Imagine – a short story

Imagine.

The cab from Newark was magical! The driver could have doubled for Samuel L. Jackson. He politely welcomed us to his city before asking if we minded some music. We grinned in amazement as Bizet filled the air around us. I was like a child, pointing out Shea Stadium and signs for Hoboken and Queens. We held hands tightly as the first skyscrapers loomed. We were here for a week and very much in love.

Emma’s book was selling well back home. This was the second visit to a potential publisher for the American version. There was another reason but Emma didn’t know it yet. I had a plan. I could see different versions in my mind but they all ended with me on one knee and Emma throwing her arms around me and saying yes!

It was early on Saturday evening when we checked into the W. After a quick shower we launched ourselves into the bustle and headed for Times Square. The late summer sunshine had given way to a hot and sticky evening. We strolled for an hour or two, arm in arm around the biggest film set in the world. Tourists smiling and pointing, locals going somewhere quickly. It was intoxicating, everywhere buzzed and fizzed with exciting possibilities. Was this the place to ask my question? We gazed at the giant screen towering over our heads. I took a deep breath and pulled Emma closer. My heart was pounding. I had rehearsed this a thousand times. I looked down, straight into those beautiful, sparkling eyes.
‘Food! I must have food and a very large drink now or I will expire!’
I have to say, this threw me, but she had a point. I must have visibly deflated.
‘Are you OK?’
‘Yes, great, just hungry. Come on, let’s find somewhere.’

We headed east with a vague idea of finding a restaurant from the guidebook. As the streets grew quieter we turned a corner and there it was. A tiny Italian with a dozen tables – perfect! The waiter gestured at the full tables and shrugged. A swift handshake and I was five dollars lighter but the proud owner of the table in the corner.

‘What happened there?’ asked Emma, delighted with our new vantage point.
‘Just a bit of good old-fashioned corruption. It’s amazing what you pick up from films.’

In seconds the waiter flourished menus, martinis, water and bread. The very second that our choice was made he was back to take the order. Whether it was the infectious atmosphere or the second bottle of Chianti I’m not sure, but the evening passed in a blur of animated conversation. We were excited about the book and the endless possibilities it offered. We talked about the future, the past, our families. Emma put her hand on mine.

‘I love you so very much’ she said, just slightly slurred. I leaned across the table and kissed her. She giggled and stared deep into my eyes. Go for it! I cleared my throat nervously; pulse quickening again.
‘You know I love you too. In fact I …..’
‘Oh my god! I think that’s Billy Joel!’
‘Where?’
‘At the booth in the back. No, don’t look now. Yes it is. Look now, quick.’

I half turned in my seat just as the waiter arrived and blocked the view. He and Emma had what seemed like an endless conversation about desserts before she settled on just coffee. I nodded that I would have the same. I composed myself and tried again.

‘As I was saying.’
‘Sorry darling, I need the loo. Back in a tick.’

As Emma disappeared through the door at the back the candle flickered and gave up. I knew how it felt! I slumped in my seat. This was not as easy as I thought it would be. Besides, what if she said no? That could put a real dampener on the week. Maybe we should be a bit more sober before I ask her? Emma returned as the coffee was being poured. She looked extremely pleased with herself but didn’t speak until the waiter left.

‘Look what I’ve got.’

She was clutching a napkin in her hands. Turning it, she showed me one corner. I stared at the scrawl before my eyes focused properly. “To my dear friends Emma and Fran. Keep the faith, Love Billy Joel.” My jaw dropped.

‘You didn’t?’
‘Not just like that. The woman he was with came into the ladies. We got chatting so I asked her. She asked him et voila!’

She smiled and waved towards the back of the room. I turned in time to see her new friend wave back.

‘And it gets better! Look at this.’
She pointed to the other corner of the napkin, which had the name and address of the restaurant printed on. Sure enough we were on Fifty Second Street – one of my favourite songs by the man himself. This triggered the game of coming up with song titles based on a theme. Me first.

‘Forty Ninth Street bridge song’
‘Walking on Madison.’
‘Good one, Chelsea morning.’
‘Cheat, that’s in London.’
‘There’s one hear as well.’
‘Curses!’

We paid the bill and stumbled out into the night, still laughing and trying to think of song titles. The debate about whether Emma could have China Girl on the basis that there was a China town took us all the way back to the hotel. A couple of drinks in the bar ensured that we voted Sunday to be a day of rest rather than doing the tourist thing.

The day dawned warm, sunny and just a little hungover. We ventured north and west. Our trusted guidebook told us to ‘do brunch’ and even told us where to do it! Emma demolished the largest pile of pancakes and syrup I had seen. I was rewarded by the best scrambled eggs I had ever tasted. A gallon each of orange juice coffee and we were ready to face the world again. We strolled the half block to Central Park. We sat on a bench to consult the guidebook before deciding to just wander in a generally anti-clockwise loop. It wasn’t long before Emma gripped my hand tightly.

‘This is where Dustin Hoffman runs in Marathon Man’ she said excitedly. I knew what was coming. I was top dog at song titles but when it came to films there would be only one winner.
‘Come on then. Films made here!’
‘Marathon Man.’
‘You can’t have that, I just said it.’
‘Yes, but that was before we started.’
‘Cheat. OK. One Fine Day.’
‘What was that?’
‘Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney. Come on, stop playing for time.’
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’
‘Barefoot in the park.’
‘When Harry met Sally.’
‘Sleepless in Seatle.’
‘Sneaky one! ‘

Imagine
Imagine

Again this kept us going longer than it should before I gave in and demanded ice cream. Emma wanted to see Strawberry Fields. Five minutes later we were sitting on a bench next to the “Imagine” memorial with ice cream round our mouths! We sat and watched the squirrels. I put my arm around Emma’s shoulders and she rested her head against my arm. We talked about how peaceful the garden was and what we were doing when we heard that Lennon had been killed; how we should live for today and always do what you really want to do. Then it was so obvious! This is where I should propose. Again the quickening heart rate, the sweaty palms. I started into my speech about owing it to ourselves to be happy. I was on quite a roll! I swivelled on the bench, ready to drop to one knee. ‘Take picture please!’

‘Of course. Fran you do it, I’m useless at taking pictures.’
The Japanese teenager smiled and bowed, handing me the tiny camera.
‘But. I was….’

It was no good of course. He was already proudly standing to attention with his girlfriend next to the mosaic. I stood on the bench to make sure I got the word ‘Imagine’ in the shot. My new friend was very happy as I handed back the camera, but Emma suddenly wanted to be artistic director.
‘Why not lie down on the sign and take the shot from above?’
‘Please?’ enquired the puzzled teenager.
Emma demonstrated.
‘Aah! Please!’
The excited couple dropped to the pavement, chattering in Japanese. Emma began to stand.
‘You too please!’
‘OK, you’re on.’
So, instead of becoming the happiest man in the world, here I was, perched on a bench trying to take a picture of my intended lying on the floor with a couple of Japanese teenagers. After several poses, bowing and handshaking they disappeared towards the tee shirt stall and I prepared myself to start again.
‘Come on Fran, I need the loo.’
I gave in!

Late on Sunday evening I hatched a plan. I hadn’t considered buying an engagement ring but the film game triggered a mad romantic impulse! I managed to convince Emma that she should buy a new outfit for her meeting on Tuesday. If you’d met Emma you would know that this was not difficult! We agreed to spend the whole of Monday afternoon on separate shopping expeditions and meet back at the hotel for dinner.
She kissed me before launching herself into Bloomingdales. I watched her disappear into the throng before scurrying towards Fifth Avenue and Tiffany’s. It was too late to eat breakfast outside but there were plenty of diamonds inside. I made a quick circuit of the imposing ground floor, before homing in on my prey. Fifteen minutes later I needed a stiff drink! A whole month’s salary was now sitting in a tiny box. I said a quiet prayer that it would fit before hurrying to the nearest bar.

As Emma’s meeting was scheduled for breakfast time the following morning we decided on a quiet meal in the hotel and an early night. After dinner, she insisted on modelling the new suit that occupied one of several expensive looking bags. I lay on the bed flicking through the TV channels as Emma changed in the bathroom.

‘You look fantastic,’ I smiled as she emerged. She did her best catwalk pose and twirl.
‘Do you think I look like a successful international author?’
‘I think you look incredible.’ My pulse quickened slightly as she looked at me.
‘What about this?’
She slipped off the jacket and unbuttoned the white silk shirt. Pulse through the roof!
‘Fantastic, but make sure that if you do that tomorrow you get a good deal!’
‘Don’t worry, this is for your eyes only.’

I clicked off the TV as she dropped to the bed and kissed my neck. Making love to Emma was better than anything I had ever known in my life but this was another level, deeper, more intense. This was the waves crashing on the beach, fireworks, orchestra, the whole bit. We collapsed on the bed, my arms around Emma’s shoulders, her head on my chest. As our breathing returned to normal, I stretched out my left arm and quietly slid open the bedside drawer. My fingers closed around the tiny black case. I kissed the top of her head, breathing in the gentle perfume.

‘The last year has been incredible, the best of my life.’
‘Mmmm.’
‘It just keeps getting better, even this week. We never stop laughing, our careers are flying, it’s all perfect. It’s so perfect; I never want it to end. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I want us to have little Emmas and little Frans. I want to sit on a beach when we’re eighty and make stupid lists of songs and films. I want to wake up every morning and watch you sleeping. I want to hold your hand when it thunders. I’ll even get rid of spiders from the bath – unless they’re really big, you’ll still have to deal with them obviously. What I’m trying to say Emma is; will you marry me?’

No reply. Had I blown it? I gently brushed the hair away from Emma’s face. It was then that I realised she was fast asleep. Had she heard anything of what I had been saying? I watched her sleep for almost half an hour before gently dropping the ring back into the drawer. I would try again tomorrow, once the meeting was out of the way. I flicked off the light and fell into a deep sleep.

We arrived at the editor’s office at 7.25 for a “power breakfast meeting”. Emma was wearing the new suit with an equally new and expensive yellow raincoat draped over her arm. The meeting would last a couple of hours. I was to be given a grand tour of the offices before being settled with coffee and newspapers. As Emma was ushered into the office she turned to me.
‘Wish me luck!’
‘You don’t need luck. Knock ‘em dead.’ I kissed her and she was gone.

She was on the 92nd floor when the first plane hit. No trace has ever been found. It’s like she was never there. That’s why I keep hoping and walking the streets of lower Manhattan. Maybe she got out and lost her memory. It happens, so they say. Who ‘they’ are I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything any more. I wander from street to street, building to building. Searching but not finding. A bright yellow coat glimpsed on a street corner; a flash of blonde entering the subway. I chase after her of course. ‘Emma, wait. It’s me!’ Then she’s gone.
Only yesterday, afternoon rush hour, I spotted her on the Brooklyn Bridge. I pushed through the crowds and caught her arm. At least I thought I did. The wrong woman stared straight through me as if I wasn’t there like only a stranger in a big city can.

It’s getting cold now. I pull the collar of my jacket up, useless against the icy wind, but still I keep walking. I head north through the maze of crowded streets towards Bowery. That’s the thing about this city – people. There are always crowds of people. Here it’s mainly office workers wrapped up warm and heading for home. I pass bars crowded with young professionals. Some are brightly lit and vibrant, others dark and smoky. All look inviting. We’ll go for a drink later tonight I tell myself. I’ll find her and we’ll sit in a bar with a big window seat and I’ll tell her all my news and she’ll get her memory back and we’ll laugh and hold on to each other and make plans and talk about babies and football and music and where we want to go tomorrow and we’ll get drunk, very drunk and she’ll have a cry and tell me how she’s glad that we’re back together and I’ll laugh and tell her I nearly stopped looking.

I push on through Union Square and onto Broadway. Emma loves the theatre, the lights and the excitement. That’s where she’ll be. My step quickens in time with my heartbeat. I pass the Flatiron and think of the time we took photographs here all that time ago. I count the blocks as I go; twelve to Macy’s. The hours we had spent in there or rather Emma had. I would leave her to it and grab a coffee, content to watch the world go by. Now there’s no contentment, just the numbing cold.

Ten more blocks and I’m crossing 42nd Street and into Times Square. No matter how many times I take this route, I’m always amazed by this place. Just like that first time, I stand in the shadows and look up. Everywhere bright, dancing neon, huge screens that scream ‘sell, sell, sell’. Of course there are people. Everywhere people. The theatres are starting to empty like streams into a river. The river swirls and drains into the subway. I join the torrent, scanning faces, walking against the tide. Time after time I plunge back in. Each yellow coat dashes my hopes, each blonde swirling and sinking.

Eventually the flood subsides and becomes a trickle. It is 4 am. I begin the long walk back to where it started. By six I am searching the streets of the financial district. Every few minutes I check my pocket. The ring is still there. I just need to find her and tell her everything I said in the hotel while she slept. Then I can rest. We can both rest, together. There was nothing I could do; I know that. You see I was on the 91st floor. There was a thump and a tearing noise. I started to fall through dust. Then it was quiet. I remember sitting in the road. There were people running everywhere, sirens, dust and debris. Nobody saw me. I just sat and watched, clutching the ring. When it got dark I stood and walked away. I started my search for Emma. I’m still searching.

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A short story – Champagne please

I saw her from across the bar. An image of a porcelain figure flashed through my mind as she slipped into a seat in the corner. She was making a note in a small leather diary as I moved towards her. I sat at the next table. She looked up and smiled. I fell in love immediately with her sparkling blue eyes. She spoke first.

‘Nice bar.’

‘Yes, very nice’

Oh, great start. She’s going to be hooked by your devilish sense of humour now isn’t she? I tried again.

‘It’s my one vice, staying here whenever I’m in the area. How about you, been here before?’

‘No, I was just passing and decided I deserved a drink.’

‘Please. Allow me.’

She smiled a perfect smile.

‘Thanks, but I must warn you, I’m celebrating.’

‘So it has to be champagne then!’

She tilted her head slightly and smiled again.

‘Yes. I think it does.’

Champagne bottle and glasses
Champagne bottle and glasses

For once, the waiter was looking straight at me as I turned towards him. A bottle and two glasses arrived in seconds and the conversation flowed. At her invitation I moved across to sit opposite her. We introduced ourselves.

‘So, Emma, what are we celebrating?’

She thought for a moment before looking up at me and smiling again.

‘Let’s just say I’ve got rid of the man who wasn’t making me happy any more.’

She raised her glass and we drank a toast to getting rid of unhappiness.  I accepted the cigarette she offered and produced my lighter. Her cool fingers touched my hand to steady the flame. That smile again. She slipped off her jacket, revealing an expensive looking cream silk shirt. As she twisted in her seat to place the jacket behind her, I started to think of what may lay ahead tonight.  She seemed different, not like the rest.

He was already there as I made my way through the bar. Nice suit. Clean shaven. Too much cologne, but expensive. He seemed nervous. Maybe he’s not like the others. Always too sure of themselves. Probably a rep. Used the hotel before, not like me. Must do OK, sprang for champagne. The waiter kept staring at me. Still, easier to order drinks. He was quite entertaining once he relaxed a bit. I started to enjoy myself. Eyes out on stalks when I took my jacket off. Maybe he is like the others. It’ll cost him! 

I ordered another bottle. This was getting expensive but I figured it was an investment. I don’t suppose my boss will pick up the tab but I had a decent commission coming this month. Let’s live a bit. The waiter lingered just that little bit too long, eyes fixed on her all the time. No tip for you mate.  She asked about my job.

‘I sell surgical equipment: everything from the humble scalpel to huge body scanners.’

‘You must be good at it, judging by the suit and the expensive taste in drinks.’

‘It keeps me off the streets. What about you?’

‘Publishing. Magazines mainly. The glossier the better. Lifestyle, travel, fashion, you know the kind of thing.’

‘Sounds interesting. Who do you work for?’

‘I don’t. They work for me!’

With that, she excused herself and glided towards the bathroom. Alarm bells sounded in my head. Out of my league! My slight exaggeration of the scale of my job and this bombshell scared the life out of me. It was more than a slight exaggeration as well. I sell stationery. I calmed myself. This is just a bit of fun. A one night stand, nothing more. I could flash the cash, bluff my way through and try to get her upstairs. By morning it will all be over. A bit of fun, that’s all – unless she turns out to be just like the rest. Then it won’t matter anyway. Relax, enjoy yourself. This could be fun.

She smiled as she slid into her seat.

‘Are you hungry?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Great, this is on me – no arguments.’

That was fine by me as the champagne had set me back nearly a hundred already. The waiter carried the remains of our drinks into the restaurant and we were soon settled behind huge menus.

I offered to pay for dinner and he accepted. Conversation was easy but I would bet that he lied about his job. It doesn’t matter of course, we all do it – even me. Twice his eyes lingered a little too long when he thought I was reading the menu. Maybe he is like the rest. When I suggested we take brandy and coffee in his room his eyes almost popped out on stalks. Come into my web!

As we walked to the lift I fingered the ring in my pocket. I must remember to put it back on in the morning. With the other hand, I fingered the blade, cool against my touch. My heart pounded in my chest and ears. She smiled, just like the rest.  I heard a swish of silk as we turned the corner; mouth dry. I fumbled with the key. She laughed and said not to be nervous. If only she knew.

He almost dropped the key. I took it from him, my hand brushing his just a little longer than necessary. A suite – nice.  I took the armchair opposite him. A tap at the door as the drinks arrive. The waiter actually winked at him as he left. Just like the rest. I teased him as we drank. He leaned in to kiss me. I placed a finger on his lips.

She suggested I take a shower while she made herself comfortable. I looked back from the bathroom door as she shook off her jacket. She kicked off her shoes and laughed, pointing to the bathroom. I ducked inside and soon the hot jets of water heightened the pleasure and anticipation. Wrapping a towel round my waist I took the knife from the pocket. Casually draping the jacket over my arm to conceal the blade, I took a deep breath and opened the door.

As he emerged from the bathroom I was ready for him. He hesitated a moment when the bed was empty. He actually turned, eyes bulging, pleading as the knife slid expertly between the ribs. A twist, pull and slash – he fell to the floor, throat gurgling. I wiped the blade on his jacket. Then I saw the glint of metal in his lifeless hand l. I smiled. You can’t trust anybody can you? Just like the rest.

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Play To Win – a short story

Play To Win – a short story

When I was your age my passion was “Tin Can Squat”. Does this game still get played? Maybe you know it by another name? Let me explain. The rules were quite simple. Two teams, between two and twenty in a team, depending on who turned up. Each game started with a hunt for the equipment. A tennis ball was usually easy enough, there always seemed to be one around. We all scanned the street in search of ice-lolly sticks. You needed three, each being broken in half to give six pieces. Somebody, usually me, was then despatched to the dustbin to retrieve a medium sized tin. A baked beans tin was best but soup would do just as well. I sometimes had to go to Mrs. Parker’s bin as we mostly used family sized tins after my sister was born.

This size of tin can was perfect
This size of tin can was perfect

The tin was placed in the middle of the street with the sticks on top. The teams stood at opposite ends of the street, twenty paces away from the tin. I usually counted the steps. We once let Lanky Colin mark it but his legs were so long we were standing miles away and nobody scored before it got dark. Each player took a turn to throw or roll the ball at the can. If it hit, your team had to rebuild the pile of sticks on the tin without being hit by the ball. The other team had to get the ball and hit every player before the pile was built. You got a point for hitting the tin, another for rebuilding the pile or one point if you stopped the other team. The team with the most points won. The game was over when the owner of the ball got called in for tea or it got dark or Dr. Who was starting.
Anyway, that summer we played every afternoon. Lanky Colin’s dad was a teacher and organised a five-a-side league. Each street on the estate had at least one team, sometimes three or four. By the third week in August my team had just edged out Smelly Ibbotson’s from Dacre Close to win the league. Lanky Colin and me were in the social club, looking at the league table when we saw the poster.

Tin Can Squat World Championship Final
August Bank Holiday Monday
3pm

England Vs. France

Tombola and cake stall.

“Wow!” I stared at Lanky Colin. “You never said anything about this.”
“Dad told me last night.”
“I didn’t even know they played in France.”
“Dad says these guys have been on telly and everythin’.”
“Let’s go tell the others.”

Slow Mo and Toast were in their garden. They hadn’t seen the poster but soon got very excited. It was Toast who realised the problem first.
“When did you say the match was?”
“Bank Holiday Monday” Lanky Colin and me said together.
“That’s no good. Tweedle went to Blackpool this morning. He’s not back ‘til after the game.”
This was bad. Tweedle was our best player. He could dodge the ball no matter how hard it was thrown and he was the fastest runner on the estate.
“Who else could play?” I asked, panicking.
“What about our Jen?”
“A girl?”
“She can throw a ball harder than you can.”
“True.”
“And she can run quicker.”
True. But a girl!”
I was quickly out-voted. Jen was in the team.

The day of the game was like all of the others that summer, hot and sunny. The difference was the excitement in the air. Lanky Colin’s dad had put red, white and blue balloons all across the front of their house. My dad was running the tombola on the edge of the field next to our garden. All of the neighbours had turned out and all the kids that had played in the league. They would all watch from the field, the match had to be played in the street and gardens.
The French team arrived in a minibus at half past two. Lanky Colin’s mouth dropped open as they emerged, in matching blue tracksuits. All were much bigger than we were. For once it was Slow Mo who spoke first.

“They’re gonna murder us.”Even Toast stopped chewing.

“Look at the size of him.”
It was Jen who snapped us out of it.
“Come on you lot. They might be big but they haven’t got our secret weapon have they?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Me, you idiot!”

Lanky Colin’s dad made a speech to welcome the French team. He said something in French that nobody seemed to understand, and then we all lined up to have the official photograph taken. The French team stood to attention, smiling at the camera. We shuffled about with hands in pockets. As usual Toast had a splodge of jam on his tee shirt. Only Jen stood up straight and smiled. The rest of us looked like a bag of washing.

The two captains were called forward. My nose was level with the cockerel on their captain’s tracksuit. He had his name, Pierre, embroidered on the chest. Lanky Colin’s dad produced a new ten pence and I called heads. It came down tails. Things could only get better. They chose to go first and I pointed to the cul-de-sac end. We took up our positions. The crowd cheered as the French team removed the tracksuits to reveal matching blue shorts and shirts. Slow Mo turned his baseball cap backwards and spat on his hands. I’m not sure what Toast said but it’s probably a good job his dad didn’t hear. Then there was a hush as the tall blond captain stepped up to start.

We crouched nervously behind our line. He rolled the ball, lightning fast all along the ground. It zipped within an inch of the tin but didn’t hit. My turn: two inches wide. The French number two was even bigger than the captain. He collected the ball and stared at the tin for ages. Suddenly his arm came back and he threw. The ball bounced an inch in front of the tin before knocking it in the air. The ball whizzed over my head and landed, first bounce, in Tommy Coleman’s garden. Toast leapt over the privets, the rest of us scattering to head off the French team. The tin was back on its spot by the time Toast got to the ball. His throw was good, keeping low; it struck the Pierre in the middle of his back. One down. I raced after the loose ball. Before I could pick it up I could hear the celebrations. The stack was rebuilt and we were two points behind.
Slow Mo and Lanky Colin both missed on their throws, as did the French. Jen was up next. She rolled the ball slow but straight. She hit the can right in the middle. It wobbled and took forever to fall. She screamed and made for the can. I shouted for her to stop but it was too late. The French team flew into action. Jen, Lanky Colin and Toast were hit within seconds. Toast had made for the cover of his garden while I got behind Johnny York’s Cortina. I ducked just as the ball fizzed over my head. I was round the car and managed to get the can upright with three sticks on it before the ball hit me just behind the ear. As I rubbed my ear, I realised the ball had bounced off me and under the parked car. Slow Mo raced in and got the last three sticks. We were back in the game at 2-2.

As the game progressed, the afternoon got hotter and hotter. Half time was signalled when the ice-cream man arrived at just after four o’clock. We were behind 6-5. Lanky Colin’s dad bought everybody a 99 and we sat on our garden wall to eat them.
“Look at the bruise on my leg” moaned Toast, just before his ice cream dripped onto his tee shirt. Jen inspected her arm.
“I’ve got one here as well. They seem to throw the ball as hard as they can. Look at ‘em. Sitting there with their matching shirts. Let’s make sure we win this.”

“Yeah, come on everybody, let’s do it.”

The game re-started with Slow Mo scoring again. The ice creams seemed to have done the trick and refreshed everybody. The points flowed and, by the time Lanky Colin’s dad blew his whistle, we were in front at 20-19. He explained that there was time for one more throw for each team before the game was over. It was my turn. I knew that two points would mean that we had won.
My team patted me on the back as I picked up the ball. The crowd cheered, then went silent. I could hear my heart pounding as I stepped forward. I had to hit. I steadied myself. Suddenly, as I pulled back my arm to throw, Pierre ran forward, waving his arms, trying to put me off. The crowd booed and Lanky Colin’s dad gave him a good talking to. I turned away and tried to concentrate. With the French team back behind the line, I stepped forward again. I went underarm, rolling the ball along the ground, straight as an arrow. I heard the ball fizz along the road, my eyes glued to it. I set off and ran towards the target but at the last second, the ball bounced up and over the tin. I couldn’t believe it. I put my hands on my head and stared. There was one throw to come.

Pierre stepped forward as I got back behind the line. Two points would win them the title. If he missed or we got the point for stopping them building the tower, we won. I forced myself to look as he lifted his arm. He sneered at me, and then released the ball over-arm. The tin bounced about a foot in the air, the sticks flying in all directions. The scores were level. Toast chased after the ball as I moved towards the tin. He got to it first bounce and let fly at the French team. The ball hit one of them in the back and bounced straight into his team-mate. Two down. I swooped in and picked up the ball. I reached out and touched the tall number four with the ball. Three down with four sticks already rebuilt. Slow Mo called for the ball from behind me. I threw hard. He caught it and immediately passed to Lanky Colin who hit the number two from close range. As I turned, Pierre placed the fifth stick on the can. If he got the last one they won. I called but the throw was too high. My fingers touched the ball but couldn’t stop it. First bounce it was in old Mrs. Smith’s garden. I hesitated. Nobody went near that garden. She would set her big dog on you if the ball went anywhere near. It was Jen who pushed past me and leapt the fence in one go. She shouted at me to get back to the tin. I turned to see the French captain scrabbling on the floor. The rest of his team were screaming at him but still he couldn’t find the last stick. Jen’s throw was low and hard. I caught it and threw in the same movement. The French captain dived to the floor, the ball missing him by an inch.

He was on his feet and searching again as Toast got to the ball. His throw was hard but again the target dodged out of the way. The crowd were cheering and Pierre was getting more and more frantic as he searched for the final stick. I picked up the loose ball. The captain was trying to escape. I passed to Jen who set off in pursuit. I watched in horror as she tripped over the kerb. It all happened in slow motion. Her left knee hit the ground first, then her left hand. Somehow, she managed to twist and throw. The ball missed its target but hit the lamppost. It rebounded and struck Pierre right between the eyes.

We went berserk. Toast and Slow Mo threw their arms around each other, and then remembered Jen who was lying on the ground. We all ran towards her. Her shoulders were shaking. I thought she must have hurt herself quite badly and was crying. She rolled over and we all realised that she was laughing so hard that the tears were rolling down her face. We picked her up and carried her on our shoulders towards our garden where Lanky Colin’s dad had set up the cup on a little stand. Everybody was clapping and slapping us on the back.
The French team were still arguing amongst themselves when I was presented with the trophy. We’d done it. We were world champions.

I think about that afternoon every week when I dust the mantelpiece. I still have the small silver cup. It sits in the middle, next to the photograph of Jen and me at our wedding. On the other side, in a little glass case, is half a lolly stick; the one they couldn’t find!

FFF

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