Requiem for a Songbird

This was my entry for a recent Big Finish short story open submissions competition. The brief – “Doctor Who changed my life”.

It was the hardest entrance he’d ever have to do. Walking into the room, confronted by people who were there to celebrate his wife’s death. How could he face them?

Gilbert looked at their faces, full of sympathy for him. No, not sympathy, pity. They were there out of courtesy, friends of the new nightclub owner. Mickey Hamilton. Word was he was the new gangster around these parts. Gilbert sighed — if it were any other day than today, he’d have squared up to him. Told him exactly how the drugs and the dirty money were changing places like this.

On any day but today. Today was different.

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New Best Friend

Every part of Hazel that wasn’t supported by an underwire sagged visibly as she sat down at the kitchen table.

‘Well, that’s that,’ she said to the toaster in the corner, there being no one else in the house. ‘It’s just you, me and half a loaf of Mother’s Pride from now on. D’you think they’ll send me a postcard?’ She dragged on her cigarette. ‘Will they fuck.’

The toaster said nothing, which she took as being agreement. She liked talking to electrical goods; they never spoke back and interrupted a good bitching session.

Sticking the remains of her last Benson and Hedges in her mouth, she got up and flicked on the kettle. There were no mugs in the cupboard, which was no surprise to her. Vince was the only one who had ever done any washing up around here, even after he’d moved out. Bernie was forever up to his armpits in motor oil, and Alexander – well, there just weren’t enough hours in the day to wash his hair and the crockery, bless him. She picked what looked like the least dirty mug out of the sink (there was a dash of lippy on the rim, but it looked like her colour rather than Alice Band’s, so that was alright) and dropped in a tea bag.

It was as she was pouring in the hot water that she first felt she was being watched.
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Facade

We switch the light off and snuggle down for the night. “G’night, John Boy,” quips Alexander. We giggle gently together, then fall into that uncomfortable silence where you really want to fall asleep as quickly as possible. Only you can’t, because you want to so much, and the more you try and force yourself, the more alert you become.

I lie there, feeling Alexander shifting beside me, turning his back towards me. A muffled sniff comes from his side of the bed. Great, I think. This always happens when he stays over: Alexander gets a few sniffles and come morning, I’m the one with full-blown Beijing ‘flu.

Another sniff. And another. By the fourth, I realise that it’s not a cold at all. Instinctively I turn towards him and place my hand on his shoulder. It’s shaking with tears. He half-heartedly tries to shrug my hand away, but I keep it there, gently rubbing his upper arm. As I move towards him, he spins round and suddenly we’re facing each other. Alexander’s face buries into my shoulder and he lets out a horrible, inhuman sob. Both my arms go round him, and he collapses into my bear hug, gripping my T-shirt as he cries harder than I’ve ever known him to before.

Gently I rock him in my arms, playing with his hair as he lets his raw emotion spill out. This is the Alexander which nobody else sees, the veneer of make up, designer clothes and one-liners stripped away. Slowly his wails lessen, his sobs becoming empty. His breathing steadies, and I can feel the spasms that wracked his body diminish. I hug him tighter still, feeling him reciprocate. Delicately, I kiss the top of his head, inhaling the scent of his designer hair care regime. A delicate murmur of appreciation seems to form into barely audible words.

“Sorry?” I ask.

Alexander turns his head up to mine; although I can’t see them in the night’s darkness, I feel his eyes on me. “Thank you,” he whispers. “Thank you for not asking.”

I lean forward to kiss him on the forehead, but he’s anticipated me and moves upwards. We awkwardly bump noses before kissing sweetly, lip to lip. It’s not sexual at all, not even when we kiss again, longer and sweeter, our tongues rubbing subtly against each other. I marvel at my lower body control: here I am with one of the most beautiful faces I have ever known pressed against mine, tunnelling its way into my mouth, and down below – nothing.

Slowly our faces part, and Alexander snuggles into my shoulder. I feel his breath, calm and steady now, gradually slowing into slumber. I don’t want to sleep any more: I just want to protect him, the way his father and mother should have done. Come tomorrow morning, there’ll be a two-hour stint in the bathroom and he’ll emerge, dolled up to the nines, the showman once more.

I kiss the top of his head once more. Good night, Elizabeth.

Where the Hearts Are

“Where do you keep your heart, love? Is it free and allowed to roam?” The Doctor initiates a long overdue reunion.

Where do you keep your heart, love?
Is it free and allowed to roam?
I’ll show you where my heart is
And you shall be my home.

From morning to night I wander
From darkness to light I roam
But you are where my heart is
And you shall be my home…

As she waited for him to arrive, she hummed the tune he had taught her as a child. Fond tears welled up as she remembered those happiest of days.

The reunion itself started joyous enough for her. She wrapped her frail, ageing arms around his chest, pressing her cheek tightly against the warm wool of his jumper. He had changed so much since she had last seen him. The flowing white hair was much shorter, and now a slightly curly brown. As he whispered into her ear, “I’ve missed you”, she even detected a Celtic accent. Pulling him ever closer to her, she realised that what was once a frail, feeble body had become taut, upright. In fact, he was now so much younger in appearance than she was that she felt strange calling him ‘Grandfather’.

The happiness did not last. Looking up into his face for the first real time since his arrival, she noticed that the piercing grey of his eyes was diffused by sadness deeper than anything she had ever seen in him before.

His mouth opened and closed, opened and closed in an almost comical manner as he tried to say the words he needed to tell her. She could see the palpable fear of hurting her holding him back, strangling his words before they had the chance to emerge. Finally, painfully, he spat them out:

“I’m not your grandfather.”

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