Jan Hughes

I wrote my one and only novel as an angry  reaction to the Yuppie  culture of the 1980’s. It’s an achievement to create characters, put   them in situations and get them through to an ending. Having said  that it’s a  really over ambitious, first attempt bad read.
 
 Decades, thousands of words  and a BA later I’m now concentrating on  screenplays. I’m enjoying the group it’s  important to me to have   feedback and to  be among people who write.
 

Blood Relatives

Jan Hughes

BLOOD RELATIVES

 

A long time ago Holly lived with her four sisters, all called Ivy. To overcome the confusion caused by their lax parents each Ivy also took on a name that suited her character.

The eldest came to be known as Blade Ivy. She lived her life controlled by unforgiving rules, never allowed herself to over step lines of conformity. At night she folded herself up so thin and tight when Holly woke her she was cut like paper.

Following her was Sinister Ivy. No one had seen her face in decades. Fear and dread gripped Holly when she swept by in her hooded cloak made from freshly skinned bats. Corruption and vanity howled under the shelter of her freshly dead wardrobe.

Cat Ivy was vacant to everyone but herself. She poked and rummaged through dirty laundry to publicly expose the unclean. Intricately she threaded gossip through other ears until it was all hung out. For entertainment she watched her victims squirm till they perished naked.

Last in the quartet was Evil Ivy. She refined Blade’s narrow mind, copied Sinister’s vanity and never missed an opportunity to spread hate. She toted her own jealousy like a weapon. Flashing and vicious, laughing when her tongue bled from the vileness of her words.

 

In a bright kitchen marmalade gold drops from a spoon onto china. Holly savagely butters toast, scowling at Bob who smiles back.

     ‘They were all there,’ she tells him.

     ‘The usual?’

     ‘Yeah, I killed them all, again.’

     ‘Good for you.’ Resting his hand on her shoulder as he passes to get milk from the fridge.

 

The town they grew in had been cleansed of anyone with ambition or desire. Without people the buildings cracked open along streets that had dwindled to ash. Each Ivy lived separately in one of the abandoned ruins, blind to the world gone bad. Holly kept her distance.

Sinister was the first to realise the fortunes of the ugly place were getting worse. From her tower block she saw dust grey plants grow rapidly, tendrils entwine to strangle each other until nothing could thrive. She didn’t mention the self devouring forest to her sisters, until the day she stepped through her 32nd storey window onto a crooked bough of a tree.

‘Move lower,’ said Blade.

‘Stop lying,’ said Cat.

‘Who cares,’ said Evil.

     ‘I do, I’m not and I won’t,’ said Sinister.

They were at a morning committee meeting in Blade’s semi detached bungalow. Originally built on a cul-de-sac it was now  a blip on a bend on a forgotten road. After next door’s roof caved it was only a matter of time before the dislodged bricks fell down, leaving Blade in the desirous position of having a house with an uninterrupted side view.

‘I am so hungry,’ Blade said.

‘Starving,’ Sinister agreed.

‘Why hasn’t she brought food?’ Evil bellowed.

‘I’ll find her,’ Cat offered.

Thin as a pixie Holly was brought before them. Barefoot she slipped a damp moss tunic over her head. Blade started the interrogation.

‘Why are you never here?’

‘I am busy,’ Holly replied.

‘Too busy to harvest?’ said Evil.

‘There is nothing to pick.’

‘Too lazy more like,’ Cat crowed.

‘Not good enough,’ Evil sneered at the others then back to Holly. ‘What happens with your time?’

‘I am making a path.’

‘I told you,’ Sinister was triumphant.

‘And why would we need a path?’ demanded Blade

‘We can’t stay here forever.’

The four tutted impatiently.

‘Did we leave when the shops closed?’

‘When locusts devoured all our crops.’

‘When everyone else had gone.’

‘Before the bridge collapsed.’

Four sets of folded arms confirmed they were not going anywhere. Holly sighed. They left Blade’s and went their separate ways. No one saw Cat fall into a very deep hole.

 

Holly wipes spilt dry coffee grains from the worktop into the palm of her hand. She briefly resists the impulse to rest her tongue on the raw grains.

     ‘Gone, swallowed, just like that,’ she says.

     ‘Hmm.’

Refolding the paper Bob watches her dip her head and poke her stippled tongue at him.

     ‘They’ll leave a bad taste,’ he says.

     ‘They always do,’ she agreed.

 

The next morning Holly was summoned by Sinister to join her on her window ledge. Leaves erupted every few minutes on the tree, Sinister oooh’d and aaah’d watching Parrots in free flight. Pinching Holly hard she asked about the colourful birds.

‘Are those feathers?’

‘They’re flying. Of course they’re feathers.’

‘In all those colours?’

‘And more.’

     After descending the 697 stairs, Holly spent what was left of the morning swinging metal through growing tissue. It fell leaking, along the short but growing trail.

     On her way to scavenge for food she passed a hole and stopped to listen to it swear. Cat’s broken nails clawing the rim of the crater were quickly withdrawn when Holly stamped on the fingers.

     Tired and dusty she entered an abandoned house and glanced at shoes spilling out of a wardrobe. She had no desire to constrain her feet and left the property with a sack full of canned custard and a revolver.

     Her battle against the voracity of nature’s revenge was painfully slow. One day she veered off to explore under the ominous living canopy and discovered a new plant. Thousands of white and red petals, formed deep bowls to hold their potent elixir. Held aloft by hidden stems, Poppies danced in mid air.

     It took Holly weeks to complete the dress to Sinister’s design. Made from the feathers of hundreds of birds, (their plucked carcasses retained for parrot fricassee,) it hugged her voluptuous figure. Reds and Greens smooth over her hips. Blues and violets plunged to her shapely bust. Lifting from her shoulders fluffy under down.

     ‘Like a glove,’ said Sinister.

     ‘Gloves don’t fly,’ rejoined Holly.

     ‘You said they would.’

     ‘Did I?’

     ‘I’ve got their feathers.’

     ‘Have it your own way.’

The bough shuddered as she jumped. Splintered bark poked her from bough to bough. Her plumage torn off by thorns or stuck to acid sap on giant anthers. Screams of pain were ripped from her throat and dragged under the growth. With a splat her naked body landed in the centre of a sundew, fresh meat for the flesh devouring weed.

    

Holly’s composure is intact when she arrives at the restaurant. She knows how good she looks in her dress of good white cotton with bold random patches of black and yellow. Sleeveless, her back is exposed by the V cut to her waist. The cool interior is welcome after mid day pavement heat.

She scans the dining room. Acres of pale floor, crisp linen falling neatly crimped over the edges of round tables. Glittering sparks leap from silver into her eyes. In the shade of her fingers she sees the four women, chatting, smiling, owners of secrets. From this distance she can see flamboyant Brenda the family pillar, stable, steady and oh so, oh so predictable. She is reprimanding a bra strap for exposure on her freckled plump shoulder.

People look at Sylvia for different reasons, her fine body in a tailored dress declares she has every intention of dying rich. Her ring less finger signals her mission to find a man with money is ongoing.

Catherine is a feline wisp in blue silk.

Evelyn is dressed to kill. Combat ready, buckle and buttons shining.

Holly watches them sharing a joke.

Someone touching her elbow breaks the moment; a waiter leads her to her family. Promising to bring a menu he abandons her to them.

‘You all look well,’ she says, as the residue of smiles fade from their suddenly graceless faces.

Invisibly the waiter hands her a menu. Sylvia tells her they have already ordered.

‘Oh, was I late?’

     ‘No.’

          ‘What’s good?’ she asks, ignoring the list in her hands.

     ‘Omelette,’ says Catherine.

The waiter is hovering. She snaps the menu shut.

     ‘Potted shrimp, calves liver.’

          ‘We’ve ordered dessert, this is my treat,’ Brenda says.

‘I’ll wait thanks.’

Now they look at each other, expectant but not curious. Holly does a double take at the two stripes on Evelyn’s khaki sleeve.

‘You’ve been promoted,’ she says.

‘Is that a problem?’ Evelyn shrugs.

     ‘No. Well done, you could have told me.’

‘You weren’t here.’

Oh God, the sniping was starting already.

‘There’s email and . . .  you know.’

Bowls of clear onion soup are put before Sylvia and Evelyn. Brenda’s calamari comes with herby mayonnaise. Catherine’s half dozen rocket leaves have seen a bottle of balsamic vinegar. Nothing arrives for Holly.

 

Committee meetings now reduced to a triumvirate. At a loss for whom to blame for their siblings deaths Blade and Evil blamed Holly.

     Blade’s nerves were well frayed, to calm them Holly brought her soothing poppy drafts.

     ‘It will quieten the pain,’ she said watching the milky fluid disappear into her mouth. Evil accused her of poisoning their sister.

     ‘Let her be, she doesn’t need it.’

     ‘She wants it,’ insisted Holly.

     ‘If she dies.’

     ‘Her grief will have ended.’

     ‘And mine will begin.’

     ‘Grief lives in the heart, you won’t suffer.’

     Evil lunged at Holly sparks in her eyes spitting hate. She chased her all over the deserted town, through empty schools, ruined mansions, they plunged in and scrambled out of the echoing dry swimming pool. Only ever two steps ahead Holly was exhausted when she turned at the start of the excavated path.

     ‘We can be free.’

     Evil looked from Holly to the light at the tunnels green end and laughed.

     ‘No. Not you.’

Holly tried to sprint away but Evil grabbed her hair and held her tight. She struggled free and ran for her life. She felt the revolver lighten in her hand as the bullet left, peace shattered before her ears filled with silence.

 

Shamefaced the waiter installs a late ice bucket, his apology lost in Champagne’s first greedy gulp of air and bubbles fizzing in five glasses.

By the time Holly’s fork is exploring the spiced butter covering the shrimps, their dishes and plates are being scrapped clean.

‘Uhh all that fat,’ Catherine says.

Holly smiles indulgently at their disapproval before her lips close over a fork full of yellow and sea salty brown.

‘So, so, bad for you,’ Brenda adds.

 ‘You will be an obese corpse’ Sylvia chuckled.

‘No self discipline,’ Evelyn says. Words delivered with regimental fervour.

‘It’s potted shrimp, not a grenade.’

Holly closes her eyes; vision will interfere with the delicate alchemy of tasting the shore spiced with nutmeg. 

It is too much for Catherine; she looks away from the table, mutters, excuses herself and heads for the Ladies. Hallelujah rings in Holly’s ears, one down three to go. She grabs the waiter’s arm when he comes for her plate.

‘What’s your best red?'

‘We have an exceptional Margaux.’

‘Two bottles, thanks.’

Catherine is back, averting her eyes from fillet and rib eye, shaking at the sight of lamb cutlets. She barely smiles at her omelette. Holly’s knife cutting the tender flesh of dead calf draws a subtle bloody smear on the plate.

‘Look who’s over there,’ Catherine waves at a man who has seen her too late to hide. ‘I really must say hello.’ She has won prizes for skipping, it is an unbecoming gait in ankle length silk.

‘Are you working?’ Brenda asks.

‘Yes.’

‘How many jobs is this?’ asks Evelyn.

Holly wants to ask how many guns she has.

‘Quality not quantity,’ she says instead.

‘Lost count more like,’ Sylvia adds.

‘Never get anywhere chopping and changing,’ says Brenda.

Again the wine is delivered late. Silence is observed to make the waiter uncomfortable for the delay. Holly sniffs the wine, raises her eyebrows, swirls and tilts the glowing ruby liquid and raises a thumb to the Waiter.

She watches Brenda allow the wine to please her.

‘Aah Brenda, 30 years in the same house, 25 in the same job, and here we both are.’    

‘Not a ring between us.’ Sylvia eyes the assembled fingers.

‘Once bitten,’ Says Brenda

‘What you’ve never had you never miss,’ agrees Evelyn.

Humphing they turn to Holly who remains quietly smiling, the wine is a good choice, it is going down well. Predictable wheels are turning in light heads. Sylvia is weighing her own expensive haute couture self, against Holly’s dress.

‘What are you so pleased about?’ she asks.

‘My dress.’

‘Still find Oxfam amusing?’

‘I was wearing it in Barcelona,’ Holly says, now tipsy enough not to let Sylvia’s snide remark spoil this memory for her. ‘Having coffee in the Picasso Museum.’

‘I prefer Las Vegas’ Brenda interrupts.

‘A woman on the next table said -’

‘Is this another fantasy?’ another attempt to but in.

‘It was so hot, the shade in the café held me there, she said I looked like a Picasso.’ The remembered moment lights up her face. Her sisters look blank.

Fruit bowls overflow with ripe crimson, riper cheese pungently swells out of a furry jacket, hot cherry dumpling with cream and ice cream for Brenda. Holly taps tissue thin sugar, smooth cream oozes out from crisp copper. Her ears only half open. She can hear their murmurs, their tittle tattle, opinions not worth a salt and burnished spite.

The ceiling to floor green marble in the toilet reminds Holly of something comforting she can’t place. She dabbles her fingers in cold water held in deep white bowls as Sylvia dries her hands.

On their way back to the table Holly doesn’t bother to tell Sylvia the hem of her dress is caught in her knickers. Graciously she is accepting the nods and winks of strangers, blissfully unaware her sassy cheeks are peeping out from black satin.

Brenda is choking, she spits out a mouthful of red wine, it turns purple down the front of her dress. Drawing more attention to herself by shouting at the waiter, at the end of his shift and tether, he insists.

‘That’s a good price for a Margaux,’

‘Daylight bloody robbery’

From the corner of her eye Holly sees Catherine slip away.

Brenda turns too quickly to hand the cheque over and knocks the heavy bottle off the table. It shatters on the marble; smithereens find the target they have been released to find. Faces pinpricked red are all around. Shrieks fill the air as dregs of wine trace the marble, like veins under skin.

Evelyn's moment has come she hits the floor shouting.

‘Attack, on the floor, everybody.’

Holly looks at the once desirable scene of plenty, now a ruinous site of mayhem and smiles. As the waiter passes their eyes meet, he looks at her in despair. She slips a folded ten pound note into his hand.

‘I wont be coming again,’ she says.