Last Saturday I posted about my Saturday morning ritual and The Split Worlds. I posted about the stories, because I love them and I hoped I could share them with you and give them a few more readers and/or listeners. So I’m really happy that today I have the opportunity to literally share a Split Worlds story with you.
Take it away, Emma!
This is the thirty-second tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. It’s also the second part of ‘Compensatory Behaviour’ which you can find here if you need to read that first.
If you would like me to read part two to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
There was one last thing to do before he left for the show and like every morning, Derek dreaded it. He climbed the stairs with the breakfast tray and went into the bedroom he hadn’t slept in for over a week. Sue was still in bed but sitting up at least.
“Morning love,” he said as brightly as he could.
She watched him set the tray down and her gaze lingered on the rose. “That one’s from our garden, isn’t it?”
“I grew it myself,” he said. It wasn’t the best bloom – that was set aside for the competition – but it was still a rich red. He looked at the stems mouldering in the vase on the dressing table, surrounded by brittle petals which were yellow with age. “Shall I get rid of-”
“No!” Sue glared at him. “I want those to stay.”
“But they’re long dead.”
“I don’t want to forget them. Why can’t you bring some more of those white roses to me? They’re only over there.” She pointed to the neighbouring garden but he didn’t look. “If you loved me, you would.”
He tried not to show how much it hurt. It wasn’t really her speaking. It was the illness. Nothing she could say would ever make him go back to that garden. “Try to eat. I made the jam.”
She stared at the tray as if it were covered with pictures of tea and toast rather than anything she would actually eat or drink. “Those other roses brought my appetite back, do you remember?”
“I have to go,” he went to the door. “Wish me luck.”
Derek arrived at the show with a pounding headache. He set his roses down in the allocated space. He was the first to arrive so he couldn’t appraise the competition. “Will someone keep an eye on them?” he asked the man who’d showed him the way.
“Of course. We have to make sure there’s no foul play.” When Derek lingered next to the roses the man added. “You have my word.”
When Derek realised he’d done all he could the fatigue hit him. With a couple of hours to kill he went to the nearest café and had a full English breakfast. He read the paper but his thoughts were held fast on the thorns of his roses, snared like wool on barbed wire. It was beyond his control now.
When he got back to the showground Derek drifted from one poor distraction to the next until Maureen spotted him.
“How are you?” she asked. “Bernard said you were nervous.”
“I’ll be okay.”
“This’ll cheer you up.” She rummaged in her bag and pulled out a large coin purse with a cartoon duck carrying a handbag embroidered on it.
Derek wondered if she was going senile until she turned it over. “Bad ass mother ducker” was embroidered in large letters on the other side. He raised an eyebrow as she giggled.
“Oh, they’re coming out,” she pointed to the marquee. “They must have picked the winner.”
Derek left without a polite goodbye and pushed his way past children with candy floss and bored parents.
A small crowd was gathered around the prize table. His heart shuddered at the sight of his roses. He worked his way to the front and saw the silver rosette resting against his display. He covered his mouth as the urge to vomit seized him.
He hadn’t won.
“Congratulations,” a man said. “First prize rarely goes to a newcomer.”
“Thank you,” a woman replied and Derek turned to see who had stolen salvation from him. Her eyes were the same colour as the leaves on his roses and her skin as perfect as the petals. Her beauty made him feel old and ugly, stupid and clumsy.
He tore his gaze away to look at her roses. Pure white. Perfect. Familiar.
“Mr Cooke?” Her hand rested on his arm and everything else in the room faded away. “Commiserations. Your blooms are beautiful, but not good enough.” His tongue felt like a slug doused in salt. “I have a message from my patron. You failed to satisfy her generous demands; therefore you’ll have to pay the price for your theft.”
“But… the roses were for my wife, she’s ill, she-”
“Theft is theft, Mr Cooke. As compensation, you will hand over your grandson to me when he’s born.”
“Your daughter is pregnant.”
How could this woman know something he didn’t about his own daughter? “I’m not giving you my grandson, you crazy woman, not for stealing a few bloody flowers!”
“Then you’ll lose everything. Your choice.” The woman smiled. “Good day.”
She walked away and as soon as her hand left his arm the noise of the crowded tent flooded back in. Derek stumbled out of the tent and braced his hands on his knees. The show continued around him as if nothing had happened. He had to leave before he was sick.
Derek straightened and frowned at the ugly man standing in front of him. He was dressed in a raincoat with mud spatters around the hem. “What?”
“I know what that… lady said to you in there. About your grandson.”
Derek had started to wonder if it had been a funny turn. “Wasn’t it awful? Who does she-”
“I’ve heard it all before,” the man reached into a pocket and pulled out a small wallet. “Call this number when your daughter is about to give birth. Say you have a message for Montgomery and give your contact details.”
Derek took the card handed to him. “Are you a policeman?”
An official-looking ID was flashed at him before the wallet was put away. “I work for a department that specialises in these matters. Don’t worry, Mr Cooke. They won’t take your grandson.”
“What should I say is the message?” Derek asked as the man started to walk away.
The man glanced over his shoulder. “‘Rapunzel.’”
Thanks for hosting, Mieneke!