Story postcard – asleep in his shoes (1)

Rudd stabs his fork into the last of his chips. He sweeps it up through the tomato sauce on the edge of his plate, and back down towards a few grains of salt. His eyes are almost closed, his head pillowed on the palm of his hand. Sleepily, he repeats the motion, hypnotized by the slow, wiper-blade progress of the fork. Finally he brings the red-gold slice up to his mouth, chews it slowly, and then lets his fork rattle down on to the plate.

“Mind if I join you?”

He looks up and sees an older man in front of him – tall, tidy, looking clean in the shadows. Slowly, slowly his tired mind connects him back to the wedding, back to the service under the trees, planets ago. Surprised, he pulls himself upright and glances around the room. It’s empty. Even the doctors have gone.

“May I join you?” the priest asks again.

“Sure. Everything okay? My apologies for all this,” he mumbles, sweeping his hand vaguely around the room.

“Not your fault,” says the priest, sitting down. “Good meal by the way. Impressive producing it in these conditions, especially with no staff.”

“Thanks. Wasn’t just me.”

“Saw Simi and Marybelle in the kitchen earlier. Quite a partnership.”

“For sure,” says Rudd.

 “Marybelle? She must have Scottish in her, or something?”

Rudd shrugs. “Don’t know. Jacobus might.”

“Oh. You don’t know?”

“No, not really. Jacobus was talking to Tim about her. I think Jacobus was at school with her.”

Rudd sits a little straighter, trying to drag his mind back from the cliff edge of sleep. Marybelle? She slips around his mind, like a bird trapped in a room. He can’t catch her.

“Oh,” says the priest. “I see. She seems a bit of an outsider, don’t you think?”

Marybelle? Why all these questions about Marybelle?

“I don’t know.” Rudd shrugs . He tries to end it there, but the priest’s eyes force him deeper. “May have grown up with Jacobus. Something like that. His mum took care of her because her mum died? The mum who adopted her. I think she was adopted. Best to ask Jacobus.”

“Wonder if she’s got any family …” the priest muses, the fingers of one hand tapping gently on the table, his signet ring a dull glow.

Rudd cricks his neck from side to side, eyes closed. When he opens them he sees that the priest is looking at him. He stops his stretching. “She works at a school. The same one she went to. I do know that. Seems mad to me.”

He is about to stand up, to end the conversation, when the kitchen door swings open. It thumps against the wall, and as though summoned by some mysterious force, Marybelle appears, with Simi behind her.

Rudd raises a hand in greeting, relieved at the interruption, but Marybelle does not stop. She hurries past, ushering her companion up towards the reception area. He calls out to her. “Everything okay, Marybelle?”

She stops, and turns towards him. “Oh, hi Rudd. Never saw you. Hello Father Norman. Just off to find the doctors. Can’t stop.” She gives them a little wave, and is gone before Rudd can reply, with Simi’s kaftan, flowing like a field of flowers behind her.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – in the light of day (6)

“How much food have we got?” Katania asks.

“Plenty,” Rudd replies. “Should have enough to keep us going for another two or three days. Stocks are pretty good thanks to the wedding.”

“Where’s everyone going to kip?”

Simi turns around to see who’s asked the question. It’s Hansie, standing by the sinks in the furthest corner of the kitchen, hands covered in soap suds.

“In the dining-room, once we’ve all eaten and cleared everything away. I think we can find enough campbeds and mattresses for the squash court crew, and any campers who got drowned out. We’ll put the doctors on the sofas.”

 “Any news on the roads?” Hansie asks.

“Hope the doctors can tell us when they get in,” Rudd replies, his voice weary. “I don’t know much more. Listen, thanks again everyone. Oh … by the way, we’re working on the generators, but don’t hold your breath.”

“Okay. Thanks,” says Hansie, returning to the washing up as Rudd heads out through the swing doors.

Simi turns back to her task. On the counter beside her there is one more unopened pack of sausages. She looks at it, and at the gash splaying down towards the base of her thumb. The throb is more intense now, and she thinks the whole hand may be slightly swollen.

You know what? I can do this. Then I’ll bandage it. Should have asked Marybelle, except her head was full of doctors and helicopters. Plus I couldn’t even think straight.

Frowning, she manages somehow to release the sausages from their packet, and tips them into the pan. She adds oil and adjusts the flame, then stands in a headachey haze, flipping them occasionally until the last of them is done and added to the pile in the serving dish. It is when she tries to pick up the dish that a sudden jolt of pain makes her cry out.

“Simi!” In an instant Marybelle is beside her, wiping her hands on her apron. “What’s happened?”

“My hand,” says Simi, clutching it by the wrist.

“What? Oh no. I forgot all about it. Here, let me have a look. Actually, let’s go outside. The light’s better.”

Outside Marybelle takes Simi’s palm and examines its inflamed ridge. Then she reaches up and places a hand on Simi’s forehead.

“I like your hair wraps. You’re so clever with them. I love this yellow,” she says, arm stretched upwards to just below Simi’s hairline. She lowers her hand. “You know you’re a bit hot. I don’t think it’s normal. And I think your hand’s a bit swollen. You shouldn’t have done all that work.”

“Well, I felt okay when I started.”

Simi feels Marybelle’s worried gaze, roaming inside her, examining.

“You’re not looking that well. Too bad Tim’s gone with Jacobus, but I think I heard those helicopters coming in just now. Come. Come with me. I want them to have a look at you,” she says, reaching for Simi’s good hand, and leading her back through the kitchen, past the counters piled with dishes of chips and peas, and bread being cut into slices, and on towards the swing doors into the main body of the Lodge.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – in the light of day (5)

Simi’s hand is worse, much worse, by the third batch of sausages. The ache has been there since she woke up, but now the pain feels deeper. She can no longer use the hand, and its uselessness does nothing to improve her mood, neither does Marybelle’s constant cheer, nor the clattering of the kitchen.

She is wiping one arm across her forehead, when Rudd comes in through the swing doors. As he comes over to her she half-raises her spatula in greeting, and notices his grey, stare-eyed look. She wonders if he’s had any sleep at all.

 “Hi Simi. Thanks for your help.”

“No problem,” she says trying to sound cheerful, while she pushes the crusted sausages one by one into the serving dish beside her.

“Can I do that for you?” Rudd asks.

“Sure. Thanks,” she says, passing him the pan. She stands back and studies him as he takes over her cheffing duties.

“Do you need to get in touch with anyone?” he asks, as he scrapes out the crisped remains. “No comms here but I think the doctors should be able to help. So maybe when they’re back?”

“No. No need.”

“Really? Helicopters should be in before dark.”

Who would I call anyway? Nobody missing me right now. Free and single. This is it.

“No. No thanks. All good. How are the doctors?”

“Worried, that’s for sure. Aid gurus will come next,” Rudd says, his voice flat.

 “Don’t you need the help?” Simi can’t see Rudd’s face but she can see the tension in his shoulders.

“Maybe.” She watches him place the pan back on to the gas ring. When he speaks there is an angry tightness to his voice. “Maybe we do, but I don’t like aid. Stops us helping ourselves. Adventure time for them. Hiding the rot. Half the funds going to the wrong place.” He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, then runs both hands up through his hair, then down to massage his temples. He turns to face Simi. “Sorry. I know we need the help right now.”

“You look knackered,” Simi says. “Have you slept?”

He shakes his head.

“Eaten?” she asks

“Bits,” he says, trying a smile.

“Why don’t you grab a sausage now?”

“No. I’ll wait. Thanks. I’ve got to keep moving or I’ll stop for good. Like aid – give me too much and it makes me sit-back stupid.” He nods at Simi, and walks away. Also keeps you going, she thinks turning back to the sausages.

She is counting them when she hears a pot being bashed. She turns to see Rudd in the centre of the kitchen. “Hi,” he begins as the noise stills. “Thanks everyone. Really appreciate all you’re doing. Just a quick update. The doctors should be back soon. Half an hour max. They’ll need food. Also Jacobus managed to get a message through to us. I don’t know if you know, but he left this morning on foot with Tonderai. Sounds terrible out there. They still haven’t reached Tonderai’s home. Seems we’ve been lucky, so for the next few days may be a bit of coming and going here.”

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023