other reason for her self-inflicted solitude other than preference


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but Julius had never been convinced. He would feel the loss of their Friday nights but he

suspected that it would hurt Millie more.


    “It‟s not that.” Julius continued, “I was going to tell you...”


    The temperature between them dropped a couple of degrees in the silence that followed.

Julius shifted in his chair as he watched the understanding dawn on her face. It was Millie

who broke the silence.


    “It‟s her isn‟t it? Your Friday night girl; she‟s back on the scene, isn‟t she?” The words

were spoken in a neutral tone but the undercurrent was strong.


    Julius looked apologetic but he knew there was nothing he could say that would satisfy

Millie unless he lied and he did not want to lie; not to her; not more than he had to. Besides,

it was his fault. If he had only called it an appointment, or an engagement rather than a date

that first time, she wouldn‟t have formed the wrong impression. They wouldn‟t have argued,

he wouldn‟t have lied and the subject may never have become prickly between them. Now,

Julius could not think of a way to tell her the truth, that would not put their relationship at

risk.


    “Yes.”


    Another pause.


    “Fine.” Millie placed her hands on the table between them and pushed herself up. “I‟ll

go and put the pie in the oven.”



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   Julius felt a wave of panic wash across his chest. He sensed her anger at him abandoning

their Friday night game and for believing that she was again coming second to an unseen

rival. He understood it and knew that the sensible thing would be to drop the subject and let

her calm before asking the question, but he had to know.


   “Millie.”


   She was at the door to the kitchen and turned to face him.


   “I wouldn‟t ask if it wasn‟t important, you know that. Could you give him supper and let

him stay here, with you, until I get home?”


   “He‟s a prick.”


   “I know.”


   “It‟s a family trait.”


   Julius felt the insult but didn‟t fight it. He let it drape across his shoulders and weigh him

down.


   His words, when they came were sad and heavy, “I know.”


   “Can‟t you just say no? Make him stay in a hotel; it‟s not like he can‟t afford it. He‟s

just being cheap as per usual. He‟s only coming so he can pick holes in your life and rub

your nose in his success like he always does.”




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   She was right, he couldn‟t deny it, but Julius had heard enough. “Saw that in the cards

did you?” He regretted the words the instant they left his mouth. She was being loyal and he

had crushed her. He saw her face crumple but he didn‟t know how to take the words back.


    Julius shrugged his shoulders.


   Millie sighed, “Like I said, family trait.”


   They stared at each other for a long time. Julius had no idea what she was thinking and

wished that he did.


   “Fine,” she answered at last.


   “Thank you.”


   “Yeah, well, I hope she‟s worth it because you owe me, Jules. You owe me big time.”




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                             What kind of fool am I?



    Julius‟ bedroom was at the front of the house where it enjoyed the evening sunshine that

came in through the bay window. This meant that the idea of being woken by sunlight

streaming in through a crack in the curtains remained just that, an idea. One day, he had

promised himself, he would live in a house that was cheerful all day long. He had considered

finding another flat but he had never taken any action because to move would mean a

removal from Millie and that was an idea more cheerless than a blustery November morning.


   As he lay in his bed the next morning, he listened to the sound of the birds that had come

to play in the cherry blossom. Esmeralda had jumped up on to the bed in the middle of the

night and was now a gentle weight on his feet. Julius found it endlessly amusing that with so

much space on his double bed, the cat routinely chose a spot already occupied by himself.


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    Like the rest of his flat, his bedroom was neat and stark. A solitary photo of him as a

small boy with his mother and grandmother sat on his dressing table in a gilt frame and was

the only personal item on display. On his bedside table, just under a cream, fabric lamp was

a half read volume on Caesar‟s Britain and an untouched glass of water. His wardrobe had

six doors, two of which were mirrored and locked with a key. The whole thing covered the

length of the wall facing him.


    Julius had been awake for hours. The memory of the previous evening had re-played in

his head on a continuous loop until he had felt sick. As they had eaten their dinner of tinned

potatoes, peas and pie, Millie had pretended that everything was normal between them; in the

same way that she pretended that it was normal never to venture beyond her front door. Yet,

Julius knew that the tectonic plates of their relationship had shifted and he spent the night

worrying about how deep the damage went.


   From a practical standpoint, he was relieved that Millie had agreed to entertain Giles until

he came home that coming Friday but her reluctance to talk about it, or any other subject that

he had tried to raise during dinner, had worn him down. By the time he had left, which had

been earlier than usual, he had developed a headache and gone straight to bed. But sleep had

been sporadic. As he had often found, any kind of disagreement with Millie made him feel as

though he were walking a tightrope in wellington boots.


   Julius and Millie were not lovers; it had never occurred to Julius that they should be. Yet

he sensed that Millie felt his dates with the person she referred to as his Friday night girl

were a betrayal. But there was no Friday night girl. Many times, he had wanted to tell Millie


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the truth about where he went and what he did on Fridays but he feared the consequences of

such a confession. He feared her misunderstanding and most of all, he feared losing her. So,

he had remained silent and let her believe that his Friday night girl was back in town. It was

a mistake, he knew that, but he didn‟t know what else to do.


   Normally, he found Millie easy to read; when she was happy she smiled, when she was

sad, she cried. She was not a woman who hid behind coquetry or false words. Millie called a

spade a spade or in this case, she had called him a prick. Not in so many words but she had

implied it and it had hurt. Julius had not been able to sleep because of how much. He had

spent hours wondering why, when the words had been flung at him in the heat of the

moment, he had taken them so much to heart?


   After many hours, he had reached only one concrete hope: maybe the hurts they had both

inflicted could cancel each other out and they could now go on as before. He got up before

his alarm and was singing to himself in the kitchen when he realised that perhaps Millie

wasn‟t the only one who was good at pretending.


   The morning sky was layered and grey. The air, cooler than the day before, was damp

and by the time he arrived at the bus stop a steady drizzle had started to fall. It’s a grey day,

it’s a grey day, Julius repeated the little rhyme to himself as he rocked back and fore in his

seat on the bus. He didn‟t take out his book that was tucked in his rucksack next to his

sandwich and banana. Nor did he study the other passengers who came and went to invent

their stories. For once, Julius sat staring out at the landscape oblivious to the chatter around




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him. All he could think of was Millie. It was the same when he got to work; he found it hard

to concentrate and by mid morning had only completed a fraction of his usual workload.


   “For the love of God, Julius, what is wrong with you today? You haven‟t even opened

the fucking post. Come on, move yourself, I need to know if Wheeler‟s have paid or if I‟m

going to have to get my solicitor on to them.” Peter Cartwright‟s voice bore the same hint of

intolerance that it did every day but Julius, who was suddenly conscious of how little work he

had done, felt as though he‟d been whipped.


   Julius looked over at his boss who had come to sit at the other desk in the room where

Julius spent his days. He was older than Julius by only a couple of years but Peter could have

passed as his father. A lifetime of excesses had taken its toll on his skin and his waistline. In

the privacy of his thoughts, Julius had often likened Peter Cartwright to a walrus.


   The office they shared was crammed with filing cabinets, two desks with desktop

computers and another that held the fax machine, printer and kettle. The walls were hidden

behind various posters, notice boards full of memos and checklists and white boards where

Julius tracked the progress of various orders. Two waste paper bins took varying positions

around the room, depending on what access was needed to one cupboard or another. The

office was cramped but well organised and neat thanks to Julius‟ efforts and his only regret

was that there was no window to provide any natural light. Instead, the room relied on two

sets of double strip lights that buzzed above his head all day.


   “Sorry,” he mumbled, “I‟m not feeling too good.”



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    “Shit, you‟re not going to go off sick are you? The place gets in a right bloody mess

when you‟re not here.”


    Julius half smiled at the compliment. “No, I‟m not going off sick. I‟m just having... an

off day.”


    Peter Cartwright looked up from his desk and peered at Julius over the rim of his thick

frames, “Not lady trouble is it, Julius? Because if it is, you know a bunch of flowers and a

box of chocolates will probably do the trick.”


    Julius cringed. “No. It‟s not.”


    “Nah, didn‟t think so,” Peter chuckled to himself and turned his attention back to his

computer.


    Julius wasn‟t sure what Peter meant by this but as he always did when Peter made strange

statements, he ignored it. But he didn‟t ignore the flowers and chocolates suggestion. He

wasn‟t sure if the rift with Millie would come under the heading of lady trouble but maybe

flowers and chocolates were the glue he needed to mend them. He decided to call at the Spar

shop on the way home. With a plan in mind, he found focusing on his work much easier for

the rest of the day.


    Mrs Sharma‟s floral offerings were limited in both variety and quantity. Julius stood

outside for almost five minutes contemplating his choice. He had dismissed roses almost

immediately even though they appeared the healthiest of the offerings on display. But Julius

wanted to fix their friendship not confuse it with romantic symbolism. He was left with a

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straight choice between, a meagre display of multi coloured gerberas, pink carnations or gold

alstroemerias.    He picked up a bunch of each type before deciding. The carnations he

discarded first because, on closer inspection, he had discovered that some of the heads had

snapped.    Julius was determined that he would not give Millie broken flowers. The

alstroemerias were perfect in comparison and would have been his choice if the flowers were

to go in his own flat but the jewelled gerberas called to him. They were bright and colourful,

much like Millie herself and Julius realised they were the perfect choice for her. His only

problem with the gerberas was that he didn‟t think there were enough flowers in the bunch.

Julius decided that the only solution was to buy two bunches: One bright orange, the other

yellow. As he looked at the two packets, side by side, he felt pleased with his choice.


   “Mr Pope, I wasn‟t expecting to see you today,” Mrs Sharma greeted him with her usual

warmth. “Ah, such pretty flowers, Mr Pope. Is it Millie‟s birthday today?”


   “No. At least I don‟t think so, but I‟ll have a box of those chocolates up there too. The

Swiss ones, please and I‟d better get some cat food while I‟m here.”


    “It‟s so nice to see a gentleman buying flowers for his lady friend, Mr Pope,” Mrs

Sharma commented, as her fingers danced across the buttons on the till. “A lady likes to

know she‟s appreciated every now and again.”


   Julius was on the verge of denying Millie as his lady friend when he stopped. He had

only had one proper relationship in his life, which had been so ill judged and traumatic that

he tried never to think about it. He had never thought of Millie in those terms but twice that

day the assumption had been made that he had a romantic aspect to his life and Mrs Sharma

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had assumed that Millie was the object of his affection. He decided it was a subject he

should think about. But his most pressing concern was to make amends with Millie; his

friend. Until he knew that everything was right between him and Millie, he knew that he

would not be able to dismiss the feeling of disquiet that had echoed his heartbeat all day. He

had thought about nothing else.


   At some point in the day, the grey skies had lifted and the evening promised to be as

pleasant as the previous one. Now that he had gifts to offer Millie, he felt a sense of purpose

as he walked home. He was sure enough of Millie‟s nature to believe her capable of

forgiveness and as the day had progressed he had felt hopeful that by suppertime the previous

evening‟s rift would be forgotten. He had not practiced the words that he was going to say,

he just knew that he would say sorry for upsetting her and for asking her to entertain Giles.

He might even suggest that Giles should be allowed admission to his own flat to wait for him;

although he knew that this was likely to spark an uncomfortable tirade from Giles. Julius was

prepared to take it, if it meant that he and Millie could get back on track. He would ask for

her forgiveness and, if the opportunity arose, he would gently admonish her for putting him

in the same category as Giles and then he would forgive her too.


    In a reckless moment as he quickened his pace towards home, he contemplated telling

her the truth about where he was going on Friday, if it came to it. But this was a high-risk

decision and so he gave himself a get out jail free card by adding the caveat that he would

only do this if he judged her mood favourable enough to risk it. As he approached number

twenty-two, he spotted Esmeralda on the step and took a deep breath.


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    His hand was on the gate, moments away from Millie, when he heard a scream. A high-

pitched, child‟s scream; designed to enter every nerve ending and send alarm bells ringing in

the brain. It was a sound so powerful to Julius that it drowned out all other distractions.

Julius felt the effects of the adrenalin as it pulsed through his entire body: the leap of his

heart, the quickening of his breathing, the alertness of his brain. He looked around him and

saw the problem at once.


    On the opposite side of the road, at right angles to St Mary‟s Road, there was a narrow

lane that ran behind the houses of St Mary‟s Terrace; the street that St Mary‟s Road led to.

Near the entrance of the lane, a teenage boy was holding a small girl, five or six, perhaps. He

had black hair no longer than a quarter of an inch long and wore green combats and tee shirt.

From the bottom of his sleeve, a glimpse of a tattoo flashed. His grip on the girl‟s shoulders

was tight and her head was pulled down on one side where her hair had got caught beneath

his hand. At half his size, she was easily held. Her face was distorted with an expression of

pain and fear as she wept tears into her open mouth. At her sides her hands were curled into

tight fists.


    “Shtop it!” Her words were wet and sloppy; defeat hanging from every sobbed syllable.

The boy shook her and told her to shut up.


   He was laughing and Julius, who was already crossing the road, saw that further down the

lane another boy was riding a child‟s bicycle. His long legs stuck out and flapped as he made

the small circles with his legs, like one of Dumbo‟s circus clowns. He was grinning and

sucking at a cigarette, punching the air as though stealing a five year old‟s bike was a victory.


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    Rage was an unusual emotion for Julius but he felt the heat of it pop his cells like bubble-

wrap.


    “Let go of her and you, you bring that bike back here now.” The words came out strong

and forceful. He liked the sound of them; liked the authority they commanded.


    He wasn‟t sure how his hands had become free of his shopping but as Julius reached the

first boy he was able to push him away and pull the girl towards him in one movement. Once

she was free, Julius took her hand. It was clammy and small in his and he held it as tight as

he could. He hoped that this would transmit the message that she was safe. He felt her body

shake with sobs next to him as she took gulps of air and tried to call for her mother.


   Further up the lane, the boy on the bike had stopped. He sat with his legs astride, like

rests. A smile pulled his thin lips and sent his cigarette upwards so he looked to Julius like he

might burn his cheek.        The boy squinted against the smoke but otherwise remained

undeterred; his arms were folded across his chest and he was staring at Julius. Even from that

distance, Julius could tell that the boy did not consider him a threat.


    It was a few seconds before he saw the boy raise one foot to the pedal and push off with

the other. Seconds in which Julius had a vague notion that he should walk away but instead

he felt mesmerised and watched the bike come towards him in a slow zigzag. His early rush

of adrenalin began to seep away. What had possessed him to act so rashly? But, of course,

he knew that it had been the scream. He had heard it before. It had screamed his name and it

had been screaming to him from his worst nightmares for six years. He had had no choice

but to answer its call.

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   When the bike came to a halt in front of him, the boy slowly rose from the seat to swing

his leg free. He dropped the bike to the ground with a clatter. Both youths closed in on

Julius then and he had to fight the urge to retreat. Julius, who had little experience of

teenagers, guessed they were fifteen or sixteen. At five foot ten, Julius was average height

and both boys were tall enough to look him in the eye. One of them, the one who had been

on the bike, had several pockmarks on his cheeks and above his right eyebrow, at the edge of

his piercing, a white pustule sat waiting to pop. Neither boy showed any signs of developing

a beard, yet with their slow movements and un-blinking stares they had developed the art of

menace. It was the kind of idea that Julius would have found fascinating if he had had a clear

mind and time to consider this paradox but his attention was fixed on their movements.


   He felt the girl‟s hand try to pull away from his and he automatically increased his grip.

Every instinct in his body told him to protect her and he reasoned he could only do that if she

stayed next to him.          In that instant, he did not have time to consider alternatives, or

consequences. He sought only to keep her from harm.


   He had imagined the boy on the bike to be the leader but it was the other one, the one

who had held the girl, who stepped closer to him; so close that Julius could smell the mix of

chewing gum and smoke on his breath. Again, Julius resisted the urge to retreat and forced

himself to meet the boy‟s eyes. They reminded him of his kitchen work surface, hard and

grey. Julius knew it was an odd comparison to make but they were the most joyless eyes he

had ever seen. A part of Julius softened. He wondered what had happened to this boy to

have lost the joy in life so soon. If he had been sitting on a bus, merely observing him, Julius


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would have invented a story of abuse or loss but with the boy‟s face inches away from his

own, he pondered only how he could deal with this immediate, unexpected threat.


   Don’t let him know you’re scared, he told himself.


   “What the fuck do you think you‟re doing? Huh?” As the youth spoke, he thrust his

finger into Julius‟ shoulder, pushing him back a step.


   “You should be ashamed of yourselves; picking on a little girl.” Julius was pleased with

how level his voice sounded. He did not feel level.


   As he had felt the push of the boy‟s finger in his flesh, and heard the lilt of the midlands

accent in the way he had said fwck he realised that these were probably the boys who had put

the lit paper through George Lewis‟ letterbox. What had he done? What was he thinking

making enemies of these boys? He wanted to wipe the sweat from his hairline but he

couldn‟t move. His eyes were fixed on the boy‟s and there was nothing he could do about it.


   “Chloe... Chloe.” The voice that reached them was urgent and high pitched; the voice of

a mother calling for her young.


   Julius turned towards the sound. He saw a woman of no more than twenty coming

towards him with her arms folded across her thin body. Black leggings, that silhouetted the

thinness of her frame, covered her legs and on her feet she wore pink, fluffy slippers. Her

blonde hair looked dirty even though it had been scraped back into a ponytail. He felt the girl

pull away from him. He let go of her hand and watched as she ran to the mother who was




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little more than a child herself. With huge relief he watched as the girl was swept up into a

firm hug. The mother continued to walk towards them; fearless.


    To Julius‟ surprise, she ignored the boys and addressed him. “What do you think you‟re

doing with my daughter?”


    Julius stumbled for words and before he could find them he heard the boy‟s voice close to

his ear.


    “Yeah, the old perv was trying to take the girl for a walk, so we came over to stop him,

didn‟t we, Joe?”


    Julius didn‟t notice Joe‟s reaction. He couldn‟t; he was too dizzy, his mind full and

empty at the same time.


    “What? No...” Julius could barely speak. What were they suggesting? He wouldn‟t, he

couldn‟t. “No,” he said again. “It was them.”


    Julius looked at Chloe. He willed her to speak up in his defence, to lucidly explain to her

mother what had happened; to vindicate him. But of course she didn‟t; the nuances of what

was happening were beyond her. She was five and she just stared at Julius with watery eyes

as she clung to her mother.


    “Don‟t try and blame the boys. You‟re the one what was holding her. We‟ve all read

about queers like you. Well you leave us alone or you‟ll be sorry, do you hear?”


    “Yeah, ya fucking perv, leave them alone,” the boy nearest him said before adding in a

quieter voice, meant only for Julius, “You‟re going to be sorry, alright.”
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   Julius felt fear in his gut. It had a familiar heavy, chill that he recognised. If he had been

sensible enough to name it, he would have named it dread.


   Abruptly, the boy stepped away from him and nudged his friend. The mother turned too

and Julius watched Chloe‟s face recede as she stared at him over her mother‟s shoulder.


   Julius turned to go but the boy with the tattoo, moved to block his path.


   “We don‟t like paedos do we, Joe?”


   Joe came to stand next to his friend and stared at Julius for a moment. Then he snorted

and spat on Julius‟ shoe. “Nah, we fucking hate paedos.”


   Julius struggled to breathe. “I‟m not,” he began, but the boys took no notice.


   “We‟ll have to keep an eye on this one then.”


   “Looks like we‟re going to have to.”


   “I guess we‟ll be seeing you around then, paedo.” It was the tattooed boy who spoke this

time and he said the last word with a wink. When Julius winked he always had to move the

muscles in his cheek to squeeze one eye shut but this boy made no effort other than to close

one eyelid. It was the most sinister gesture Julius had ever seen.


   The boys turned and walked away from Julius then. He could hear them laugh. If Julius

had been capable of thought he would have realised that his humiliation had passed as

entertainment to the boys. He wanted to rage against the injustice, to rant and explode at the

conniving boys, to talk to the mother to convince her that she was wrong, to keep talking

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until he had proved his innocence. But all Julius was conscious of was the word he had been

called; paedo.


    Instead he felt giddy as his senses and feelings imploded: his life, his self, tumbled in on

itself like a disappearing planet. He could not utter a syllable, could barely breath because he

could not think past the reality that a label like that, no matter if it was true or not, could

stick. Labels could ruin a life. He didn‟t fight the sickness when it came; he had tasted the

bile and felt the sweat cold on his skin. When his stomach heaved and he bent his body to

help it out, he watched as it splashed from the street onto the bottom of his trousers and his

lace up shoes, where it mixed with the boy‟s spit. Upright again, with vomit dripping from

his chin he watched as Chloe and her mother turned the corner. He stood there until long

after the boys had disappeared too. You’re going to be sorry; You’re going to be sorry.

Paedo. It was all he could think of. It was ten minutes before he turned and ran to his house.

The gerberas and chocolates lay forgotten at the side of the road.




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                              And I Love You So.




   Julius heard Millie call him as he let himself in through their shared front door but he

ignored her and rushed up the stairs to his flat. He stumbled as he got near the top, banging

his knee on the bare wood. His heart and lungs were pumping so furiously that it felt as

though he had a set of drums in his chest. As he reached in his pocket for his key, he was

vaguely aware that Esmeralda was at his feet; whiskers twitching as she sniffed at his trouser

hem with caution. His hands were shaking as he tried to fit the key in the lock.


   The normality of his living room when he opened the door calmed him and he was able to

remove his key and close the door behind him with a calmness of movement that was closer

to his norm. Julius sat down in his armchair and pulled Esmeralda onto his lap. He rocked

back and forth as he stroked the cat but Esmeralda was hungry and didn‟t settle. She jumped

from his lap and headed for the kitchen.

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   Without the cat‟s comforting presence, Julius began to fidget.         He wanted to have

something to do with his hands so that he didn‟t have to think, so he got up and went to put

the kettle on. As he reached out to fill it, he noticed a smear of vomit on the back of his

hands. Repulsed, he dropped the kettle into the sink and tore at his clothes. He felt dirty and

not just because of the sick but from the words that had entered his ears and stained his brain

like nicotine. All he could think of was being clean and the instant he was naked, he went to

stand in the bath, under the shower head and turned on the jet. The water was freezing to

start with and Julius shivered under its stream. As the water warmed, he turned his face

upwards and let the water wash away the vomit. He imagined the water washing away the

memory of what had happened, as though water had magical powers like it did in some

biblical stories where it could wash away sin, or get turned into wine. Water could cleanse

him.


   He began to rub his body with soap but it didn‟t feel strong enough to clean him. He

remembered that at the back of the shallow cupboard under the sink, he had put an exfoliating

glove that he had bought after getting sunburned in Gran Canaria two years before. Dripping

over the linoleum floor, he squatted by the cupboard and pulled everything out until he found

it. His bathroom was so small that as he crouched, his back knocked against the toilet bowl.


   Back in the shower, Julius rubbed at his skin until the abrasion began to sting. Feeling

clean at last, he turned off the shower and dried himself. He went back into the kitchen and

pushed his clothes into the washing machine and washed his shoes. When he was finished,

he filled the kettle. He was still naked but Julius liked his body and felt no embarrassment in

his nudity but he felt cold and walked towards his bedroom to find some clothes. As he
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reached his bedroom door he heard Millie‟s voice on the landing and her timid knock on the

door. Millie rarely left her own flat. In fact, she had only ventured up the stairs to Julius‟ flat

three times before. On each occasion, she had never been able to settle and had not stayed

more than five minutes.


   “Jules, your dinner‟s been ready for ages,” she called, “Why haven‟t you come down?”

After a pause she added in a harsher tone, “Is this because of last night?”


    If it had been anyone else at his door, Julius would have pretended he wasn‟t in but he

knew that there was no point with Millie, who had probably heard him moving around, so he

felt compelled to reply. “No. Of course not.”


   “Then come down.” She left another pause, which Julius did not feel able to fill. “We

need to talk.”


   Julius, who had been unable to think of anything else all day apart from talking to Millie,

could not face it now. He was not recovered enough to be sure he wouldn‟t say something

that would make things worse between them. He couldn‟t take the risk.


   “Not tonight, Millie. I just had a shower and I‟m going to go to bed.”


    “What? But it‟s only seven o‟clock.”


   “Not tonight, Millie, ok?” even to his own ears, his voice sounded weary.


   Millie banged on the door. “Jules, what‟s wrong? Let me in.”


   “I can‟t. Uh, I haven‟t got any clothes on.”

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    From the other side of the door he heard her giggle. It was one of his favourite sounds;

like the tinkling of a bell.


    “Well put some clothes on, silly, and come down for food.”


    He instinctively knew that she turned away from the door then, believing he would

follow, so he raised his voice so it would reach her. “No,” but it came out all wrong. It was

too loud and too hard.


    There was a long moment filled only with the ticking of the clock and the crunch of cat

food between Esmeralda‟s teeth, where Julius didn‟t breathe. There was no noise from the

other side of the door. Julius was about to speak, to apologise, when he heard her feet as they

raced down the stairs; then came the slam of her door.


    “I‟m sorry.” Julius whispered.


    He wanted to run downstairs after her to apologise and tell her what had happened. He

wanted to hear her words of sympathy, feel her arm around his shoulders maybe but he didn‟t

want her to know what had happened.


    He waited by the door for a moment in case she came back but there was no sound of any

movement from Millie‟s flat and so, remembering that he was cold, he went to his bedroom

and found a pair of grey trousers and an old black sweater to wear. As he moved around his

bedroom a feeling of irritation began to grow in the pit of his stomach like a worm. He knew

what it was. It was the itch of a memory that had been awoken by the young girl‟s scream. It

needed to be visited but he was afraid that, like a mosquito bite, scratching the itch would

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only make it itch more. So he wondered around his flat from room to room, trying to find

things to do to keep his mind busy. But the harder he fought against it, the more the memory

nagged, until it pulled at him with the intensity of an addiction and he finally gave in.


   Once he was decided, his movements were swift and violent. He ran the short distance to

his bedroom and fumbled in his bedside table for a small set of keys. The mirrored wardrobe

was opened and he fell to his knees and pulled out several shoe boxes until he retrieved a

plain white box that had once held a pair of winter boots.


   He got to his feet and threw the box on the bed. Breathing heavily, he stared at it for a

moment. He had not viewed the contents of the box for three years. The last time had been

so painful that he had promised himself that he would never do it again but now that it was in

front of him, he knew that he would not be able to replace it again without setting eyes on the

items inside. Even though he hadn‟t opened the box for years, he knew exactly what he

would find inside. The contents were burned into his memory and would stay there until the

end of his days.


   Julius approached the bed with caution, as though he was approaching a box of vipers.

Seconds ticked by before he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the box towards him. With

a deep breath he eased off the lid. The photograph that met him was like a punch to the

stomach and he gasped for air and for a moment his vision kaleidoscoped and he saw several,

blurred faces peering out at him. As his breathing steadied, he blinked his eyes and the

images merged back into one and he gazed upon the sweetest most beloved face of his life;

Sarah.


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   It was the first official school photo that she had had taken. Her blonde hair was held in

bunches by Minnie Mouse hair bands and she smiled out at him with baby teeth and eyes the

same colour as his. The barely suppressed giggle in her expression had been captured for all

time with a quick flash of a photographer‟s camera but it could not capture the sound of her,

or the smell of her. Try as he did, he could not recall her voice, only fragments of her words

but her smell he remembered:             cereal and milk, chocolate buttons, strawberry jam

sandwiches.


   “Sugar and spice and all things nice,” the words crackled in his throat.


   She was his little girl, his Sarah.


   His hands were trembling as he lifted the photo with infinite care and touched his

fingertips to her cheek and the tip of her nose. It took a great effort for him to put it on the

duvet at the side of the box and lift the next item. It was a tee shirt she had grown out of that

had been discarded to the back of a drawer. He had found it after she had gone. At first, he

had conned himself into believing that it had retained her smell and had held it to his face and

wept into the cloth. But it only held the faint scent of washing powder that had clung to its

fibres, not the essence of Sarah and although he could not bear to part with it, it was not the

most precious memento in the collection.


   Next out of the box was a plastic bracelet that had come out of a Christmas cracker that

Sarah had called my jools. Other things followed, a baby sock, a dummy, her painted hand

print on a piece of card that she had done in nursery. At the bottom, in thick red paint, a

teacher had helped her sign her name. Julius touched his fingers to the cracked, paint, so old

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that it turned to dust on his skin. He laid his hand over hers and as she disappeared he closed

his eyes and imagined the feel of her hand in his. The pain attacked him then. It was

familiar, like the throb of a headache or the congestion of flu, forgotten between occurrences

but when it hits, recognisable as nothing else. This pain was heartache, the squeeze in his

chest like a claw, the blood backing up in his veins, throbbing, hurting; stopping his lungs.

The room began to swim, or maybe it was his head but everything started to go dark around

him. He pulled his hand away from the card with difficulty as though there was a magnetic

force keeping his hand on hers. He felt the sweat pour down his face. His breathing was

laboured but there was worse to come.


   When he had regained his breath, he pulled the card to one side only to be undone by a

single sheet of A4. It was a hand drawn picture she had done for his birthday. She had

drawn in blue and yellow crayons a picture of them. The figures were simple lines and

circles with chaotic yellow hair on her and crazy blue hair for him. Above his figure she had

written in uneven letters, daddy and above hers, she had written me. Below in red crayon

were the words to daddy, i love you, sarah. They were followed by a pyramid of kisses.


   Julius wept then. His feeling of loss as fresh as the day he had lost her. He let his body

drop down onto the bed and pulled his legs up foetus like. He called on all his memories of

her then, each of them feeding his misery until he was exhausted. It was dark by the time he

moved. He had started to feel the tingle of pins and needles in his arm so he pushed himself

back up.




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   The few possessions, so innocent, yet so powerful, looked sad against the duvet. As he

gathered them up and put the lid back on the box, he felt the misery slide away from him like

taking off a heavy coat. The pain of Sarah would always remain with him and now he could

see that what had happened with Chloe had not mattered. Whatever the boys had called him,

he knew the truth. If his life after Sarah could be endured then he could suffer the hurt of

childish name calling. For now, he would forget their threats. Maybe they had had their fun

and wouldn‟t bother to return. There were plenty of others they could pick on, closer than

him and if not, well, Julius decided not to think about that.


   As he locked the wardrobe, he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror and grimaced.

“Tea!” he told himself.


    In the kitchen he flicked on the kettle and flipped open the top of the CD player that sat

next to it. The CD was one he had downloaded and burned himself. Satisfied, he closed the

lid and pressed play.     As the beat of the intro started, Julius opened the door of his wall

cupboard and chose a mug. He only had four; all china because he firmly believed that tea

should never be drunk from a chunky lip.       He chose one that was the sole survivor of a set

of six. Each one had been decorated with the picture of a different breed of dog. The Jack

Russell was the only one left.


   Diana Ross started to sing Ain’t no Mountain High Enough and Julius reached for a tea

bag. His head was already starting to sway with the music. By the end of the second verse,

the kettle had boiled but Julius was engrossed in the song. Since childhood, Julius had loved

to sing. His mother had loved pop music and had taught him her favourite songs. Some of his


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most precious memories were those of them holding wooden spoons and singing songs like

Down Town together.


   He knew the words to the Diana Ross song and sang along. Julius carried a tune well.

His voice had power and a purity of tone that would have surprised most of the people he

knew. Millie he suspected knew he could sing. She couldn‟t have failed to hear him over the

years, although she had never mentioned it.


   Singing made him feel better. In a song, he could forget how small his life was and how

big his dreams had been. He could forget the comparison that would naturally be made

between his successful brother and his own unremarkable struggle. For the length of a song,

sometimes, he could even forget he was lonely.


   Julius stayed in his kitchen and sang for the length of the CD. He sang along to the

singers his mother had loved: Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield and Shirley

Bassey. These were the singers that he now loved in his turn. With each song, his voice

grew in volume as he felt more revived. It was as though singing recharged him.


   When the CD came to an end, Julius finally made himself a cup of tea and because he

could hear the grumble of his stomach, he opened the cupboard by the fridge and reached in

to the back, where he kept an emergency packet of digestives. He took two biscuits and his

tea and went to bed.


   The next morning Julius was woken by the sound of the wind blowing the rain against his

window. Julius liked the sound of the rain, he liked its steadiness and its rhythm but he did

not like the wind. Wind made everything messy. It blew leaves from the trees in autumn and
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caused blizzards in winter. On a summer‟s day, it blew sand into sandwiches at the beach

and in the spring, it would force his beloved cherry blossom to give up its bloom. Wind was

a bully.


    The flat felt cold and Julius put on a sweater as he made his morning tea and ate his

cornflakes. The incidents of the night before seemed more distant after his sleep. He looked

back on it as an unfortunate misunderstanding that would soon be forgotten. He was sure that

the boys would not return to taunt him in this weather and given a day or two, hopefully they

would forget he existed. In fact, the only thing that still troubled him was what he was going

to do about Millie. They had had disagreements in the past but they had never before

inflicted hurt. Julius was not practiced in dealing with relationships and worried that he

would say or do the wrong thing and spoil their friendship forever.


    He contemplated writing her a letter that he could slip under her door and after weighing

this up in his mind for several minutes, he decided this to be a good plan. It took him a while

to locate a sufficiently clean piece of paper but after five minutes of staring at the paper with

a pen poised above it, he had not written a word. The only word he wanted to write was

sorry, but Julius who had been good at letter writing in school, didn‟t consider this to be

sufficient content for a letter. After more thought he realised that he wanted her to forgive

him too and he pondered over the message, I’m sorry, please forgive me, for some time. In

the end, the clock chimed the hour and Julius having spent all the time his early rise had

bought him, abandoned the project and had to rush to get the bus.




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    It wasn‟t until his bus journey home that the answer came to him. When it did, the

simplicity of it made him wonder why it had taken so long to recognise. He would repeat the

gesture he had tried the previous day and buy Millie some flowers and chocolates at the Spar

on the way home. Armed with these he would apologise for being so thoughtless and ask for

her forgiveness. With luck, he would soon be eating warmed up pie and vegetables at her

table again. The more he thought about it, the happier Julius was with this plan. If it was a

good idea yesterday, then it‟s a good idea today, he told himself.


   Mrs Sharma‟s floral selection had not improved with the passing of a day but it was

sufficient for Julius to make the same choice as he had done before. He did not deliberate;

gerberas were chosen and taken inside the Spar within the space of a minute. The gloom of

the shop did not seem so abrupt on a bleak day so he could see straight away that Mrs

Sharma was serving another customer. Julius wondered around the shop to pass the time. He

paid no attention to the conversation between Mrs Sharma and the woman she was serving

and concentrated instead on trying to recall the contents of his cupboards in case there was

something he needed. He picked up a packet of dry cat food and a tin of beans.


   When he came back to stand in line he let his eyes scan across the rows of cakes and

biscuits at his side. Julius loved both. He was particularly fond of what his grandmother had

called yellow cake. Madeira and Victoria sponge both fell into the category of yellow cake.

There were no Victoria sponge cakes on show in the Spar but Julius stared at the Madeira. It

glistened behind its clear wrapping and Julius could almost taste the buttery sweetness of the

cake and feel its softness on his tongue. He was tempted by the idea of a slice of Madeira


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with butter on and a nice cup of tea. He almost reached out to grab it but he reminded himself

that he wanted to look his best that Friday night, so he steeled himself and looked away.


    It was then that he saw that the customer talking to Mrs Sharma was Chloe‟s mother. Her

hair had been washed and now fell down her back in a corn coloured wave. She wore jeans

with a red jacket and a little make up that made her look older than she had the day before,

but there was no mistaking it was her.


   Julius panicked. There was no reason to, but the sight of her was unexpected and

triggered the memories of the day before. He had not had enough time to bury them deep; to

keep them from leaping on his composure now.          He recoiled and turned to leave but he

knocked into a display of soup tins and sent them scattering across the floor. The noise was

excruciating as the tins clattered against the wooden planks.


   He set aside his items and bent to retrieve the tins and attempted to re-stack them. Mrs

Sharma came around from her counter and patted his shoulder.


   “It‟s alright Mr Pope, don‟t you worry about that now. I‟ll put it right in a minute.”


   Julius stood up with a tin of soup in each hands and shrugged his shoulders at her, “I‟m

sorry, Mrs Sharma. I didn‟t notice them.”


   Mrs Sharma gave him a tight smile. It was the sort of smile that said, the customer is

always right, even when they knock over the display that I took ages to arrange. “That‟s

alright, Mr Pope. No harm done, really.”




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   Julius handed her the tins of soup and bent to retrieve Millie‟s flowers and Esmeralda‟s

food. As he stood up, he heard a gasp from the counter.


   “Oh my God, that‟s him. That‟s the pervert I was just telling you about; the one that

wanted to take my Chloe for a walk.” The girl‟s index finger stretched out towards him.


   Julius watched Mrs Sharma look from him to the girl and back again. Her tolerant

expression morphed into one of horror.


   “Mr Pope? No, you must be wrong,” she said.


   Julius was grateful for her words but was troubled by the lack of conviction they held.


   “No, I‟m not,” the girl‟s voice rose, close to hysteria now, “It was him. I‟m sure of it.

I‟ve got a good mind to call the police.”


   “Now, now,” Mrs Sharma‟s voice sounded calm in comparison. “There‟s no need to get

the police here. What good would it do anyway? Perhaps Mr Pope, you‟d like to leave?”


   Julius tried to speak but he could not form the words. He was staring at the girl‟s finger,

pointing at him in the way that people once pointed at witches. He felt powerless, as though

she had cast a spell on him that took away his voice. He hesitated for a moment and turned to

Mrs Sharma. He tried to read the expression in her eyes but could not. His hands were

shaking as he handed her the flowers and cat food.


   “It‟s not true,” he managed to whisper. He wasn‟t sure who the words were for but he

hoped that Mrs Sharma would understand. But the girl had caught them and screamed her

reply.
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   “Yes it is. I saw you!”


    Julius felt the sweat of nausea cool on his forehead.


   “Just leave, Mr Pope. It‟s for the best.” Mrs Sharma, patted his shoulder, or was it a

gentle push? Julius wasn‟t sure.


   On unsteady legs Julius left the shop and turned for home. For the first time, he was

grateful for the wind as it whipped at his face, stripping away his nausea. He had not

expected the accusation to be repeated and had not considered that it would become public.

He was angry with himself for assuming that only the boys were a threat and for not thinking

it through thoroughly enough to see the dangers.


   The further he walked away from the shop the angrier he became. Why hadn‟t he denied

it? He had had the opportunity to tell them the truth about what had happened and he had let

it go, just as he had once stopped telling the truth about Giles.


    In his head he told himself that he had not had the chance. Chloe‟s mother had been too

agitated to listen but Mrs Sharma would have heard him out. Mrs Sharma knew about the

boys. She had been the one who had told him about what they had done to George Lewis,

surely she would have helped him persuade Chloe‟s mother of the truth?


   Julius stopped walking and contemplated turning back. He felt the need to return to the

shop but the fear of facing his accuser again was strong. In his mind he heard his brother‟s

voice call him a coward and Julius faltered. It was a familiar taunt from their childhood but

Giles had never tired of using it, even as an adult. Julius tried to quash it; to bury the memory

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back into the dark recess of his brain where he stored it. But it wouldn‟t be quieted: you’re

nobody, nobody cares about a slug, you’re pathetic. Giles‟ voice played in Julius‟ head in a

continuous loop and pushed his feelings of anger aside. Julius didn‟t turn back and he ignored

the part of him that told him he was making a mistake.


      Esmeralda wasn‟t on the doorstep to greet him when he reached number twenty two. In

her place was a half eaten mouse and a neat pile of vomit containing the other half. The sight

of the half chewed entrails hanging loosely from a body made up of hips and tail, disgusted

Julius. He knew that he would have to clean it up but he couldn‟t face the task. Instead, he

went back through the gate and continued walking to the end of the street and crossed the

road to the rough ground that the locals called the park.


      Some years before the council had cleared one corner of the field and put up a slide, some

swings and a roundabout for the local children. They had also built a public convenience but

over time the windows had been broken by stray footballs or maybe they had just been used

as target practice. Inside, where the air reeked of damp, stale urine, the cleaners started to

find used condoms and needles. In the interests of public safety, the council had boarded it

up.


      Now, the slide was rusty and the roundabout squeaked with each rotation. It was no

longer filled with children eager to be pushed on the swings. Over time, the thin concrete

they sat on had cracked and broken up so that the park looked as though it was covered in

loose stones. Wild grass pushed itself up in tufts and beyond the play area, the grass was

high and thick with nettles.


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     Julius sat on one of the swings and leant forward with his elbows resting on his knees.

He let his head drop and stared at the puddle that had formed in the indented patch of sand,

where little feet pushed off and stopped. The rain found the gap between his shirt collar and

his neck and ran down his spine. It was cold but he didn‟t move. His head was so full that he

couldn‟t think straight. All he could think of was to ask how he could let so much happen so

quickly and not take control of it all? Why hadn‟t he just let the boys ride the bike? They

would have given it back once they grew bored. Why did he have to get involved? He

allowed himself redemption at this, as he believed his actions had been honourable. He

would have saved Sarah, so why not another girl her age? But that didn‟t answer why he

hadn‟t defended himself in the shop or sooner, when the boys first accused him? And finally

he posed the question that caused him the most concern, why hadn‟t he just gone to Millie‟s

and said sorry? Why didn‟t he just tell her the truth? In his head he agreed with Giles; he

was a coward.


   He straightened up and leant against the chain of the swing. Above the sound of the wind,

he heard the old swing groan with arthritis. From there he could see their home and he stared

at it for a while as he let his mind empty. Then he saw Millie appear in her bay window. She

was too far away to make out her features but the sight of her galvanised him. He could not

undo what had happened with the boys or change Chloe‟s mother‟s mind but he could talk to

Millie. Suddenly his need for her overwhelmed him.


   Julius had never given his feelings for Millie a name but it came to him now; it was love.

He loved Millie. It was a new emotion in his life which, he realised, was why he had not

recognised it before. The relationship with Sarah‟s mother, Andrea, had ended many years
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before. It had been a struggle in which Julius had feigned happiness for Sarah‟s sake. Then

one awful night, it had exploded like a firework and she had taken Sarah from him to a place

where Julius couldn‟t find her. The loss of Andrea had passed quickly but losing Sarah had

broken his heart. He had never sought any kind of romantic entanglement again. But now, he

realised it had happened anyway. The realisation of his feelings for Millie elated and scared

him. He was half way home before he realised he was running. He paused at the doorstep,

being careful not to step on the dismembered mouse, and let himself in. He did not go

upstairs to his flat but knocked on Millie‟s door and called her name.


   Millie was dressed totally in black and the lack of colour distracted him for a fraction of

time; time that Millie filled with her words; time that Julius would never get back.


   “Mrs Sharma called.”


    Julius felt as though a steel blade had been pushed into his chest. He recoiled from her

until his back was against the hall wall. He stared at her aghast; his whole being was in

agony.


   “You believe her?” His voice was faint. “You know me better than anyone in the world

and you believe her?”


   “I didn‟t say I believed her. But what on earth were you doing trying to take that little

girl?” Her voice sounded cold to Julius and he exploded.


   “I wasn‟t trying to take the little girl.”




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   “Well apparently, her mother thinks you were. She was telling Mrs Sharma that she had

to pull the girl away from you.”


   “That‟s ridiculous.”


   “It sounds ridiculous but Mrs Sharma said that the girl‟s mother was hysterical in the

shop.”


   “Well who are you going to believe? Me or Mrs Sharma?”


   “I don‟t know who to believe, quite honestly.”


   Julius froze. Their exchange had become more heated and fast with every sentence but

now Julius stopped. He stared at Millie. This was the woman he had decided to love with all

his heart and she had hurt him more with words than if she had kicked him.


   “You‟re supposed to be my friend. You‟re supposed to believe me. Or at least you‟re

supposed to give me a chance to tell you my side of the story. But oh, no, you‟d rather stand

in judgement of me on the say so of a shop keeper who listens to tittle-tattle all day long than

listen to me.”


   Julius watched as Millie shifted her weight onto a different foot. She couldn‟t meet his

eye. “Don‟t blame Mrs Sharma.”


   “Well who should I blame?”


   “Blame yourself, Jules. You‟re the one who had hold of that little girl and wouldn‟t let

her go.”

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   He had shouted at her and so Millie had shouted back. Part of him knew that like so

many hurts, the words had probably been thrown in the heat of the moment but Julius felt

defeated. He turned towards the stairs and forced himself to climb them.        His bones felt

heavy as he moved. On the third step he stopped and turned to look at her. She was lovely in

black, the serene version of herself. To Julius, she looked as fragile as a porcelain doll. His

heart ached to look at her.


   “You‟re wrong,” he said. His voice was calm and held no hint of the turmoil he felt.

“You and Mrs Sharma, you‟re both wrong. If you‟re interested in the truth, you know where

I am.”


   He climbed the rest of the stairs then and didn‟t look back. Not even when he heard her

call his name.


    It had only ever happened once before as far as Julius could remember. He had been

about seven or eight years old and Giles had let off a stink bomb in Littlewoods cafe. Julius

did not like the joke. It had made him feel uneasy in his belly but when Giles had laughed,

Julius had laughed along with him. Disgust amongst the customers spread as quickly as the

putrid gas and the manager was called. Julius hid behind Giles, expecting his older brother to

shoulder responsibility for the prank but Giles had turned on him.


   “I told you not to do it, Julius,” he had said. He had added a thump to Julius‟ arm as he

spoke and the manager did not look to blame Giles again. When Julius opened his mouth to

protest, he was told to be quiet. He was too afraid not to comply.



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   Julius was marched to the manager‟s office with Giles in tow, where Giles gleefully gave

up all of Julius‟ details. There Julius was berated and told to wait for his mother to arrive.

Whenever the manager‟s eyes were off them, Giles had whispered to Julius that he was going

to jail; he was going to be locked up and no-one would ever want to see him again. When

Giles ran out of threats, he had pinched Julius on the thigh and on the back of the arm, where

the skin was thinner and it hurt more, until Julius started to cry.


   “Cry baby. Cry baby,” Giles taunted him.


   Julius had tried to be brave and swallowed back his sobs but tears clung to his eyelashes

the whole time he waited. He was sure that as soon as his mother came everything would be

alright again. Waiting for her had felt like a lifetime. When she arrived, she looked tired and

her usual calmness was missing. The eyes that had always looked on him with affection

looked irritated and cross.


   “What on earth did you do?” she asked. Her voice was unusually shrill.


   “I told him not to do it, mother.”


   “Don‟t lie, Giles, you know it was you.”


   “Boys!” She waited for them to stop squabbling. Julius remembered she was good at

that; pausing until she had their complete attention. “No arguing.”


   Julius was made to apologise to the manager and promise he would never do it again.

When she took his hand to lead him from the shop, hers was encased in a leather glove and

the lack of warmth had felt like the cruellest punishment of all. That evening he wasn‟t
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allowed pudding and he sat across from Giles, who continued to torment Julius by playing

chew and show with his apple crumble.


   All his life, Julius had remembered this incident with loathing. He had never trusted

Giles after that but what had really hurt Julius was that his mother had not listened. It was the

only blemish on her memory and he blocked it from his own most of the time. Millie‟s

refusal to listen had brought it back and the pain of it twisted in his head.


   He made a mug of tea and sat in his armchair to listen to Dusty Springfield. He didn‟t

feel like singing along. Instead he tried to let go of the sense of injustice that had disquieted

his soul. He asked himself why others, even people who knew him, found it so easy to

believe him to be bad. It was a question for which he had no answer. Gradually, as the tea

and music soothed him, his mind found the subject of Giles‟ imminent arrival.


   Visits from Giles were endured rather than enjoyed. For Julius, they meant a series of

winces and bitten lips as he endured the barrage of jabs that came from his brother. Whether

it was from his fists or his dragon‟s tongue, Julius knew that Giles would always find a way

to exploit Julius‟ weak points. What Julius felt for his brother was not love. He doubted he

had ever loved Giles as siblings should. Yet with each visit he held on to a faint hope that

this time would be different; that this time, his mother‟s boys would find each other, at last.

For the memory of his mother, which he treasured above all things, Julius was prepared to

try. Julius knew that Giles mistook his willingness to endure as weakness just as he knew

that Giles would amuse himself with the cruelty he inflicted on his younger brother. Julius

would absorb Giles‟ derision into his soul and fight back tears of frustration and injustice and


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not once fight back because he had learned not to. He asked himself a hundred times, or

more, why he put up with his brother. The only answer that he had ever coherently come to

was blood; Giles was all he had.


   As always the imminent arrival of Giles made Julius nervous. He realised that he would

have to let Giles stay in his flat. He no longer expected Millie to take his brother in and feed

him. Julius did not like the idea of Giles being free to snoop around his flat but there was

nothing else to be done. He would make sure that his private papers, bank statements and

other correspondence, were locked in his wardrobe and he would have to remember to take

the key with him.


   As for food, Giles would just have to go hungry until Julius‟ return. Julius decided that

he would pick them up some fish and chips on his way home. It would be late and Giles

wouldn‟t like it but Julius pretended to himself that he wasn‟t worried about that.


   He sat in his armchair for a long time after the music had stopped. It wasn‟t just Giles‟

arrival that caused him anxiety about the next day. He had looked forward to this Friday for

weeks; had planned it to the last detail but a shadow had been cast over it. He thought about

cancelling his engagement for a long time. He was sensible enough to know what people

were like and didn‟t want to fuel the rumours that Mrs Sharma would spread. But why

should he cancel his plans when he hadn‟t done anything wrong? Besides, he could hardly

bare the excitement of it. Finally, he made a decision.


   “To thine own self be true,” he said aloud. It was his favourite quote.



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   He got up and cleared his mug to the kitchen. He picked up the box he had set aside

earlier that week and then went to his bedroom and started to get ready for Friday.




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                                   Night and Day



   The wind had died down by the next morning but a steady rain persisted. It was the kind

of rain that Julius called wet rain on account of the large drops that drenched everything in

seconds. It even found its way into socks. Many of the cherry blossom petals, that had been

so perfect just a few days before, were now collected in lumps of pink mulch at the side of

the road and clogged drains. Julius barely noticed. If he and Millie had been speaking, he

would have pointed out that yet again, his grandmother had been right. But despite all his

wishes to the contrary, Millie had not ventured up the stairs to his flat the previous evening.

Julius felt a shake in his core. It couldn‟t be seen or heard but it pushed up to his throat and

occasionally he thought he tasted something sour. It was a bad day to feel alone, he thought.

With Giles‟ arrival imminent, his anxiety was growing. He needed the safety of Millie‟s

friendship to anchor the dread that was dancing in his mind like an untamed hose. He

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journeyed to work in a haze, not even looking at the sea when it tossed its head

provocatively.


   Friday‟s were always busy at Cartwright‟s for Julius, on account of it being pay day. As

part of his job, he handled all the time sheets and BACS payments. On Fridays, he dealt with

the ensuing queries from staff who had invariably expected more. Julius had been doing the

job so long that he had devised his own spreadsheet and filing system to be able to deal with

any query quickly. It was rare for there to be a genuine error and fewer people appeared in

his office these days than in the past.


   Shirley Morgan, one of Cartwright‟s most fearsome employees, stood in front of Julius

that Friday morning with her arms crossed across her chest and gave him one of her looks.

Shirley was famous for her looks. Peter Cartwright had commented once that she should

have been on the telly because, like Mr Potato Head, she had a look for every occasion. She

was tall and in the past, Julius had often admired her shapely legs but now they carried a

weight beyond the capability of their design. Julius had amused himself with the idea that

each extra pound that had settled around Shirley‟s girth had been bought with a pound of

good humour.


   “You haven‟t paid me my overtime from last week, Mr Pope and I‟ve got our Sammy‟s

engagement party tomorrow night, so I‟ll need the money today. And before you ask, I‟m

not waiting „til next week.”


   Julius bristled; Shirley had never been one of his favourite colleagues. She appeared

careful in front of him but he had heard her talking to some of the other staff and hadn‟t liked

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what he heard. He found her too brash, her language too vulgar, for his tastes. So, he made

no attempt at conversation with her and turned to the computer, prepared to prove her wrong.

He wriggled and clicked his mouse until he found her time sheet, double checked it to his

paper file and then checked it again. As he realised he had made a mistake, he felt the heat

rise in his face. He was about to check it a third time when Peter Cartwright entered the

room.


   “Shirley, why aren‟t you on the floor?”


   “Mr Pope‟s made a mistake in my wages. Isn‟t that right, Mr Pope?”


   Julius thought he detected smugness in her tone. His lips tightened.


   “He‟s just sorting it out for me now.”


   Julius felt Peter Cartwright‟s eyes on him and shifted in his chair.


   “Is that right, Julius? Have you cocked up Shirley‟s wages?”


   Julius wished he could make himself invisible. “Um, yes. Looks like I have, yes.”


   “Bloody hell! I didn‟t think I‟d live to see the day.” Peter Cartwright smacked his thigh

as he spoke. “Right Shirley, get back to work and leave Julius sort it out for you.”


   “Don‟t forget, I need it today,” she repeated, using her disdainful eyes.


   She left then and Peter pushed the door closed behind her. He walked around Julius‟ desk

and sat on its corner. Julius was uncomfortable with Peter so close and moved in his chair to

put more inches between them.
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    “What the bloody hell is going on with you this week?”


    “Nothing. I just missed Shirley‟s overtime, that‟s all.”


    “You never miss their overtime.       I‟ve seen you checking it and double, quadruple

checking it.”


    Julius didn‟t have an answer for this because what Peter said was the truth. He didn‟t

look up to meet Peter‟s eye. He hoped the lack of response would stop his boss from pushing

further.


  “Alright, if you don‟t want to talk about it, that‟s up to you. But you‟ve been off with the

fairies all week, Julius. So whatever it is, sort it out. Am I understood?”


    Julius nodded.


    “Good, because you know I can‟t afford for that lot out there to get too pissed off.

Especially the experienced ones like Shirley.”


    Julius wanted to shout OK but he didn‟t. Instead, he put his head down and concentrated

on sorting out Shirley‟s pay. As he did so, he found three other mistakes he had made in the

pay that week. He had not realised that he had been so distracted. He corrected the errors

and went to inform the staff members concerned. He thought this a better plan than waiting

for them to visit the office at lunch time. This way, he could keep the extent of his errors a

secret. He worked with care all afternoon and was relieved when Peter checked his invoices

and commented, “Now that‟s more like it.”



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   On the bus home, Julius thought about Millie. He had tried not to all day but she had

regularly slipped into his thoughts. The mug he drank from, the coaster it sat on, even the red,

plastic desk-tidy that sat on his desk had been gifts from her and it had been hard to keep the

idea of her at bay. But on the bus, he was free to let his mind roam. The belief that he should

be angry with her was stronger than the anger he felt. It had only been three days but the loss

of the solace of Millie‟s company had unsettled him. He did not want to think about the fact

that he had not had a friendly conversation with anyone for three days.


   As he gazed out of the bus window at the beach and the holiday camp near its edge, he

formed a plan. He would go home and get ready, make sure everything was tidy for Giles‟

arrival and then he would call with Millie. The rift between them had begun when he had

asked her to abandon their Friday nights together and to entertain his brother.           Julius

convinced himself that everything that had happened between them since then had been a

result of that insensitivity. So, it was down to him to try one last time to ease the tension

between them. If this didn‟t work, he told himself, then it would be down to her.


   The rain had stopped earlier that afternoon and Julius, who always felt better when he had

a plan, walked home from the bus with a light step. With a couple of deep breaths to steady

him, he called Giles, grateful that he was greeted by his answer machine, and left a message

to explain that Millie would have the key to his flat and that Giles should let himself in and

wait for Julius‟ return. Once this was done, Julius refused to think of Giles‟ arrival again. He

would deal with him later. For now, Julius was determined to enjoy this night he had

anticipated for weeks. Giles could ruin tomorrow.


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    As soon as he got home, Julius bathed and shaved to the sound of Elvis. Whenever the

blade was safely away from his skin, he sang along. As he removed his bristles and brushed

his teeth, he felt the anticipation start to grow. It started as a spark in his stomach and then

spun further and further out, like a catherine wheel.


    Of the good memories he had of his childhood, Julius often remembered being six. More

specifically, he remembered the night before his sixth birthday. He had lain in his bed more

excited than he had ever felt before or since because he knew that the next day he would

receive his first watch. A watch meant he was a big boy; a watch made him grown up, like

Giles. It meant he had learned to tell the time and apart from learning to tie a bow on his lace

up shoes, telling the time had been his biggest achievement. His father had been so pleased

that he had promised the watch.


    An early birthday card stood open on his chest of drawers. It sat next to a one-eyed teddy

named Franklin (after the family who had bought it for the baby, Julius). A once favoured

sleep-mate, Franklin, had been relegated to the top of the chest of drawers several weeks

before, after Giles had repeatedly taunted him and called him a baby for needing to sleep with

a toy.


    Night after night, Julius had longed to feel the comfort of Franklin in his arms but he had

been too fearful of Giles‟ teasing to bring Franklin back down from where he sat. But the

night before he turned six, Julius‟ attention was distracted by the sight of his birthday card.

The gold, foil, number six glinted in the dim glow of the night light and Julius stared at it




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until the excitement had frothed up inside him and escaped in a quiet giggle. He had lain

there, anticipating the enjoyment of the next day, until he had fallen asleep.


    As an adult, Julius had lived a quiet life. Excitement of holidays or parties had been rare,

bright spots on an otherwise even path. As Julius picked up the sports bag he had packed the

previous night and went downstairs to Millie‟s door an uncontrollable giggle of excitement

escaped him. Inside he was six again.


    The hesitation in his movement as he raised his hand to knock was imperceptible. Millie

took long enough to answer the door for Julius‟ excitement to be dulled by the reality of their

recent strain. He reminded himself of their exchange the previous day and warned himself

against expecting his forgiveness of her to be mirrored.


    When the door opened, the sight of Millie brought out the smile that had lurked on his

lips since arriving home from work. She was wearing a long, yellow skirt, blue blouse and in

her hair a large, red bow. Julius thought she looked like Snow White and had to close his

mouth to stop the idea escaping. Millie did not smile in return. She turned to look over her

shoulder and in a quiet voice she told him that she had clients.


    To Julius she seemed distant. He wanted to find something to bring her back, so he

grinned and mouthed the words, mumbo jumbo. When he was rewarded by a twitch at the

corner of her lips, Julius felt hope swell in his chest.


    “I just wanted to let you know that I phoned Giles and left a message telling him to get

the key from you and to wait for me in my flat.”


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   Millie opened her mouth as though she was on the verge of objecting but a cough from

inside her flat stopped her.


   “That‟s fine. I mean, it would have been fine. Well, not fine, but...”


   “I know.”


   Julius tried to transmit everything he felt for her and the regret for what had happened

between them in those two words. For the first time since Tuesday, their eyes met and he

saw the softening of her shoulders. Her smile blunted the steel in her eyes and Julius was

overcome with a sensation that he now recognised as love. When she reached out to take his

key, he put it in the palm of her hand and tried to hold her hand. But she moved her hand

away as soon as she had hold of the key and he ended up holding her fingers. It was a clumsy

gesture and he pulled his hand away in embarrassment.


   “I have to go.” Millie said, looking over her shoulder again and Julius chastised himself

for his awkward overture.


   “Yes, of course. Thanks.” His words were mumbled.


   They both pulled back then, Julius edged towards the front door and Millie behind hers,

then she stopped.


   “Jules.”


   He turned to face her.


   “Call in for tea tomorrow, when Giles has gone.”

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   Julius beamed. It was the anaesthetic he needed to endure his brother‟s visit.


   Behind the house they shared, there was a line of garages that was paired with the houses

on St Mary‟s Road. The garage that belonged to number twenty-two had a red door that, like

their hallway, was faded and streaked and in need of a re-paint. Julius did not like to drive.

He liked the freedom of thought that buses allowed. In a bus he could watch what went on

inside and out and let his mind find entertainment in endless places. Behind the wheel of his

Ford Fiesta, he had to concentrate on concrete and metal. Although he was a careful driver

and had never committed any kind of ticketed offences, he still preferred the bus. The

problem with Friday nights was that the bus service ended before he would be ready to come

home. So, he had to take his car. Even though he didn‟t drive regularly, he visited the garage

weekly to turn over the engine.


   He put his bag on the back seat of the car and reversed out of the garage. He joined the

main road and followed the bus route he normally took to work. Three miles outside of town,

Julius turned right, through the entrance to Hamlin‟s holiday park. He drove around the one

way system to the rear of the entertainment complex and parked in the small staff car park.


   He busied himself then, fussing that the car was parked straight and opening his bag to

check that everything was there. It was the nerves kicking in; he knew that. It had been the

same last year. When he had run out of things to fret about, he locked his car door and

walked to the back door of the theatre and rang the bell.      Moments later, the door was

opened.




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   The person who opened the door was a woman. Julius guessed that if she hadn‟t already

turned seventy, she was most certainly fast approaching it. She did not reach as far as Julius‟

shoulder.


   “Hello me little cock „n‟ balls. I was wondering when you‟d show up. How are you,

love?”


   As she spoke, she pulled at Julius‟s shirt, tugging his face down, so she could reach his

cheek for a kiss. For a fraction of a moment, Julius caught the scent of violets and face

powder. He felt the wet mark of her lips on his skin and fought the temptation to wipe it

instantly away.


   “I‟m fine thank you, Thelma. How are you? You look wonderful.”


   This was a lie. Thelma had aged in the few months since Julius had seen her last. She

seemed to him to have halved in size and her blonde hair had been left to show long, grey

roots. The lines, like tree bark, on her face were accentuated by a layer of make-up and

rouge. When she had spoken he had heard the slight click of her dentures.


   “Oh, I‟m doing alright now, thank you, love. You did hear that my Stan passed last

Christmas?”


   Julius felt awkward. Death always brought back thoughts of his mother. He had never

been good at dealing with them.


   “No. No, I didn‟t hear. I‟m sorry.”



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   Thelma patted his arm. “That‟s alright, love. Happens to us all in the end. Now, you‟re

in the big room with everyone else, watch out for Glyn, he‟s very prickly tonight.”


   Julius thanked her and walked towards the fire doors at the end of the corridor.


   “Shall I bring you the usual?” Thelma called.


   Julius turned and smiled. “That would be lovely.”


   Thelma disappeared around a corner then and Julius made his way through the doors and

down another corridor. It was freshly painted in pale green and lined with black and white

photographs of various stars that had appeared in the theatre. Hamlin‟s didn‟t attract the top

entertainment, but there were enough singers from the seventies who were more than willing

to eek out their careers doing summer season work. Julius stopped at a poster to read the line

up. Starring tonight was a magician who had been popular in the eighties. Julius hadn‟t seen

him on the television for years but he recognised the name. He read the rest of the list. The

names appeared in ever decreasing font size. Last but two on the list was the name, Shirley

Sassy. Julius smiled. He couldn‟t wait.




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