Story Snippets

On this page, I post short stories, excerpts, teasers...


When Tamsin got into Mum’s car outside school, Jodie was already ensconced in the front seat eating her tea. Jodie ate in concentrated silence, chewing each mouthful to exactly the right consistency before swallowing and taking the next bite. Poor Jodie, thought Tamsin, never getting any actual joy out of eating. Her younger sister ate until they reached the big roundabout, then shut her snack‑box. For the rest of the journey she sat quite still, letting her digestion rest, preparing for the practice ahead. In the back seat, Tamsin scrolled through her phone, clicked some music on and shut her eyes. Mum never provided tea for her because, of course, it wasn’t supposed to be necessary. Lack of food preparation supported the fiction that they would simply drop Jodie at the gym and go home. Yes, well.
          At the gym, Jodie moved purposefully to the changing room. Mum headed equally single‑mindedly for the viewing gallery. “I’ll just see her settled in, dear,” she said.
          Here we go again, thought Tamsin. She hoisted her school bag to her shoulder and followed, deliberately slow. By the time she’d dawdled to the viewing gallery, Jodie had already limbered up and was on her first double twist with full extend somersault.
          “Come on, Mum,” said Tamsin. “We’d better be off. The traffic will be getting heavy soon, remember?”
          “Mmm? Oh, yes.” Mum stood up, her eyes fixed on Jodie.
          “Yoo‑hoo!” The City Gym administrator hurried across, flushed of face, excited but slightly harried. “I’ve just had a call from Network East. They want to do a little piece on Jodie tonight, what with the Europeans coming up...”
          Mum snapped alert. “Tonight? Oh, well, I’d better stay.” Her coat flew to the chair quicker than oil running off a hot pan. “They won’t mention that Russian girl, will they? Did they say anything about her?”
          The other woman looked alarmed. “They only asked about Jodie. When she’d be here, what the lighting was like, whether they could park outside. That sort of thing.”
          Tamsin leant against the balcony. You couldn’t say she hadn’t tried. She always tried. She always gave Mum the chance to take her home in good time for a leisurely meal and a relaxing evening. And it wouldn’t be the least use, now, pointing out that Dad was coming here after work to take Jodie home. Mum simply knew Network East would want to talk to both of Jodie’s parents together.
          Tamsin gave a tiny, silent sigh. Plan B it was. As ever. “What about tea, Mum?” she asked. “And my homework?”
          “Sorry, dear? What did you say?” Mum’s eyes were on Jodie, doing her third double twist with full extend somersault.
          “I’ll go and get some chips, shall I?”
          “All right, dear.” Mum fumbled in her purse without looking and handed Tamsin a ten pound note.
          “D’you want some?”
          “No, I’ll leave it until later. Oh dear, I hope they don’t mention that Russian girl. It’ll upset her.”
          “I need to go to the library to look up stuff for my history homework. It’s quite a long essay. Is that okay?”
          “Mmm? Yes, of course, dear.”
          Tamsin had long ago given up reasoning with her parents when it came to Jodie’s gymnastics. Time was when the energy expended on her sister had made her bitter. She was over that now. At least Jodie did her daily practice here in the city nowadays. The city had a lot more resources than their small market town. An intelligent girl could get a surprising amount done in three hours - and Tamsin was nothing if not intelligent.
          Mum didn’t even turn around as she left.
          In the gym, Jodie ran lightly up to the vaulting horse and did her seventh double twist with full extend somersault.
          In the building society, Tamsin pushed the tenner across the counter and saw it added to her account book. You never knew what was going to come out of Mum’s purse. It appalled Tamsin, who couldn’t imagine a day when she herself didn’t know exactly how much money she had at any one time.
          In the gym, Mum rested her chin on her hands and admired Jodie’s new championship leotard. She’d known the rich cerise colour would look good on her daughter, and to her mind,  the metallic purple zigzag stripe with silver edging really gave Jodie a touch of star quality. It had been a trifle expensive, but Dad had agreed nothing was too good for their little heroine. How fortunate that the TV crew were coming today. Jodie would look lovely on the television.
          In the burger bar, Tamsin slipped on her apron, washed her hands and started clearing tables with a speed which had the owner breathing a sigh of relief. It was his busiest time of day. She also swept the floor, refilled the condiments station, broke up an argument between two of the customers waiting in the queue and fixed the piped music so that it once more played cheerily overhead.
          “You are a star,” said the owner. “Are you sure you don’t want a permanent job?”
          Tamsin grinned. “You couldn’t afford me,” she replied and at the end of her ninety minute shift took her pay in cash and banked that as well.
          In the gym, the Network East crew tripped over beams and griped about padded flooring.
          In the library, Tamsin rapidly scanned the Financial Times and tapped notes into her netbook. She’d do the proper number crunching tonight at home. It was very satisfying how even the most modest savings could build up if you put your money in the right place.
          She got back to the gym just as Dad was parking the car. She dodged around the outside broadcast van, sped up the side stairs, jammed her headphones on and was studiously deep in her homework by the time he entered the gallery.
          “Network East, eh?” he said, sliding into the seat next to Mum, his eyes already on Jodie’s sixty-third double twist with full extend somersault. “They’re not going to mention that Russian girl, are they?”
          There were aggrieved noises from the TV crew. Could Jodie do something else now? Something with more audience impact? Assymetric bars, perhaps? Anything...
          “She won’t,” said Mum comfortably. “She’s thinking about this, you see. Getting the moves absolutely right.”
          “She won’t,” agreed Dad. “Never changes her mind. She’s like me. Knows what she wants to do and sticks to her programme.”
          A little more rumbling and the TV crew gave in, stomping upstairs to interview Jodie’s parents. Tamsin, writing an essay on how the politics of the inter-war years shaped the conflict to come with one hand, whilst tapping out the rhythm playing through her headphones with the other, laid a bet with herself as to how long it would be before they wound up with a question to her, and which of the standard ones they’d choose.
          “Jodie developed her interest in gymnastics very young, didn’t she?”
          “Oh, yes,” agreed Mum eagerly. “Her sister Tamsin used to go to the local gym club, you see, and of course Jodie would come with me to pick her up, and one day, well, honestly she was only two, and she did this perfect star jump off the trampette ‑ ”
          “So then, of course,” joined in Dad, “we started her in the Tots class - ”
          “Juniors by four ‑ ”
          “Personal coaching at six ‑ ”
          “City Gym ‑ ”
          “Ever so encouraging ‑ ”
          Tamsin’s pen travelled smoothly on as Mum and Dad itemised Jodie’s prowess over the years. The interviewer managed to wedge a question into the flow. “But surely your daughter’s success has meant a great deal of sacrifice on your part?”
          “Sacrifice?” Mum and Dad looked blank.
          “Long hours of practice? Travelling to competitions?”
          “Not really.” Mum sounded nonplussed.
          Out of the corner of her eye, Tamsin saw the director, a bored‑looking man in a turtle‑necked sweater, draw a hand across his throat. The interviewer gave a practised smile. “And you’ll be at the European Championships next month to cheer Jodie on?”
          Mum and Dad blinked that the question needed putting. “Of course.” Mum lowered her voice. “Not Tamsin. She’s got exams. She’s ever so disappointed.” She made the exams sound like an unfortunate rash.
          The interviewer flicked the faintest of sceptical looks in Tamsin’s direction. “Of course. Good luck with those. And what will it be for Jodie after the championships?”
          “The Olympics,” breathed Dad reverently. “She’ll be in peak condition by then.”
          “Peak condition,” echoed Mum. Her eyes shone.
          Behind them, the director sketched a lacklustre spiral. He’d heard it all before, filmed it all before. What he really wanted was to get home and put his feet up with a nice cup of tea that didn’t give him indigestion.
          “Well, we wish Jodie all the best and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of her,” concluded the interviewer heartily. “A very talented and dedicated young lady.”
          Mum and Dad sat back, flushed and happy. The director went into a technical huddle with the cameraman and the sound technician. The interviewer, leaning over the balcony to watch the talented and dedicated young lady’s eighty-fifth double twist with full extend somersault, said idly, “Suppose she gave it all up tomorrow?”
          “Gave it up?” Mum’s face went slack with shock.

          “Yes,” continued the interviewer, still gazing down. “Make life easier, wouldn’t it? No more twice‑daily trips to the city. No more adapting your routine to fit in with hers...”
          “Well,” said Mum uncertainly, “it’s her choice...”
          “Oh yes,” said Dad, his face betraying blank devastation, “it’s always been her decision...”
          Only Tamsin smiled, her head bent over her essay. Tamsin could pick the lock on Jodie’s diary in two seconds flat and scan its contents in three. Mum and Dad had no idea of their youngest daughter’s game plan. Jodie would be fourteen by the next Olympics. She intended to get her silver medal (being, unlike Mum and Dad, entirely realistic about the Russian girl) and then retire in a blaze of glory. Gymnastics phase over. No fading star act for her. Silver medal, GCSEs, A-levels, Civil Service - and that was her life all neatly mapped out.
          The music crashed victoriously in Tamsin’s head. She smiled again as the cameraman lined up for a shot of her doing her homework. Jodie was just so boring. Who in their right mind would settle for a rule-driven, look‑alike executive post when they could be Something In The City? What sort of person was content to stay at home with their parents until the day of a nice white wedding in church, when instead they could be living in a streamlined Docklands apartment with their own portfolio, a helipad on the roof and a motor boat tied up to the front door? Who wanted a guaranteed pension when they could have adrenalin thrumming through their veins on a daily basis? All of this was Tamsin’s goal. She had a more magnificent horizon than the rest of her family put together.
          Tamsin glanced sideways at Mum and Dad, still gaping like stranded fish at the TV interviewer’s back, at the TV interviewer staring moodily down at Jodie, at the director and cameraman who had just missed the most effective piece of television they were ever likely to come across. It went to show that you should never be complacent.
          In one way, Jodie was spot-on: the right moves at the right time were what counted when you had silver in your sights. Tamsin smiled at the camera and said no she wasn’t the least bit jealous of her younger sister, she was proud of her. Then she put her pen and binder neatly away in her schoolbag and stood up. “What about tea, Mum?” she asked. “Shall I get some chips?”


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