Monday, 1 December 2008

the old lady

in the middle of the village there is a house. from the outside it looks like a very ordinary house, just like those either side of it. it looks as though the people who live there are just ordinary people, who go to bingo once a week and save money in the local christmas club. there is a little lawn at the front with a path leading up to the front door. the front door is the same as the houses either side.

but once you are inside the house, you enter another world. the living room has walls painted to look like a scene from a mediterranean hillside, with artificial stone columns fixed at intervals along the wall, so it seems as though you are in tuscany. in the corners are statues of venus and david. there is a fireplace that would not look out of place in a stately home, and a cocktail cabinet containing every sort of exotic liquor. the kitchen is full of shiny gadgets and the latest machines. the walls are black marble with tiny glittering specks that catch the light from the halogen lamps. the floor is marble too.

this is the house of an old lady. she is a very big woman, with faded red hair and a broad scottish accent. she moves with difficulty, partly due to the weight she carries and partly because she gets very little practice at moving. nothing in this house was paid for by honest toil.

the old lady and her husband have lived in the village for many years. they came from scotland to live here. after they had lived in the village for a little while the old lady had an idea. they would become entrepreneurs. they would sell magic powder.

magic powder is wonderful stuff. it makes all your cares fly away. it makes you relaxed and warm and blissful. it makes life feel fun again. the only trouble is that you can become too fond of the magic powder very quickly. without it your life grows increasingly bleak. but this was the genius of the old lady's idea. once they had found people to buy their magic powder the people would keep buying it, because they would not have a choice.

the magic powder caught on. soon people were queuing up to buy it. the old lady decided that the business was getting a little too successful. the last thing she wanted was for the sheriff to start poking his nose in and telling her that she was breaking the law by selling magic powder. she knew this already. she decided to diversify. she got her son and his wife to set up a home delivery operation.

her son took to the delivery business like a duck to water. he was a natural. he developed ingenious ways of getting people to pay if they were a little bit slow. he pushed up profits by offering free gifts of other magic powders and also magic rocks. his wife concentrated on building up the business among the younger members of the community. this is called developing new markets.

time went by. the son and his wife had a family of their own. they had 3 children and got their own house in the village. they carried on working in the family business. their children grew older and went to school.

but then things began to go bad for the son and his wife. they saw how happy the magic powder made people so they wanted to try some themselves. but as we know, the magic powder has one major problem. once you have some, you want some more. and more. and more. the son and his wife knew this, but somehow it slipped their minds. and as they had so much of the magic powder around them that once they got started they were like children in a sweet shop.

things started to fall apart. the son got angry. he started to beat the wife. he smashed things up around the house. he beat the children. eventually the kind ladies took the children away and took them to live with the old lady. they were safe there. the old lady struck terror into the hearts of the hardest men in the village. her son would not have dared to hurt them in her house. but without the children things unravelled between the son and his wife.

she left him, then went back, then left him. then she went for a holiday with the queen in her castle. in the castle there was just as much magic powder as in the village. so when she came home again she was still in a bad place in her head. too much magic powder has a strange effect on the chemicals in your brain.

the son made some bad choices. he got more and more violent with people who wouldn't pay for their deliveries. he chased one man through the village with a lump of wood with nails hammered through the end to form spikes. he jumped into a car with a woman and her little boy in it and tried to make them drive him after a man he was chasing. he set places on fire. he pulled knives on people. he was only a small man but the magic powder made him very strong. once it took three of the sheriff's biggest men to hold him down when they wanted to ask him some questions.

things got even worse. his daughter was by now grown up. not very grown up but grown up enough to have her own daughter and her own place. one day he went round there after he had some magic rocks. his head was in a very bad place. he got angry with his daughter and her child, who was still small. he hit them and frightened them. by now the people in the village had really had enough of this. the wizard made a spell and the man was banned from the village.

even after this things got worse. the man's wife drank a lot of wine as well as taking a lot of magic powder. she staggered around, often not sure where she was. one day she was in the local town. by coincidence so was the man. the man was with the probation elf, who he saw once a week. every week the probation elf asked how he was and every week the man said he was doing fine. they had just had their little chat and the man was on his way home. he saw his wife over the road and started to walk over to speak to her. but his wife was not in a good state. she staggered backwards and forwards and fell into the road. she fell into the road, just as a bus was coming along. she died instantly. the man screamed and screamed until nothing more would come out.

after this, the man went further down into a world of chaos. his children went off the rails. they tried to make the pain go away with the magic powder. it was something of a family tradition by now. the daughter took over from her mother and started to sell magic powder. she kept it behind the walls of her cottage so the sheriff would not find it. you may remember the story of the young knight. the daughter made an appearance there too. somehow people with damaged souls seem to find each other.

this story does have a happy ending. not entirely happy but at least not as sad as some stories. after his wife died, and his children fell to pieces, the man did a bit of thinking. he decided that he was going to stop taking the magic powder. this is not an easy thing to do. it takes strength and determination. no-one believed the man could do it.

one day, a long time afterwards, a friend of the man wrote to the wizard. he said the man had not only given up the magic powder but that he had also got a job helping other people to give it up too. he wanted to come back to the village. the man's daughter said it was true, her father had changed into a fine man, helping people to stop taking the magic powder. people listened to him when he told them it would ruin their lives, because they had seen what had happened to his family.

and what of the old lady? she still lives in her house, surrounded by scenery from tuscany. but when she wipes her marble worktops, and sweeps her marble floors, she wishes that she was someone who went to bingo once a week and saved money in the christmas club. she wishes she had never decided to become an entrepreneur.

the lady who looked in through the window

some people are born to live. they grab life with both hands, wringing every ounce of experience out of it. on a windy day they turn their face into the wind, relishing the air. when the sun shines they bask in its warmth. and when it rains they stick out their tongue, to catch the raindrops.

some people are different. it may be something in the chemicals in their brain. or something that happened in their life. but whatever causes it, these people walk through life with their shoulders hunched; they dread what the day holds.

the lady who looked in through the window was the second sort of person. she was born into a family without laughter. from the day she opened her eyes she only saw tears in the eyes of her mother and anger in the eyes of her father. the lady had an older brother. he had seen more of life. he had been beaten by the father, and shouted at, and told he was useless, every single day. one day he decided he had seen enough of life. he checked out, handed back the keys. at his funeral the father stared straight ahead, unmoved by the death of his son.

each day the mother curled a little more in on herself, slid a little further away from the sun. her essence leached out of her, into the earth. one day she decided she too had seen enough of life. she disappeared in a cloud of vapour, mixing with the swirling clouds. at her funeral the father stared straight ahead, unmoved.

the daughter was clever. she studied, tried to make something of herself. but she was visited by bleak thoughts, dark dreams, and ghosts. she heard voices, calling from far away, but she could never hear what they said.

the father grew older. with age he grew frail. the daughter was glad. it meant he could no longer beat her. for a time he carried on shouting at her, telling her that she was the cause of her mother's death. then he couldn't walk. he was given a wheelchair. he had to rely on his daughter to look after him. time went by. his daughter grew stronger as he grew weaker. his anger seeped into her bones. she took to shouting at him, telling him he was useless. it was just how they did things in their family.

one day, some people came from far away and moved into the house next door. there was a mother, a father, a grown up son, and two little children. the children were joyful little things. they sang and danced and played. the family loved each other. they chatted, and ate together and played music. the children played in the street with the local children. they sometimes heard the lady next door shouting at her father and thought it was odd. but they didn't take much notice. life was too full of fun to worry.

the lady next door could hear the laughter and the singing and the music. she could feel the warmth and love coming through the walls like the heat of the sun. after a time she could think of nothing else. she paced up and down in the house, shouting and muttering in turn at her father, sitting in his wheelchair. she began to wonder what magic the house next door held. how could a house that was identical to her own have so much joy and warmth?

one night she crept into the garden of the house next door. she crept down the side of the house and looked in through the window. inside the people from far away were playing a board game and laughing. the lady felt an odd feeling inside. it was like something was melting. she felt something on her face and realised it was a tear.

after that the lady took to creeping round and looking in through the window every day. she would mutter to herself about how she hated the people in the warm house. she would use words that were not nice. when she went to bed she would listen through the wall to the grown up son, playing music in his bedroom. she dreamed of him loving her and asking her to marry him. but she knew this would not happen. no one would ever love her.

as time went on the lady began to feel rage against the people in the warm house. why did they have so much love? surely some of it was hers? that was why she had no love, because it had been stolen. the lady took to shouting at the people in the warm house through the window. she banged on the walls, shouting things that were not nice, about the place they came from, and about their children, and the grown up son. she called the police and reported things that were not true. she threw things into the garden of the warm house. eventually the people told the sheriff about what was happening. the sheriff went to the wizard and asked for a magic scroll to keep the lady away so the people in the warm house could live in peace.

when the lady who looked in through the window was given the magic scroll she read through it. as she read it she realised that she would no longer be able to watch the family being happy. she realised that she would have to go back to shouting at her father. this made her feel very bad. even though she was angry and jealous, some of the family's happiness had seeped through the window and touched her cold, sad life. later that day she went upstairs and opened the cupboard in the bathroom. she took out all the tablets and potions and took them into her bedroom. and she swallowed them all, one by one.

her father noticed later on that there was no-one shouting at him. he rang for help. the lady was taken to the hospital and connected to a lot of machines. for a day and a night the machines bleeped and clicked. but the lady who looked in through the window had already gone.

at her funeral the only people there were the father and a person who came to push his wheelchair. the father sat in his wheelchair by the grave, while the person who came to push his wheelchair went to have a quiet smoke. i suppose the father stared straight ahead, unmoved, but there was no-one there to see.

the angry lion

once upon a time there was an angry black lion. he lived in a cave on the hill. he had a long black mane and red eyes. the lion lived alone and he lived in pain. the pain was because of mixed up chemicals in his brain.

over the years the mixed up chemicals had caused the lion a lot of problems. they fizzed and popped and made him see things that were not there. they had lost him his family, who were frightened by the lion's anger. they had made him do strange things that frightened people. once he ran into a hairdresser's shop and licked the hairdresser's face.

every two weeks a medicine man came and put a needle into the lions leg. this gave the lion some other chemicals that were supposed to stop the fizzing in his brain. but the lion had his own idea about how to stop the fizzing. he drank a lot of magic ale, and smoked a lot of magic herbs. the ale and the herbs made him feel better. but they messed around even more with the chemicals in his brain. they made him see monsters and demons.

now and again a kind lady came to see the lion. she had long golden hair. she would sit and talk to the lion about how he was feeling. one day the kind lady came to see the lion when he was feeling very strange. the chemicals in his head were fizzing more than usual. the lion let the kind lady into his cave. he sat down and talked to her for a while.

but then he wouldn't let her out. he growled and roared and told her she was going to die and that he was going to do horrible things to her. the kind lady was terrified. she knew that the lion had very sharp teeth and very sharp claws. she also knew that he had a collection of very sharp knives. this was because, on good days, the lion liked to cook his meat and he used the knives to cut it up. he had shown them to the kind lady.

the kind lady shook and sweated. she tried to think of how to get out of the cave without being killed. she tried not to picture the horrible things the lion had told her he would do to her. she spoke to the lion as calmly as she could. but the lion took her to the part of the cave where he slept. he told her he was going to take her to his bed. this terrified the kind lady. eventually she managed to persuade the lion to come back to the other part of the cave. she told him she would have to go as she had to see someone else.

at first the lion refused to let her go. but eventually the kind lady's words calmed him down. she left the cave and drove off in her car, still shaking and quaking inside.

the lion lost his cave because of what he did. the wizard said he could not be allowed to live among the people when he was so dangerous. the lion knew all about the fizzing in his brain but he still drank the magic ale and smoked the magic herbs. he knew they made him more angry but he didn't care. the lion was taken away to the hospital on the hill to have the chemicals in his brain sorted out.

the kind lady remained terrified. she couldn't sleep, and she kept shaking. she had to move house and change her job. never again would she be able to visit people in their homes to talk about how they were feeling. she could not even walk up the street without shaking with fear.

there are lots of lions living all over the kingdom, with the chemicals in their brains fizzing away. and now there is one less kind lady to visit them and talk to them about how they are feeling.

the young knight

once upon a time there was a young knight who lived in cottage, in a village on a hill, with his mother, his brother and his sister. the knight's mother was a foolish woman, given to impulsive action and selfishness. the knight was 15, an age where he was neither man nor child, and he thought far too much about life.

one day his mother told him they were going to move from the cottage to another village by the sea. she packed up the car and they all got in. just as they were about to drive away, the knight's mother switched off the engine and asked him to fetch one more bag of clothes that she had forgotten from the cottage. the knight went inside and as he was collecting the bag he heard the car start. he looked out of the window and saw his mother driving away. the knight did not know what to do. he had yet to find work and he had no money. the cottage was no longer like a home.

the days went by and the knight became more and more sad. one of the neighbours took pity on him and made him meals. she is a woman who has her own story. it is about her father, and violence, and drugs, and fear. it is about a lump of wood with nails in and a small child in a car. but this is the knight's story. we will save the woman's story for another day.

the woman made the knight meals, and let him stay in her cottage. gradually he fell in love with her. but he was very young and she was already very old inside. she made her money from selling drugs.

next door to the woman lived a couple. they were kind and gentle people. they worried about the knight. they worried when he stood in the garden crying at the moon. they worried when the knight cut himself with his sword and was taken away in an ambulance. they worried that he would be hurt by some of the people who came to buy drugs from the woman. these people were not very nice. they fought each other in the street and people said that they had guns. the couple found it hard to sleep. every night the woman would hammer away at her walls and her floors to fetch the drugs for the people who came to buy them. then she would have to hammer the walls and the floor back together again.

eventually it all got too much. the people in the village knew that the young knight was beginning to lose his mind. the woman had tried to make him move out, and he could be heard by the villagers screaming and crying in the street outside her house.

then the knight cut his own throat with his sword. he was taken away in an ambulance again, but he ran away from the hospital, still bleeding. the people from the village decided to ask the kind ladies to take the knight somewhere safe and try to make him well. however, in spite of all that had happened to the knight, the kind ladies said they could not help. they had a threshold and the only people allowed over it were people whose lives had got very, very bad.

the people from the village found it hard to believe that the knight's life was not bad enough for the kind ladies to help. they had seen the inside of the cottage where the knight had been left by his mother. they had seen the chaos, and the broken toys, the holes the knight had punched in the walls, the empty hamster cages, the home-made birthday cards and the bloodstained floors. although the knight was not really still a child he was certainly not a man. did he have to cut his own head off before they would let him over their threshold?"

this story does not have a happy ending. but the ending is not as bad as it might have been. eventually the kind ladies were persuaded that they should help the knight. they found him somewhere to live, with friends in the village. he stopped taking drugs and started eating meals and having baths. so on the face of it all was well. but the knight will never forget the sight of his mother driving away and leaving him. he will never forget the emptiness that made him cut his own throat. and when he has children of his own, it will not be a great surprise if he finds it hard to be a father...

the lost girl

the lost girl was the oldest of 4 children. when she was 7 the sheriff took away her dad. this was because he had been doing awful things to them. the lost girl had been injured by these things. her body was not big enough yet to be doing things that grown ups do. the doctors said that her injuries were some of the worst they had seen. her bladder was damaged so she weed herself sometimes.

the lost girl and the other children were taken away by some kind ladies and sent to a new family. the new family was kind and tried to help them settle in. the others settled in fine but the lost girl couldn't. she just couldn't trust anyone. the kind ladies took her to a different kind of doctor. the doctor said she had learning difficulties and possibly a personality disorder. learning difficulties means a person has difficulty learning. sometimes this is to do with how their brain is wired up. sometimes it is because their brain had blown fuses because of things that have happened. and as for a personality disorder, well that is when a person gets disordered. it is not difficult to see how the lost girl got this way.

the new family couldn't manage the lost girl so she was taken away by the kind ladies. they tried quite a few places for her but she couldn't settle anywhere. she hit people and shouted and screamed. so she kept being moved around.

eventually the lost girl grew up. because she was lost the kind ladies found her a flat. it was in a very rough place. the people who lived there were very scary. one lady and her brothers could see the girl was lost. this lady and her brothers were bad people. they started selling potions and powders from the lost girl's flat. in return for this they stopped the other bad people from hurting her.

the lost girl thought all the young people who were coming to her flat were her friends. she gave them drinks and sometimes potions and powders. one day she took three of them for an outing to a nightclub. these three were very young and also had learning difficulties. they were drunk and wild. when they didn't come home their families called the sheriff. the lost girl came back the next day with the young people. a mob was outside her flat wanting to kill her. the sheriff took the girl to a safe place but after a few days she came back to her flat. the bad people kept the angry people away and got on with selling potions and powders again.

the lost girl's flat was always full of noisy people. the neighbours couldn't sleep. the lady below the flat had a tiny baby who kept getting woken up. in the end the lost girl had to move out of her flat. because she was so lost she would not be thrown on the street. she would be given another place.

but this time it would be in a place where people would keep an eye on her. which is where she should have been in the first place.

the second boy

the second boy's childhood was stolen when he was very young. a lot of bad things happened to him. by the time he was 13 he was not at all nice. he did a very bad thing to a younger boy. he stole his childhood. but it was no use to him. nothing could give him back his own childhood.

because of the thing he did his name and address had to be put in a special book for the rest of his life so that the police knew where he was.

when the boy was 15 he met a woman. she was quite a lot older than him. she had 3 children. the boy gave her a fourth child. he was 16 when his son was born. the boy got angry a lot. he hit the woman and the children. he did nasty stuff to the children too. the woman had a friend who also had some children. the boy did nasty stuff to them as well. the friend told the police and the boy was taken away and locked up.

while the boy was away the woman and her friend and all the children ran away. they went far, far away to another place where they hoped he would not find them. he had told them he would kill them because they had told the police about the nasty stuff. they found homes in the new place.

eventually the boy grew up. when he was 20 he was allowed to go back into the world. he went to the city where the women were living. in the middle of the night he broke into the house where the woman lived with her children and his son. he pulled her out of bed by her hair and threatened to kill her. the children were terrified. they knew this man could be very nasty indeed.

the man tried to find out where the woman's friend lived so he could go round and kill her. the children were screaming and crying. after a few hours the woman managed to call the sheriff. he took the man away and he was sent back to where he came from. the sheriff there had been looking for him because he had robbed someone.

the women and their children don't sleep so well now.

the first boy

the first boy ran away from home quite a lot. eventually he was taken to live with some people. he was told he was in care. but in fact no-one cared very much at all. so he ran away from there too. he met a man. unfortunately for the boy this man was a bad man. he stole childhood. the bad man had some bad friends. they shared the boy around, and each of them stole a little bit of his childhood until there was none left.

when the boy was 13 the bad men were taken away by the sheriff. by now he could not even remember what his childhood looked like or felt like. all he knew was that he felt very, very small inside. he made money by selling his body to men. he took pills and potions to take away the small feeling. but nothing worked.

time went by. the boy became a man. he met a woman. she too felt very small inside. in fact she felt smaller than he did. she had a little baby. the man did not like the baby but it came with the woman. sometimes the man got angry and hit the woman and shouted at the baby. the woman went around with her face black and blue and told people she had fallen over.

the woman thought if the man had his own baby he might be happier. so she had another baby. this was a mistake. the man got more and more angry. he hit the woman more. he frightened the babies. the woman ran away from him but she always came back. some kind ladies came and took away the babies. they told the woman that while she lived with the man she could not have them back.

the man got really angry. he threatened to go after the kind ladies with a knife. he said he would cut them up and take the babies. he said all kinds of really, really nasty things.

some of the sheriff's men went to his flat. they had a magic scroll to give the man, banning him from the village. the door was opened by the woman. she looked very scared and very sad. she had a bruised face. she called the man.

the sheriff's men gave the man the magic scroll. usually they felt very angry with people who were nasty. but even though this man looked very scary, they could tell that inside he was very, very small. that is what happens when people steal your childhood.

kitchen tools

you will remember that the fat man was yet again without somewhere to run his business from. so he went in search of somewhere. one day he met a young girl. she has her own story. she witnessed a murder by bad men and had to flee from where she lived, because she helped the sheriff there lock the bad men up. the young girl had a sister who was twelve years old. the young girl also had a flat where she lived with her sister. the fat man thought this would make a nice place to sell his powders and potions and tablets from.

so he set about wooing the young girl. she was tired and scared so she let the fat man into her life because she thought he would look after her. soon the fat man had given her a baby. the young girl was tiny and as thin as a bird and scarcely old enough to look after herself and her sister. but she loved the baby and looked after it carefully and it grew and grew and thrived. the fat man set about selling his powders and potions and tablets. life went on. sometimes the fat man got angry with the young girl and hit her. sometimes he hit her sister. but mostly they muddled along all right.

the fat man's sales operation went well. he had to keep it a secret from the sheriff so he got the young girl's sister to work for him. he gave her a very important job. she was a runner. this did not involve an awful lot of running. mostly it involved carrying powders and potions and tablets, wrapped up in gossamer, in places where the sheriff and his men would not find them if they happened across the young girl. the fat man also had another runner. he was a young boy who was fourteen. his job was to carry the money that the fat man's customers paid for the powders and potions and tablets.

one day there was a knock at the door. it was the sheriff. the fat man was out. the young girl did not know what to do, so she let the sheriff in. the sheriff was not alone. he had his men with him. they looked around the flat. it did not take long as the flat was very small. but in the bathroom one of the sheriff's men found a package. it contained something wrapped in gossamer. he placed it in a special container so he could have it tested by the clever scientists.

the package was not the only thing that the sheriff's men found. in the kitchen they found a sword. behind the door they found a cudgel. just then the young boy returned to the flat. the sheriff's men wanted to have a little chat. they asked him to show them what was in his pockets and the young boy drew out a great deal of money. the money was folded in a magical way, to keep away evil spirits, in little bundles with one note wrapped round the others.

the clever scientists tested the package. they told the sheriff that it was powders and potions and tablets. they tested the gossamer. they said it had been in a very private place inside the body of the young girl's sister. but the sheriff could not prove that the fat man had anything to do with any of it. the young girl had learned her lesson about what happened if you helped the sheriff. so she said she didn't know anything about any of it. the young girl's sister said the same. but the fat man could see that his days at the young girl's flat were numbered. now the sheriff knew about the powders and potions and tablets he would be keeping an eye on the place. so the fat man went off into the world to find a new place to sell his wares.

the young girl was left with the baby and her sister. but at least no-one was hitting her.

the lion tamer

once upon a time there was a man. he was not very tall but he was very fat. he had rather a doleful face, framed by rather uninspiring dreadlocks. he looked like a buddha on a bad day.

the fat man wanted to make a lot of money without breaking into a sweat. he decided he would sell powders and potions and tablets. but he was too lazy to learn about medicine and become a doctor. so he had to sell his wares without the sheriff finding out. the sheriff did not like people selling powders and potions and tablets unless they were doctors.

first the fat man had to find somewhere to sell his wares from. he did not want people coming to his own front door. some of the people who buy powders and potions and tablets from people who are not doctors are not so nice. eventually he found had a nice flat. well, it wasn't his flat. it was rented by a lady. she had a boyfriend who was not such a nice guy. he was prone to hitting people who didn't do what he wanted. sometimes he hit them with a hammer. this made quite a mess on the floor of the flat. one time he hit someone on the stairs up to the flat. the neighbours did not like this. there was a large pool of blood.

it was not just the blood that got the neighbours down. it was also the noise. sometimes the noise would just be music. but often it was the sound of fighting. one time a band of men came to the flat and smashed it up. the neighbour upstairs had a little boy who was terrified. she had to leave her home and move to somewhere quiet.

eventually the sheriff took the lady and her boyfriend away to the castle for a little holiday with the queen. her flat was locked up. this left the fat man with nowhere to sell his powders and potions and tablets. so he found another lady. she had a house. this made selling the powders and potions and tablets much easier. people could just pull up in their cars and beep their horn. they didn't even have to get out of the car. business was good. people came to buy powders and potions and tablets all day and all night. the only problem was the beeping of horns woke up the neighbours. that and the fighting.

one of the neighbours was a very brave man. he had been a soldier, and had fought at a famous battle in a famous war. after that the man had been a lion tamer and had sailed the seas with a travelling circus. but even the lion tamer was frightened by the fat man and his friends.

the sheriff came to hear about this. it did not seem fair to him that a man who had fought in a famous battle and travelled the world with lions should not be able to grow old in peace. the sheriff and his men took the magic battering ram and went to pay the lady a visit.

the lady quite clearly was not expecting them. she had not put the kettle on. they found all sorts of interesting things. the lady had not had time to tidy up. there were blades and mirrors and strange lamps and tiny furnaces. there were piles of powders and potions. there were children's toys and clothes, and a collection of very pretty dolls.

and there was a letter from the lady's daughter, who had been taken away by the kind ladies to live with some people who would feed her. in the letter her daughter wrote that she was sad and that she missed her mother and cried at night. the ink in the letter was smudged where someone had put a drink on top of it.

the lady was taken away in a van for a holiday with the queen. her house was closed up with big metal shutters on the doors and the windows. the very pretty dolls sat in a row in the dark bedroom, like dancers waiting to go on stage.

yet again the fat man was left in the lurch. he was beginning to think life had it in for him.