Hellraiser

Author, editor, critic/essayist, poet and now -- with the multiple award-winning PS imprint -- publisher, Pete Crowther has edited more than 20 anthologies and produced almost 100 short stories and novellas (two of which have been adapted for British TV while two more are scheduled to begin filming for the big screen in 2006), plus ESCARDY GAP (in collaboration with James Lovegrove) and DARKNESS, DARKNESS. He's currently busy writing story notes for DARK TIMES, his fifth collection, while working on the second instalment of his FOREVER TWILIGHT SF/horror series, a mainstream novel, a couple of new anthologies and another TV project. Pete lives about 500 yards from the sea on the east coast of England with his wife, Nicky and an unfeasibly large collection of books, comics, DVDs, record albums and CDs. Here we present a story written under his Nick Hassam pen-name.

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(1) Frankie on the telephone:

‘So how was the trip?’

‘Fine, just fine.’ The voice on the other end of the line sounds like it could be in the next room, Frankie's outer office. It's a grand title for what is, in reality, only a threadbare-carpeted room containing nothing but boxes. Boxes of Soney Walk-mans, Guchi shoes and Ahmani sweaters, all the brand names carefully mis-spelled. He can see them from where he's sitting, lined up like whorls on the cross-sections of a tree-trunk denoting all the deals and scams which are his life.

Frankie is a small-time crook, a con man. But now he's made a move into the big time, and he's nervous about it.

Frankie reaches for the pack of Marlboro Lights and shakes one free. He feels like his old dog, Vegas, been dead now most of 20 years, rummaging around in the dead garden soil of the old house in Queens, looking for treasures. Nodding to the old Vargas calendar he keeps up on the wall simply because he likes the pictures, he grunts and says, ‘And how's Marcie? She enjoy the flight?’

‘Fine,’ the voice says, ‘Marcie's fine. She liked the flight.’

‘Good,’ says Frankie, ‘I'm pleased.’ Actually, Frankie couldn't give a damn about what Marcie thought about the flight but he's making conversation. People tell him all the time he should make more conversation so he's making it. He considers asking if they had nice seats on the plane and how was the food and did they manage to get the john to flush but he figures, hey, enough making with the conversation already. Time for business.

He grunts again and says, ‘So no problems.’ He makes it sound like a statement. Positive thinking. Frankie doesn't want problems.

There's a slight pause on the other end of the line, slight but noticeable.

Then the voice says, ‘Well...’, stretching it out into a long word.

Frankie decides to light the cigarette. He's been thinking about quitting these past few weeks but the closest he's got is sitting chewing on the unlit cigarette until the filter gets to look like second-hand gum. He draws the smoke in deep and feels the tension ease. ‘So, what? Are you telling me there were problems? Huh? What are you telling me here?’

‘There's a problem, yeah. One problem.’

‘You want to tell me what it is, this problem?’

‘It's Boston.’

Frankie drew in more smoke and watched the fire run down the cigarette. He imagined Boston wandering around London, high as a kite, walking down the street clicking his little claw-fingers to some unheard (by everyone else) melody, maybe wearing a beret and shades like...

like a real cool cat, maybe?

... like just soaked up a quarter-million bucks of prime nose-candy.

‘The bag's burst and the cat's stoned out of his gourd. Is that it? If that's it then I don't want to know.’ He waits, listening to the silence. ‘Okay, tell me. I want to know. Has the bag burst?’

‘Not as far as I know?’

‘How far is that? A long way? A Little way?’ Frankie shakes his head and smoke envelopes him, wafting around like a shroud. ‘Will you talk to me for crissakes, Mel? What's the problem here?’

‘Boston's in kwar... kwor... what they call it, Frankie?’

‘What do they call what, Mel? Speak to me. Give me a clue.’

‘You know... you can't visit him.’

‘You can't vis- look, Mel, think about this, is-’ It suddenly makes sense, like those old comicbooks when there's a lamp clicks on over the character's head. ‘Quarantine! The cat's in quarantine!’

‘That's it. That's where he's at,’ Mel says, sounding relieved.

‘That means he's sick. Jesus Christ! Is he sick?’

‘Not as far as I know.’

‘Mel, we did that one already. If he's in quarantine then he's sick.’

Silence.

Frankie stubs out his cigarette and shakes another out of the pack. ‘You still there, Mel?’ he asks.

‘Still here.’

‘Okay.’ He lights up and pulls it in, deep. ‘Okay, why's he in quarantine if he's not sick?’

Mel says, ‘They took him from Marcie at the airport. Said they have to keep him a while, you know, like locked up?’

Being locked up suddenly seemed like a luxury vacation to Frankie. There were worse things to consider. ‘They say anything else?’

The silence indicated that Mel was either nodding or shaking his head. Frankie waited for some kind of verbal sign which.

‘They going to keep him away from other animals until they're sure he's okay, they said,’ says Mel.

‘How long?’

‘Boxing day.’

Frankie frowns and pulls on the cigarette. ‘Boxing day? What the fuck's boxing day?’

‘That's what I said.’ Mel lets out a throaty chuckle. ‘I said to this guy, 'What the-'‘

‘And what did he say, Mel?’

‘Day after Christmas. Then we can get him back.’

Frankie could feel his eyeballs pushing out of his sockets. ‘Day after Christmas! Jesus Christ, Mel, that's-’

‘Three months is what it is, Frankie.’

Three months. If they have to wait until then, Frankie realizes, he'll have been feeding fishes in the East River since Hallowe'en. ‘We have to get the bag back. We have to get it out of the cat, Mel.’

‘Guy said we could visit.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. We can visit him anytime. But he's in a cage, Frankie.’

‘Okay. You leave it with me and I'll call you back.’ Frankie makes to put down the telephone and has a second thought. He lifts it back to his ear and shouts, ‘Mel, you still there?’

‘Still here.’

‘I'm coming over.’

‘You're coming over? To England?’

‘Right.’

‘When? Now?’

Frankie sighs. ‘Not this minute, Mel. There's a couple things I need to do first, you know? Like, I have to book a flight, pack a bag... little things like that. But I'm coming over. Do nothing until I get there.’

‘Okay. Can we go out, Frankie, me and Marcie?’

‘Sure, go out, have a good time. I'll call you from the hotel lobby when I get in.’

‘From our hotel, Frankie?’

Frankie smiles like he just had a bad attack of heartburn. ‘Something like that, Mel. Something like that.’

He hangs up and looks at his cigarette. It's burned down to the filter. He reaches for the pack as the door buzzer sounds.

‘Yeah,’ Frankie says into the voicebox.

‘Francis, it is I. We need to parlez. Beam me up.’

Frankie can hardly get the words out but, eventually, he manages it. ‘Sure, push on the door, Ed,’ he says.

Then he lights the cigarette.

*

(2) Frankie in conference:

‘So how you doing, Ed? To what do I owe this honor?’ Frankie looks at the big man slumping into the chair right in front of his desk, casts a glance at the two neatly-dressed thugs who enter the room behind him and stand with their backs against the door.

Edward Kroaeneur shakes his head. ‘I think I need to see a doctor, Francis,’ he says, folding his gloves neatly on his crossed legs.

‘What is it, you sick?’

‘Not so much sick as confused, Francis.’

Frankie frowns, looks up at the other guys but their heads are somewheres else, faces blank. But he knows better. He knows that it may look like the lights are on and nobody's home but one wrong move and there'll be a whole heap of action behind the curtains. He looks back at Ed, tries a half smile and raises his eyebrows questioningly.

‘I am confused because I am hearing voices, Francis.’ Ed settles back in the chair and straightens the crease on his pant-leg. ‘Voices on the telephone. They call me from London, England? They tell me my delivery has not arrived. They tell me, too, that your man - Milton?’

‘Melvin,’ Frankie says.

‘They tell me he said something about a cat. I am wondering if, perhaps, though I know you are not a doctor, Francis, I am wondering if perhaps you are able to explain why I hear these voices telling me things I do not want to hear.’

Frankie laughs a short, nervous braying noise. ‘It's a mix-up, Ed, a little prob- well, hey, not even a problem. You know what I'm saying?’ He raises his shoulders and, elbows close to his sides, holds his hands out palms-up.

Ed Kroaeneur's face breaks into a smile. ‘Tell me about the mix-up.’

Frankie leans back in his chair. ‘We put the bag into a cat's belly.’

Clouds appear on Ed's face, storm clouds, gathering out on the ocean of his forehead and sweeping quickly towards the beachhead which is his eyes, little piggy eyes set close together, little piggy eyes that show no compassion.

‘Hey, no, the cat felt nothing. Not a thing. It was all done under a full anesthetic. The bag was placed into the outer lining of the stomach, where it could come to no harm, and then he was stitched up good as new. Boston didn't feel a thing.’

‘Boston? This is the cat in question?’

Frankie nods enthusiastically. ‘This is the cat.’ He leans forward. ‘Shirley -- my wife? -- she called him Boston on account of he has little reddy-brown markings just above his feet. You know? Like he has red socks?’

He looks around at the two guys standing by the door. ‘And I didn't even know she knew anything about the game!’ He laughs.

‘And the mix-up?’

‘Well, the mix-up came about because we forgot about the quarantine laws. You know? Where you have to put animals into quarantine for a time until they're satisfied he isn't bringing something in.’

‘Bringing something in?’ The clouds, which seemed to have dispersed, returned. There was lightning in them.

‘No, no,’ Frankie says, shaking his head. ‘Not brining in something like dope, brining in something like AIDS or Berry-Berry. Leprosy maybe. What the hell do I know. Like you said, I'm not a doctor, right?’

‘Correct,’ says Ed, pointing a finger.

Frankie sits back.

‘So how long is Boston being detained?’

‘Until boxing day.’

‘When is that, Francis?’

Frankie frowns. ‘Day after Christmas.’

Ed laughs. The laugh subsides a little as Ed watches Frankie's face, and then it starts again, loud and raucous. Frankie starts chuckling too.

‘Is that Christmas this year, Frankie, or next?’

Frankie laughs harder now until he notices that Ed has stopped. ‘Hey, no, it's Christmas this year, Ed.’

Ed Kroaeneur lifts his gloves and gets to his feet. He turns to the man standing immediately behind him and nods, once. Then he says to Frankie, ‘Well, look on the bright side, Francis. At least this year you will not have to worry about buying any presents.’

The man by the door takes something from inside his jacket. It's long and black and metallic-looking, and it has a thick nozzle on the end of it.

Frankie jumps to his feet. ‘No, Ed, you don't understand. I've got it all sorted. I'm going over. I'm going over to England and I'm going to visit the cat and get the bag out. As God's my judge, Ed, you have to trust me on this!’

Kroaeneur slaps his gloves against his side, considering. The man with the gun lets it hang by his side, waiting for further instructions.

‘Very well, Francis. You have until Tuesday, which is the first of October. If I do not hear voices telling me everything is well, we shall need to talk again.’

Frankie nods. ‘Sure, Ed,’ he says.

The big man turns around. ‘That will not be necessary on this visit,’ he tells the man with the gun. ‘But our friend should be made to appreciate that diversions such as this are costly and tiresome,’ he says. ‘However, I do not feel it would be helpful to the current situation for others to be made aware of this lesson in understanding.’

Both men nod.

‘I'll wait downstairs,’ Ed says. ‘I will see you again, Francis.’

As the door closes, the two men step into the center of the office. ‘The boss says for us not to leave marks,’ one of the men says with a smile.

Frankie steps out from behind his desk. ‘Oh, is that what he said.’

*

(3) Frankie flying high:

‘You okay, honey?’

‘I'm fine, Shirley, really fine,’ Frankie says, coming back from the john and pouring himself into the seat like his ass is full of buckshot. ‘Will you quit asking me how I am every five seconds.’ He lets out a sigh as he tries to make himself comfortable.

Shirley turns away from him and looks out of the window where she sees only more clouds. ‘You don't seem like you're fine,’ she says softly, her breath misting the glass for a moment and then disappearing.

‘Well, no, I'm not fine, now you come to mention it,’ Frankie says. ‘I'm still pissing blood and I just dropped a turd that had more kinks in it than a corkscrew.’ He groans and rubs his stomach. ‘I think those goons mangled my bowel or my large intestine.’

‘Well, at least they didn't leave any marks, honey.’

Frankie lets out a sharp laugh. ‘Hey, and don't think I'm not grateful, okay? I'll remember them in my will. Could be I'll need to write one.’

Shirley turns around, her face a mask of concern, and says, ‘Haven't you made one out already?’

‘I was kidding you. I was joking for crissakes.’

‘Oh.’

Frankie shakes his head and flips through the London guidebook he bought at LaGuardia. ‘What the hell is boxing day, anyway?’ he says to nobody in particular.

‘Frankie?’

‘Yeah.’

‘How big is this cat?’

‘How big is it? You saw how big it was, you gave the goddam cat its name.’

‘So we're talking about Boston, the same Boston I saw already.’

‘Yes.’ If she had twice the brains she'd still be only a half-wit, he thinks.

‘So, how did you manage to get quarter of a million dollars of coke into Boston's stomach? He must look like an airship.’

Frankie closes the guidebook and lays it on his lap. ‘Shirley, this is a new strain of coke, not a goddam shipment. It contains some new ingredient... I don't know what it is... bunch of numbers. But it means you can spread it wider. Like, I mean, you can get more dime bags per deal. You follow me?’

‘A prototype.’

‘A what?’

‘A prototype. The specimen that they'll use to mass produce it?’

Frankie stares at his wife, like he's seeing her for the first time. ‘You been keeping anything from me here Shirley?’

‘Now why would I do that, honey?’

*

(4) Frankie goes 'home':

Frankie says to Shirley, ‘It's like coming home, you know?’

Shirley is turning around in the cab to get a look at a big store with a whole load of flags hanging outside. ‘Coming home?’

‘Yeah, my old man, his grandfather came over from England. Did I ever tell you that?’

‘I don't think you did, honey, no.’

The three thousand miles he's just put between himself and Edward Kroaeneur have made him feel easier. Even the pain in his gut feels better and the last time he took a pee it was clear. A little painful but clear.

Frankie settles back in the seat and looks out at the rain-washed streets, looks at the mass of bulbous black London cabs going every which way up and down these little streets, and he feels safe. ‘You know what?’

‘What?’

‘I could live here.’

‘We haven't even been outside yet, honey. How d'you know you could live here?’

Frankie shrugs. ‘Just feels quieter. More... more civilized. Like, it feels like it has more depth. Am I making any sense here?’

Shirley pats him on the knee. ‘I think I know what you're trying to say, honey,’ she says. ‘It has more character, more breeding.’

Frankie nods, thinking on that for a second. Then he turns to her and he asks, ‘You sure you're not keeping anything from me?’

‘Like what, honey?’

Frankie shrugs. ‘Seems like you suddenly know a whole lot of things.’

Shirley turns to him and she gives a smile, kind of a sad smile. ‘I guess I read a lot.’

‘You read a lot? Since when? I don't think I ever saw you reading anything other than the Enquirer.’

‘You're never home to see me doing anything, Frankie. How could you say that? I haven't read an Enquirer for years. Only reason we still get it delivered is for you. It's you reads the Enquirer.’

Frankie takes that in. It's true. He does read the Enquirer and, truth to tell, he's been getting annoyed with it just recently. Like every article has quotes from 'pals' or 'close sources'. He doesn't believe in it any more. It's then, with the rainy streets of London speeding by the cab window, that he realizes he doesn't believe in a lot of things any more.

‘You think I'm changing, Shirley?’

‘Changing in what way, honey?’

He gives another little shrug. Jesus, he thinks, where would my conversation be if I didn't have my shoulders? ‘Changing like... like getting more intense. You know what I mean?’

‘You're getting older, Frankie.’ She looks out of the window. ‘We're all getting older. Gets to a time when the old things and the old ways -- the things and ways that seemed so important once -- they no longer seem to matter.’

Frankie frowns, gives it some thought.

‘Is this Piccadilly Circus?’ Shirley shouts through the partly open window which separates them from the driver, breaking the words up to make Pick A Dilly.

The man shouts back over his shoulder that it is. He points to some kind of statue right in the middle of the road and says, ‘And that's-’

‘Eros,’ Shirley says, staring at the statue, making the word sound mystical and wonderful at the same time.

Frankie watches her face from the side and wonders where the years have all gone.

*

(5) Frankie and Melvin go shopping:

‘Yes, gentlemen, how may I help you?’

‘We'd like to purchase a cat,’ Frankie tells the man behind the counter.

‘'Purchase'?’ Mel whispers.

Frankie ignores him.

‘A kitten?’ the man asks.

Frankie shakes his head. ‘We were looking for a full-grown cat. One with, like, little orange socks around the feet?’

The man looks surprised. ‘You want to buy a cat wearing socks?’

‘Sock markings,’ Frankie explains. ‘My, er, my wife's sister, she used to have a cat with orange markings around the feet. We're over here to see her -- the sister, not the cat.’

The man nods, patiently.

‘Actually, the cat died.’

‘I'm sorry to hear that, sir.’

‘Yeah. So was she. The sister, not-’

‘Not the cat, yes. I think I get the picture.’

‘No, the cat's dead,’ Mel adds helpfully.

The man nods some more and all three of them stand looking at each other. Next to them, a cockatoo squawks something unintelligible and the man says, ‘Quite.’ Frankie isn't sure whether he's referring to the bird or them.

‘We only keep kittens here, sir,’ the man says then. ‘And not too many at that. And I'm sure we don't have one with those markings.’

‘Oh.’

‘Might I suggest you visit the Cat Protection League. They have a shelter over in Clapham. You can get the address from the Yellow Pages. I'm sure you'll be able to find what you want there.’

Frankie nods. ‘Thank you kindly,’ he says.

Outside the pet store, Mel says, ‘What's with this 'purchase' and 'thank you kindly' stuff?’

‘Breeding,’ Frankie says. ‘Character and breeding.’

Mel nods and doesn't ask what Frankie means exactly.

Frankie is pleased for such small mercies.

Later that same day, Frankie and Mel are in a cab heading away from the Cat Protection League's shelter in Clapham, south of the Thames. They have a cat which looks like a dead ringer for Boston. They are heading for the quarantine section of the Immigration and Passport Control buildings at Heathrow Airport. Mel is practicing appearing normal with the cat stuffed down his shirt. It moves around a lot but doesn't hurt.

‘How do I look?’

‘Fat,’ Frankie says. ‘How's it feel?’

Mel considers before answering. ‘Okay,’ he says. ‘It feels okay.’ He rubs the lump under his shirt. ‘It feels good.’

Frankie frowns.

‘Marcie kind of fell for Boston, you know? I think I'm going to have to get her a cat.’

‘Sounds like-’ Frankie was going to say 'a pretty crazy idea' but, suddenly, it seems to make a whole lot of sense. ‘A great idea,’ he says instead, ‘sounds like a great idea.’

*

(6) Frankie and Melvin commit a fair exchange:

Sometimes the bear eats you, sometimes you eat the bear.

Frankie has heard that saying somewhere, he doesn't remember where or when. But he knows what it means.

Today, he and Melvin have eaten the bear.

Everything went incredibly well, timing perfect, with the Gods of Irony looking the other way at every stage. Maybe it's a sign, Frankie thinks, heading back into town in yet another black cab, this time with Boston -- the real Boston -- sitting on his lap.

They got into the quarantine section at Heathrow without any trouble at all. The new cat stayed still under Mel's shirt. The guy that escorted them in to see Boston was called away for a few minutes, giving them time to make the switch. When the guy returned he didn't notice the difference in the cat he now had and the one he'd had a few minutes earlier. Boston stayed still under Mel's shirt. And they got out without any further comments. Except one:

‘You certainly do love your cat,’ the guy had said.

‘Yes,’ Frankie had answered, ‘I guess I do.’

The guy in East Cheam -- a strange man who called both Frankie and Mel 'Matey' and who possessed a bizarre glass eye which continually 'watched' the opposite wall when he was speaking to them -- had performed the simple operation, removing the packet, and Frankie had given him the promised thousand dollars. Now, stitched up once again, Boston is groggy. Frankie strokes him and looks across at Mel. He smiles and says, ‘You know, I been thinking.’

‘Yeah? About what?’

‘Yeah. I been thinking about... about things.’

‘Yeah,’ Mel says, in an 'ain't that the truth' voice, and Frankie realizes that further comment would not lead anywhere.

*

(7) Frankie delivers the goods:

‘You want me to make it now?’

Frankie nods. He and Melvin are in a small office three flights above a sleazy strip joint in Soho. It's dark outside. Frankie has just asked the man to make a call Stateside to say the handover has happened.

The man dials the number and speaks. ‘Yeah, it's me. Sure, everything went fine... I suppose,’ he says, looking questioningly at Frankie. Frankie nods. ‘Yeah, no problem. I'll put him on.’

Frankie takes the receiver. ‘Ed, it's Frankie.’

Ed tells Frankie he did well. Frankie says thanks. Then Frankie tells him he isn't coming back to New York, at least not for a while. Ed asks why.

Frankie turns away from the man watching him and from Mel, who's right now sitting on the sofa stroking the sleeping Boston. ‘Personal reasons,’ he says in a soft voice.

*

(8) Frankie bids farewell to the past:

Frankie and Shirley wave through the huge windows at the disappearing plane. The farewells have been tearful, particularly for Shirley and Marcie although Frankie, too, has experienced some sense of things changing. Things that can never be the same again.

Frankie has told Mel he can take over the old business.

He has been in touch with his bank and with a Realtor and the apartment on Riverside Drive is already up for sale. The Realtor told him he thought he could make a quick deal if that was what Frankie wanted. Frankie told him it was.

The funds from his checking and savings accounts have been transferred from his bank in New York to an account in Lloyds Bank. Frankie picked Lloyds because he felt they needed his support having gone through all this insurance hoo-hah that Shirley told him about. Frankie has not realized that Lloyds Bank and Lloyds of London are two completely different companies and Shirley has seen fit not to tell him. She thinks it's kind of sweet of him to do it.

They have bought a small place in Swiss Cottage, because the area sounded European, and Boston has recovered completely. Frankie, now 56 and heading full-tilt for 57, considers himself retired.

‘You know,’ Shirley tells him, as she thrusts her hand into Frankie's coat pocket and takes hold of his own hand, ‘I feel a little naughty.’

They are outside the main Heathrow terminal and walking to the car-park where their Jaguar car is waiting to take them home. It's a typically cold October night in London and the atmosphere is damp and foggy and mysterious. All possibilities are there for the taking, it seems.

‘Naughty?’ Frankie says. ‘Is that a 'character and breeding' word?’

She laughs. ‘I feel like I just left my husband and ran away with the man I married. Does that make any sense to you?’

Frankie nods. ‘I'm beginning to see a whole lot of sense in the things you tell me,’ he says. ‘There's still one thing I want to know about though.’

She says, ‘What's that?’

‘Eros,’ Frankie says.

Her laughter echoes in the foggy air.

*

(9) Frankie and Shirley on Boxing Day:

The days and weeks and months have sped by in the lives of Frankie and Shirley the way that days and weeks and months speed by in the lives of us all.

The Tower of London, Madam Tussauds, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament... so many days filled with discovery and experience and enjoyment. Particularly enjoyment.

They have been up to Stratford, where Shirley took Frankie to see a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (‘You've never seen Shakespeare until you've seen him in Stratford,’ Shirley told her husband in the foyer and Frankie didn't have the heart -- or perhaps the nerve --- to ask her how she knew that) and they have been across to the south west coast to see Tintagel Castle, where King Arthur ruled the land from a round table.

And they have been across the Thames to Clapham. Many times.

‘You certainly do love your cat,’ the man tells Shirley and Frankie. ‘How many times have you been out here to see him?’

Frankie fights off the urge to shrug and instead says, ‘No more than he deserves.’ He signs the papers and waits for the man to check through the details. The man looks up and nods, smiling. He hands one copy of the document to Frankie and looks across at Shirley, who is sitting on a chair with Boston on her lap.

‘You know,’ the man says, nodding at Boston, ‘that cat could be a twin for this fellow.’ He lifts the cage containing the cat from the shelter onto the desk, his eyes glancing from one to the other. ‘Are they related?’

Frankie slips the paper into his jacket pocket. ‘Who knows,’ he says.

‘Quite,’ the man says.

Shirley stands up with Boston and Frankie picks up the cage with the other cat. Then he stops and glances across at his wife.

‘Was there something else?’ the man asks.

Shirley frowns at Frankie, wondering what he's thinking about.

‘Well, just one thing,’ he says, ‘but it isn't anything to do with cats.’

The man waves his arms and gives them a big smile. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘if it's anything I can help you with, I'll be happy to do so.’

‘Boxing Day,’ says Frankie.

The man looks puzzled. ‘Yes?’

Frankie says, ‘Why is it called that?’

‘What, Boxing Day?’

Frankie nods.

‘Well, it's a traditional day of giving,’ he says. ‘The first weekday after Christmas is what it used to be; now, of course, it's always December 26th.’

‘But why boxing day? What's that got to do with giving?’

‘Oh,’ comes the answer. ‘It comes from Christmas box... like a present. That's how people used to pass on their gifts to one another. In a box.’

Frankie looks across at Shirley, gives her a smile. She smiles back.

He lifts the small cage containing the cat and walks across to where Shirley is sitting, puts it on her lap next to Boston. ‘Happy Boxing Day,’ he says.

‘And a happy Boxing Day to you too, honey.’

 

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

from Song of the Open Road (1881)
Walt Whitman

 

 

(C) Nick Hassam

 

 

© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.