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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Ed Bruce

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"Yuk! What's this?"

"Iced water."

"Where's my tea?"

"You spilled it when you fainted, don't you remember? When you dropped your tray and your handbag on the floor?"

"Fainted? Not me!"

"Never mind love, you're looking better now. Do you have any relatives I can 'phone? You shouldn't be out on your own if you get dizzy turns. I put all your stuff back in your bag; check it out if you want. What's your name dear?"

"Flo, Flo Warboys... what d'you mean, dizzy turns? I tripped that's all! Hey, gimme my Mars bar, you thieving little minx!"

"Pardon? Hey - you ungrateful old cow!"

"It's mine!"

"Oh, look, I'm sorry. Let me cut it up for you. You old biddies don't half take liberties though."

"Ah, I remember now, it was seeing our old wireless in the junk shop across the street... must be forty years since... made me go all goosey. What's your name girl?"

"Sharon. See, I told you, you're losing it. Like I said, I've got my mobile if you want to..."

"My Harry now, he could show you a thing or two about stealing. Like a magician he was. Shall I tell you about that posh wireless we had?"

"Yeah, in a minute. Take sugar Flo? I'll get you that tea."

"I was a looker myself you know Sharon, in the old days. In a demure way though, not tarty like you lot with your mini skirts and boobs hanging out. I'd two blokes fancying me at the same time, and that's when men were scarce, just after the war."

"Big deal."

"It was in them days."

"No TV and you had to make your own entertainment, right? I get it from Nan all the time."

"Exactly, and I hope you listen and learn! It was Harry I planned to marry, if I ever stopped him thieving, but John was always hanging about, trying to impress my dad and upstage Harry. I played one against the other, just for the hell of it."

"You old slapper, you!"

"It was a Kolster Brands, the wireless I mean. About two feet square and polished mahogany; none of your cheap rubbish. Dad's pride and joy it was. Then he came ashore and was out of work for ages. We never missed a news bulletin, even after the war was finished. He used to tune it in to the trawler wave band and listen to the skippers swearing at each other. Mum had her Housewife's Choice every morning and Two-Way Family Favourites on a Sunday. Then there was Tommy Handley and ITMA, Charlie Chester, Workers' Playtime, Take It From Here. Top Twenty on Radio Luxemburg was my favourite... and the big bands, Glen Miller, Joe Loss, Ken MacIntosh..."

"Never 'eard of 'em. I have to go soon, Flo."

"Well, I'm not stopping you, am I?"

"I know."

"Then one of the valves went. I don't suppose you know what I'm talking about. They were like little electric light bulbs, some clear, some coloured, with needle like prongs at the base. The house was silent for days after it broke down. We couldn't afford a repairman and there was only one shop sold the model we had. Harry got all dressed up to the nines and conned the manager into taking the back off one of them, to show him what was inside. It was the only time I was glad he was a tea leaf."

"So you married Harry and lived happily ever after like Bonny and Clyde, is that it? I should be back at my desk by now."

"The next time our wireless went on the blink there was only one KB left in the shop. Everything was being made out of bakelite then, not a patch on the old wooden ones though. Money was still tight, but I put my foot down there and then with Harry - no more stealing or he could forget about shinning the drainpipe to my bedroom, even if it meant playing cards, dominoes and draughts to pass the time."

"That must've done your head in! What about John?"

"Oh, he saw his chance to make a name for himself."

"He stole the valve you needed?"

"He nicked the whole wireless, but dad asked him to get rid of it the next day."

"Because of his principles?"

"Because there was a valve missing, the one that we needed, the one that Harry had stolen ages ago from the same sodding set."

"Look, I have to rush Flo. Will you be all right?"

"Right as rain now love, thanks. I enjoyed our little chat.

"What kept you?"

"I'm sorry love. I was telling this young girl what it was like for us in the old days and I must've got carried away."

"You're losing your grip Flo, getting soft. Maybe I'd better go back working the streets myself. Find the Lady never goes out of style and I still have the knack."

"Don't you even think about it Harry! I didn't marry a criminal!"

"What did you get anyway?"

"She practically handed me her mobile and I got her credit cards when she bought the tea. She's a nice kid, that's all. I'll be all right with a decent cuppa tea inside me... what's this?"

"Do what?"

"In my bag; how did that get there? There's a teaspoon and a knife and... oh no... a Mars bar!"

"You're getting right up my nose, you know that, Flo? Mars bar?"

"Oh, I did the helpless geriatric scam, waited 'till I got to the till and let everything drop with a clatter. I thought this girl Sandra had nicked my snack, but she must've just thrown it into my bag with the other stuff. I feel awful Harry, accusing her like that."

"I've had enough. Lend us a tenner, I'm off down the Nag's Head."

"Hang about! Well, would you believe that? The thievin' little bitch! She's nicked my purse!"

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