A collection of short stories
Don't have time to get into a whole book, but just want to escape for ten minutes? Well you've come to the right place!
Sometimes I don't have the time to write novels either, so instead I pen short stories, all flying based, of course!
Make sure you subscribe to my site for updates about when I publish new stories and read them here first.
Now grab a coffee and prepare for flight...
Jane never ceased to be amazed by how much mess a bunch of respectable-looking passengers could make in just a few hours. She cast her eyes from left to right as she walked up the left-hand side of the now empty plane, checking for anything besides rubbish that had been left behind. The navy purse was just led there, blending in with the navy seat; had it not been for its small gold clasp that caught the glimmer of sunlight from the opposite window, she never would have seen it.
Holding it up she turned it over in her hand. It was heavy, fairly new by the looks of it, smooth leather that hadn’t aged or worn out yet with use. She held onto it while she checked the last couple of rows and walked back into the galley.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ Sam said from the opposite door. He was poised ready with his wheelie bag, jacket on and one foot already in front of the other.
‘You go on, I’ll catch you up.’ Jane put the purse down on top of her open bag, she would hand it to security on the way off but she needed to change her shoes quickly, preferring to walk through the airport looking marginally glamorous after a flight, not slipping along in her battered, flat cabin shoes, no matter how much more comfortable they were. The moments in her life when she felt even the slightest bit glam were so seldom these days that she couldn’t let a single opportunity pass her by.
Jane looked at her tired face in the hotel bathroom mirror the next morning, even a good night’s sleep didn’t make her look fresh faced any more. Middle age had hit her hard. Reaching forty-eight just last week with two children who no longer needed her, an ex-husband who had traded her in for a younger model, a body that had gone soft, for want of a better way to describe the way in which it had seemed to have lost all tone almost overnight, and a non-existent social life was not how she had imagined this stage would be as she careered at supersonic speed head-on towards the big five-oh. She let out a sigh and walked back through the door into the bedroom, a thick layer of make up was definitely necessary before she left this room, even if she was sure that she wouldn’t see a soul that she knew while she lost herself in the Manhattan shopping mecca.
She unzipped her wheelie bag on the bed and rooted around inside for her make up. The soft leather of the purse confused her at first, and her stomach flipped when she realised what it was. She had literally just stolen someone’s purse, she was a real-life thief, albeit an accidental one, but whether she had meant to do it or not, here she was holding something that quite clearly belonged to somebody else.
Jane looked at the metal wastepaper bin underneath the mahogany desk. Should she just throw it out, leave it for the cleaners to deal with? Would they presume it was hers and try to return it to the wrong person? Should she take it back to the airport and hand it in tomorrow, hope that the Duty Manager believed that she had accidentally stolen it? She sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at it blankly. Her thumb slipped under the clasp and popped it open. Julie held her breath as she took a look inside of a stranger’s life. One by one she lifted the cards from the front pockets, loyalty cards and bank cards that would take weeks to replace, she had lost her own purse once before and could remember the pain of having to replace everything acutely. Mrs K Lockley must be tearing her hair out right now no doubt.
It was the last card that answered her question of what to do. The photo was old, but she recognised the eyes, she remembered the twinkle in them when the old lady had asked for a whiskey, straight with just one cube of ice, and Jane had given her two miniatures. It had been too busy to be able to chat so that was all that she knew about her. Here though was an out-of-date driving license which told her that Kathleen M Lockley was seventy-four years old and lived at 3373 134th Street, right here in Manhattan.
So that was what Jane was going to do. She was going to personally deliver the purse back to Mrs Lockley, drop it through her letterbox… and run…
Sean Lockley Jnr shook his head kindly. ‘Mom, it’s not the end of the world, nothing we can’t replace. It’s just a purse.’ He poured her a large Single Malt from the crystal decanter, and another for himself. Truth be known, he didn’t even like the stuff, and he wasn’t sure that his mother did either, but every time he poured one out for them both it was a silent nod to his late father. He handed her the glass.
‘I hate getting old.’ Kathleen stared into her glass. Next week was her seventy-fifth birthday and everyone thought she should be excited about the planned celebrations, but walking into old age alone was scaring the heck out of her. Sean Snr had always had a protective arm around her, always had the right words, but now she was left here, in their expensive apartment with its high ceilings and antique furniture, with her only son a witness to her increasing number of mistakes, and all she could see ahead of her was her own demise, that sooner rather than later it would be her turn to be taken out of here in a box and buried under the cold earth. She shuddered at the thought and took a gulp of the whiskey, she mustn’t keep letting these dark thoughts creep in, she knew better than to wallow in self-pity. She held the empty glass out. ‘Pour me another.’
Jane thanked the cab driver and got out, watching the yellow car drive off and wondering if her decision to walk back was a mistake, the journey here had seemed much further than she had expected. She looked at her watch, it was 11am on this beautiful autumn day and check out wasn’t until five-thirty. It didn’t matter if it took two hours to get back, she would see parts of the city that she had never seen, and maybe burn some calories too… anyway, she just had to do this one thing first.
The brownstone building loomed overhead, and Jane felt her heart race as she took the first step up to the huge wooden door. At the top she stopped, the purse already in her hand, and realised that whatever she had thought she would do now was not going to happen. The door was locked, and there was nowhere that she could just ‘pop the purse and run’… the only options available to her right now seemed to be the brass intercom buttons, or more precisely the one at the top that had the name ‘Lockley’ etched next to it.
Jane turned away, this wasn’t what she had signed up for, she didn’t want to see the lady, or have to explain why she had taken her purse off of the plane… but she couldn’t just leave it on the step, or could she? She looked down at her feet and seriously considered this option, but without a pen and paper to at least write a note she knew that it was a no-go. Drat.
Her finger hovered over the button as she rehearsed in her head the short but concise explanation that she would give. ‘Can I help you?’ A deep voice interrupted her stalling. She turned to see a man about the same age as her with grey flecked hair and an expensive looking suit standing half in and half out of the door. He smiled at her, a perfect set of straight white American teeth, his blue eyes looking directly into hers. He was tall, well over six foot, with broad shoulders and a face that was… kind. Why was she having butterflies in her stomach?
‘Er,’ Jane tried to compose herself, it had been a long time since a man had made her go funny like this, and she really wasn’t sure how to deal with it. On top of that her brain was already busy trying to deal with her purse problem! Suddenly she saw an opportunity. ‘Um, actually maybe you can. I need to deliver this purse to Mrs Lockley in apartment 1, would you mind letting me in so that I can give it to her?’ Or leave it outside her door… and run.
‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ his smile stretched wider, ‘she was just getting herself all worked up about losing that, how on earth did you….’ He waved his hand instead of finishing the question. ‘Please, come in, you can give it to her yourself, she’s gonna be stoked.’
‘Oh I can just leave it with you. I need to be getting back…’ Jane turned slightly and signaled with her thumb towards the street.
‘No, I insist, you have to come in!’
Jane nodded reluctantly and stepped inside to the lobby, following Mr Handsome into the ground floor apartment. She was distracted at first by the expensive looking art that hung on every wall, clutching the purse to her chest as they walked along the hallway.
‘Mom, you’re not going to believe this.’
Jane immediately recognized the old lady, and the familiarity served to settle her nerves somewhat. She handed her the purse along with her rehearsed explanation of how she came to have it.
‘My dear, that you have come all this way just for this, how sweet you are,’ Kathleen held the purse in both hands and smiled almost lovingly at it, Jane thought. ‘Sean, you must get the girl a drink. Single malt?’
‘No, no,’ Jane laughed. ‘I really can’t, I have to fly this evening so I can’t drink. I won’t take up any more of your time, I really must be going.’
‘Please, do you have time to join us for lunch at least?’ Sean asked. ‘We were just going out. We’d love to thank you?’
‘That’s a lovely offer, but you really don’t need to thank me. I really must be going.’ Jane tried again.
‘Well maybe next time you are in New York we can take you out for dinner?’ Kathleen asked, pushing herself up. Jane couldn’t help but notice how tall and slim she was, her figure better than most girls half her age, flattered by her tailored trousers and cashmere sweater.
‘Perhaps,’ Jane smiled, suddenly inspired to walk fast all the way back in an effort to maintain her own figure like this lady. She turned, determined this time to leave. ‘I can see myself out, it was lovely to see you again Mrs Lockley.’
‘It’s this way,’ Sean called, a slight smirk on his face, as she headed in the wrong direction. Jane felt her cheeks flush as he led her once again down the hall of art. ‘Please, do let me know when you are in town next, I know Mom would very much like to take you out.’ He handed her a small card.
‘I will do,’ Jane stopped at the top step as he held the door open for her. She knew that she would never have the courage to call him, but those butterflies were back as they locked eyes, and she had to admit that seeing him again wasn’t the worst idea in the world, no matter how unlikely it was.
Kathleen had a spring in her step, she was on a mission and it had given her purpose! Sean had spent far too long wallowing after his wife had cheated on him with his business partner and tried to take him for everything when he divorced her. His children had both pursued careers in different cities, and as much as he denied it she knew her son well enough to know that he was lonely. She knew it because she felt the same, but she was old and he wasn’t… he had years left ahead of him, and she would not sit by and watch him be unhappy. She had given him time to heal, but it was time to move on now, and from the second she had seen the way he had looked at that lovely flight attendant she knew that for the right person he was ready… and that she was quite possibly the right person.
‘Which terminal Ma’am?’
‘Three please,’ she checked her watch, by her reckoning the crew would be arriving not long after her. It was a world she knew well, having met her husband when she herself did the job many moons ago. If she was right about this, and she usually was, having a flight attendant daughter-in-law could be a real hoot!
She recognized her straight away as she walked through the doors with the rest of her colleagues, so smart in their uniforms. ‘Jane!’ she called and waved, amused by the look of surprised confusion on her face as she walked over to her.
‘Mrs Lockley, what on earth are you doing here?’
‘Well, since we are now friends I was hoping, and please don’t think I am being cheeky, but I have a real soft spot for a certain brand of tea, and I was wondering if you would be kind enough to bring me some out next time you are here? I can give you the money now,’ she opened up her purse and pulled out an English note. It had been the best thing she had been able to come up with, and for once it suited her to be ancient, she could get away with being a bit crazy, and no one could say no to a sweet old lady.
Jane was too surprised to say anything other than yes. ‘Sure, I’ll be out again next week. Shall I drop it to the apartment?’
‘That would be wonderful, but not to the apartment, I must insist on taking you out as a thank you…’
One week later
The driver opened the door of the smart black BMW. ‘Enjoy your evening Ma’am. The restaurant is on the 92nd floor. Mrs Lockley will meet you up there.’
‘Thank you,’ Jane held out a ten-dollar bill.
‘That’s not necessary,’ he smiled.
Jane waited on the pavement for a moment, psyching herself up to go in. It wasn’t every trip that she got picked up by a driver and treated to a dinner at what she could only assume was an expensive restaurant. She had picked her outfit carefully, and even curled her shoulder-length hair for the first time in months. The only thing that she couldn’t get around was the bag of teabags that she didn’t quite go with the green wrap dress and high heels, even in their Marks and Spencer’s carrier.
Eventually summoning up the courage, she emerged out of the lift and was greeted by a waiter who led her across the restaurant to join… just Sean Lockley. Kathleen was nowhere to be seen.
Sean stood up, looking even more handsome than she remembered him, and her stomach fluttered furiously. ‘My mother is apparently sick and sends her apologies,’ he said with as he leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the cheek. ‘I really hope you don’t mind it being just me.’
‘Oh,’ Jane was glad that she’d had the prosecco in her room as she got ready. ‘Not at all.’
Later, as they sat in the restaurant window overlooking the million lights of Manhattan, the ease with which conversation flowed between them was tangible, all nervousness long gone. They both agreed that they had been royally ‘set up’.
‘No doubt she will be miraculously better by tomorrow,’ Sean shook his head. He had all intentions of telling her that he was fully aware of her underhand tactics when he saw her too, after he thanked her for sending him on what was the most enjoyable evening he’d had in years, with the most perfect person.
Jane laughed. She had fallen for the sweet-little-old-lady guise hook, line and sinker… but she wasn’t complaining as she sat with this gorgeous man who ticked all the right boxes, with all intentions of swapping every flight she had this month for New Yorks so that she could see him again. No, she wasn’t complaining at all…
Kathleen swirled the whiskey in her glass and smiled to herself. It was past midnight and Sean still hadn’t called, just a message saying Thanks. A rare feeling of excitement fizzed through her as she dared to hope that she had been right in her judgement; that Jane wasn’t married, that she had been left behind in life just like her son, that they were perfect for each other. She couldn’t wait to see their relationship blossom, to hear all about Jane’s travels and tell her about hers, maybe she could go on trips with her... Her mind raced. Perhaps this next chapter of her life could be quite fun after all.
London Heathrow Airport
It seemed to Jocelyn that the glamour which she had once loved so much about flying had well and truly gone, turned around on its high heels, thrown its strung pearls to the wind and fled from the airport, leaving no trace of itself behind.
Gone were the men in smart suits, and the ladies with coiffed hair and immaculate dresses; they had been replaced by nondescript travellers in sportswear and comfortable clothes. Jocelyn pulled back her shoulders and smoothed down her blouse, fixing her eyes on the far side of the departure hall where a sign pointed to the executive lounge, the place where she hoped that she would be reunited with people like her, people who still got dressed up to fly, that still felt that it was a glamourous affair.
In the lounge she sat in the window that looked out on the airfield and pulled her compact mirror out of her soft leather handbag. She looked at her face and wondered if it was time to have a little work done perhaps, a small lift just to freshen up, maybe take back a few of her seventy years? She wasn’t vain, she had aged well, but she could look better… everyone could. Yes, she thought, pulling the skin at the side of her mouth back, she would add that to her list of things that she would get done as soon as she got home, after she had done this…
‘Can I get you a drink madam?’
A young waiter in a black waistcoat tugged her mind back into the room, saving her from thinking about what lay ahead.
‘Yes, an Espresso Martini, please,’ she smiled. That would take the edge off, help her to relax. It might only be nine o’clock in the morning here in London, but it was always five o’clock somewhere. She let out a small giggle, it was good to be back.
‘There you go, Sir,’ Beverley put the glass of champagne down on 3D’s table, balancing the tray of boarding drinks on her other hand with the ease of someone who had done this for years.
‘Champagne, Mimosa or water madam?’ she asked the lady in 4A. Jocelyn looked up from flicking through the duty-free magazine.
‘Champagne, of course,’ she grinned.
Beverley smiled at the glint in the old lady’s eye, seeing the young woman that was still inside. She put the glass down next to her.
‘I hear it is nice in Quebec at this time of year?’ the lady asked, looking at her name badge, ‘Beverley.’
‘Oh yes, it is the best time to visit, the colours are spectacular,’ Beverly replied. The two women locked eyes for the briefest of moments.
Back in the galley Beverley smoothed down her black hair in the small mirror and reapplied her Dior lipstick.
‘Are you doing much this trip, Bev?’ Susie, the galley girl asked.
‘Catching up on some sleep,’ Bev smiled. ‘Fancy a walk in the morning?’
‘Sounds good.’ Susie slammed the cart back into its stowage with a thud.
‘All good?’ The catering man appeared behind them, clipboard pressing into his oversized high-vis coat.
‘All good,’ said Susie, flicking down the latches to hold the carts in place. ‘Thirty-three?’
‘Yep, catered 28 but I’ve given you some extras.’
‘And that’s why you are our favourite caterer, Kevin,’ Bev said, picking her tray back up.
‘’I hear it is nice in Quebec this time of year.’ Kevin said.
‘’Oh yes, it’s the best time to visit, the colours are spectacular,’ she replied over her shoulder as she stepped back out into the aisle.
Beverley let out a sigh as she locked the toilet door behind her, shutting out the darkness of the aircraft cabin. It was 1am, and they had finally settled, but her crew rest was still two hours away. She pushed down the toilet seat and sat down, slipping her feet partially out of their shoes to relieve them and putting the empty duty-free bag on the side.
Leaning forward she ran her finger along the bottom of the door beneath the sink and felt the cold metal of the latch. Flicking it to the side the door sprung open, revealing the pipes and paraphernalia that were always there. She unclipped her torch from the loop of her belt and crouched down, shining its light into the furthest corner, behind the panel that was rarely removed.
The bottle was there, a litre bottle of vodka, wrapped in bubble wrap and held against the wall with tape, just as they said it would be. She removed it carefully, placing it into the plastic bag. Standing up again she flushed the toilet and ran the tap for a moment before opening the door and stepping back out into the dark.
‘Your duty-free,’ she said quietly, leaning down and handing the bag to the lady in 4A.
‘Lovely, thank you,’ Jocelyn said, taking it from her and wedging it down beside her in her seat. She looked around her as the air hostess walked away, it seemed that everyone was asleep accept her, but it would be some time before she would be able to switch off.
Jocelyn emerged feeling fresher from the bathroom; a hot shower and change of clothes had put a thin veil of normality on the day. 9am the clock said, and the sunlight that blanketed the room in golden hues was calling her outside. She would make sure that she saw some of the city before her evening departure. A double knock on the door was followed by a third moments later. ‘Housekeeping,’ came a man’s voice from outside.
She checked her appearance in the long mirror on the back of the door before opening it.
‘Good morning, Madam.’
Jocelyn looked down at the smiling Hispanic man, taken by his moustache that curled above his top lip.
‘Good morning,’ Jocelyn smiled back at his friendly face. ‘I hear it is nice in Quebec at this time of year?’
‘Oh yes, it is the best time to visit, the colours are spectacular,’ he said cheerily.
Jocelyn took a step back and let him in. ‘Well then I must go out and see them while you service the room.’
‘Enjoy your day, Madam,’ he called after her.
Jocelyn took a quick look over her shoulder at her unused bed, the bottle of Vodka still in its bag on the bedside table.
Jocelyn couldn’t explain the feeling in words, but she felt alive, some exquisite energy was running through her veins and making her feel like her old self again. It was a buzz, something that she had once thrived on, and she hadn’t realised quite how much she had missed it. It had been thirty years since the last call, she thought they had deemed her too old perhaps, past it, and in many ways they would have been right. So, for thirty years she had just been Jocelyn Banks, wife to Henry, living in Suburbia with the other middle-class bores, forever on standby, always hoping that her phone would ring…
Her heart ached a little as she looked at the picture of her and Henry above the fireplace. Oh how she wished he was still here to share this with. Even though she knew he always worried, and had been relieved when the calls had finally stopped, he had never tried to hold her back. He was the only one that she had ever trusted with her secrets, the only one that loved her enough to keep them, lest he risked losing his beloved Jocey; but he had passed away a year ago now, and nothing could bring him back, she thought with a sad sigh.
The familiar tune of the news program made her reach for the controller and switch the tv off, she would avoid it for a while now, in case she found out what was in the bottle… her conscience was clear while she believed that it was Vodka. She took a sip of her Dom Perignon, twisting the crystal flute in her fingers as the bubbles danced up and down inside it. Pushing herself up from the sofa she walked to the mirror and admired her doctor’s amazing work, he had taken ten years off at least with nothing but a few injections. Now she was ready to step into this next chapter of her life, and she had the money to enjoy it in the style which she deserved.
‘We have ten dead politicians and no leads.’ The detective pulled at his hair as he paced the room. The three others all looked at the floor. ‘We must be missing something!’ But they had investigated everyone, every member of the staff at the hotel they were staying at, every guest… not one of them had the means or any history that pointed to them being able to get hold of the poison… Not. One. Of. Them.
He slammed his fist on the table as he sat down. Someone had just got away with murder on a huge scale, and they had done it on his watch…
What would happen if you missed your flight? Would the disruption in your timeline lead to your life taking a whole different path? Will you arrive at a totally new destination?
Thursday November 27, 1998.
Julia groaned, reaching over to press the snooze button on her alarm clock without opening her eyes. It was still dark outside, and cold… and nothing about it made her want to get up. She drifted back into the warm coziness of sleep, a small smile of contentment on her face.
Beep!! Beep!! Beep!!
It seemed like only a second had passed. ‘Phone in sick,’ Liam breathed on the back of her neck as he ran his hands up inside her pyjama top to her breasts. She could smell the stale odour of alcohol on his breath and wondered what time he had come in from his night out with the boys. No, she wouldn’t be staying home just to watch him on the sofa suffering all day, sucking all the joy out of her life like a sponge. She loved him, but after five years together she knew him too well.
‘I can’t,’ she said putting one leg out of the bed and feeling the cold air on her foot. Maybe one day he would get a decent job and they could have the heating on a bit more often, she thought before stopping herself; it wasn’t his fault that luck was never on his side with work, was it? ‘I need the allowances, and a few bits from the shops,’ she excused herself. ‘It’s Black Friday,’ she added hastily, before he moaned at her for wasting ‘their’ money, ‘and it will be fifty percent off everywhere. I should be able to get some Christmas shopping done and still bring some money back.’
Liam rolled over without a word, she knew he would rather she just didn’t go away at all.
‘And I’ll get your fags, you’re nearly out,’ she added, extracting a small grunt of appreciation.
Julia went into autopilot, dressing in her uniform and scraping her long dark hair into her usual up-do, a slick of red lipstick, jacket on, and she headed downstairs. The clock in the hallway read 0628, for once she was running early, even if it was only by two minutes.
Something caught Julia’s eye as she carried her for-now almost empty suitcase past the living room door. She gasped and stopped in her tracks. On the coffee table, amongst an overflowing ashtray and empty beer cans she caught sight of her new passport… she must have left it there last night when she was filling out the forms she needed to hand in today. Julia shook her head and thanked her lucky stars that she had noticed it, avoiding what would have been a huge problem. She quickly swiped it out from underneath Liam’s mess, while thinking how no doubt the same mess would be there when she got back in three days’ time.
Thursday November 27, 1998.
Julia sighed in resignation as she glanced sideways at the mess Liam had left in the living room. No doubt it would still be there when she got back, she thought as she headed quickly for the front door with her suitcase, taking her winter coat from the hook and putting it on. Landing days had once reduced her to tears when she would come home to that kind of thing, until she had decided to appreciate her trips away and accept that being a good wife involved doing most (all) of the housework. Once she had accepted this the arguments had pretty much stopped, and for the sake of a bit of extra work her life was much less stressful. It wasn’t that the resentment didn’t still linger there in the background, but her mum had told her that most women felt the same, and she had also pointed out that Julia was one of the lucky ones who got to have little breaks. Julia knew she was right, while all her friends had failed to find a lasting relationship so far, she couldn’t help but think it was because they expected too much, and she had succeeded because she was a ‘realist’… like her mum, wise beyond her twenty-five years.
The ice was thick on her car and the cold wind bit at her cheeks and fingers as she scraped it off the windows. The thought of the Orlando sunshine and the Black Friday bargains in The Florida Mall made her smile despite it all and she drove out of their road without looking back. This was her time, the time when she got to be just her.
As she turned into the next road she felt the excitement for the trip start to grow, and she reminded herself that she needed to stop by the manager’s office to drop the forms about her new passport in…
Julia’s stomach flipped and she quickly checked that no one was behind her before putting her foot down hard on the brake. In a couple of turns she was facing the direction of home and careered back into her road, relieved that she had only been around the corner when she realised she had left her new passport on the table.
Thursday November 27, 1998.
Julia couldn’t stop smiling as she sang along to the car radio. Her mind was already in Orlando, her arms full of shopping. Her flight was almost full, a Jumbo Jet laden with people as happy as she was to be getting away. The traffic was beginning to get heavier, and slower, all four lanes of the motorway filled with cars. She looked into the windows of those she passed, wondering if any of them were going to the same place that she was, if they were as happy as her. By the looks on some of their faces she was pretty sure that most of them weren’t. She looked at the clock, 0715, as long as it didn’t get any slower than this she would make it in good time.
Looking over her shoulder, Julia indicated and pulled into the fast lane. She pushed down on the accelerator, relieved to finally be moving at over 30mph. She rolled her eyes as brake lights flashed in front of her… why was it that whatever lane she got in seemed to become the slowest? Impatiently she swerved into a gap to her left, and then over again, traversing the traffic like a boy-racer. She laughed out loud at her unnatural behaviour, finding enjoyment in the weaving in and out that she had always hated Liam for doing.
Absorbed in the moment she wondered whether anyone around her noticed how clever she was being, catching an old man gesturing wildly at her as she cut across and in front of him. She laughed and tossed her head back theatrically at him in the rear-view mirror, bringing it back up too late to notice the car in front of her coming to a sudden stop.
Julia could feel the adrenalin coursing through her body, her legs trembling as she pieced together what had just happened. Someone was knocking on her window and asking if she was okay, but she couldn’t answer them just yet, not for a moment, not until she knew whether she was or not. She moved only her eyes, looking down and around her. She tuned into her body, checking for any pain, before daring to move her hands, touching her face, circling her feet under the dashboard. The steering wheel seemed much closer to her now somehow. Julia sighed in relief, sinking back in her seat, from what she could tell she wasn’t hurt.
The old man was at her window. She expected him to be angry with her, but his face was full of concern when she finally looked at it. He opened her door and Julia shakily undid her seat belt, letting him help her out of the car. She looked in horror at the front of her beloved old Ford Fiesta, all crumpled up into the back of the Land Rover in front, which had crashed into the car in front of it, and that one into the car in front of that. With the old man’s car just touching her bumper, Julia counted five cars in total that were not going to be making it to where they were heading any time soon. People were standing all around, their cars abandoned at funny angles across the motorway as they had tried to avoid being one of those that now stood in need of rescue. More cars crawled past them at a snail’s pace on the inside lane, people staring out at them to see what had happened, before putting their foot down and taking off into the now empty motorway ahead.
Julia sighed. She wouldn’t be going to Orlando today, that was for sure.
Thursday November 27, 1998.
Something was definitely going on up ahead, Julia thought with frustration as every lane slowed almost to a standstill. She still had plenty of time but not if they stopped completely. She looked over to the inside lane, the only one that seemed to be moving, and wished that she hadn’t tried to be clever when she had come over into the fast lane. Checking her wing mirror she waited for the opportunity to move over; she avoided eye contact with other drivers who were no doubt frustrated too, but she had a flight to catch and politeness wasn’t going to get her there on time. One last quick tug of the steering wheel and she had made it, ignorant to the beeping of the driver she had cut in front of. He had plenty of time to slow down, or he would have crashed into the back of her after all, she thought in silent argument with him.
It wasn’t long before she saw the cause of the traffic jam, as she slowly drove past the cars that had not been as lucky as her, four in total stacked one behind the other in various stages of disrepair. People were stood out of their cars, bewildered looks on their faces, and she was pleased to see that no one seemed to have been hurt. An elderly man whose car was parked in the back of a Land Rover caught her eye as she drove past, and she smiled back sympathetically. There was nothing she could do to help them she told herself as the motorway opened up in front of her. Of course, if there had been injuries she would have stopped and helped, she was trained for everything from broken bones to CPR, but there hadn’t been any, had there? She put her foot to the floor, her old Ford Fiesta excited by the chance to open up and show what it could do. By the time they reached 90mph Julia had forgotten the crash and the smile was firmly back on her face.
Thursday November 27, 1998.
Liam was standing at the door with a strange expression on his face as Julia got out of the taxi. She had called him from the garage as soon as the rescue truck had dropped her and the car off, and told him that she was okay, so why did he look so worried?
‘Thank you,’ she said, handing the driver a five-pound note for the short journey and taking the still empty suitcase from him. Liam was walking down to meet her, completely out of character for him, usually he didn’t even get up off the sofa when she got back.
‘Here, let me take that,’ he said, taking the case. She looked at him suspiciously, she wasn’t hurt and she hadn’t been gone five minutes, so why was he acting like this? ‘I’ve put the kettle on,’ he said with a small smile, but he couldn’t look at her and she followed him up the path slowly, wondering if something else had happened in the short time she had been gone.
Julia shut the front door behind her and kicked off her high heels, taking off her coat and hanging it on the coat hook.
‘Sit down love, I’ll just get you a nice cuppa,’ Liam called, heading for the kitchen.
Yes, something was definitely up with him.
‘It’s okay, I’m fine honestly,’ she said cheerily, ‘I’ll just tidy up a bit first.’ She walked into the living room and started to pick up the rubbish from the table, at least she had the whole day off now to sort this all out, she thought, although she still had to figure out how she was going to do the standby they had reassigned her tomorrow without a car. It was times like this they could really do with both driving, but Liam was still banned for six more months… not that it had really been his fault, he’d only had a couple of cans that night, other people could get away with that but he always seemed to be unlucky.
The TV was on, but the volume was down, and she glanced at the screen for a second. Breaking News was written across the bottom, and she stopped to watch when she saw Heathrow Airport behind the reporter. Julia reached for the remote control from the arm of the chair and turned the volume up to see what she had missed.
‘…at this time we have no more information as to why the plane came down just a few miles from here, but it is presumed that sadly all on board flight OS811 have perished,’ he said gravely to the camera.
Julia felt the hairs stand up on her neck, and the room seemed to wobble. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Liam stood frozen in the doorway. OS811, the flight that she was supposed to have been on… For the second time that day her legs went weak.
Thursday November 27, 1998.
‘We should probably do Macy’s tonight, and then meet super early tomorrow for the others,’ Julia was speaking fast with excitement to Julia, the girl next to her on the jumpseat. ‘Target opens at six I think. Then we can do the mall, and we’ll definitely get candles last, they are too heavy to lug around…’
‘Sounds amaaazing,’ Julia said, her eyes wide as Julia told her all about the bargains she had bagged last year, and the year before. She would make sure that she showed this new girl how to do Black Friday in the states properly.
The plane pushed back from stand and they were soon moving slowly along the frosty taxiway. Julia looked out of the window and gazed along the huge wing that stretched out from where she was sitting halfway down the plane. Her mind was running over her ever-growing list but despite her preoccupation something caught her eye. In the distance she could make out an unevenness on the wing’s surface, something colourless seemed out of place on the part of the aircraft she had looked out at countless times before.
Julia reached above her left shoulder, hesitating for a moment before taking the phone from its stowage, she was probably wrong, but if that was ice on the wing then she couldn’t afford not to report it. Better safe than sorry, she thought, as her mum always said. Julia took a deep breath and dialed the Flight Manager, hoping that she wasn’t making a mistake and causing a big unnecessary fuss over nothing.
Forty-five minutes later the plane rumbled along the runway, gaining speed before lifting up and taking flight. Julia looked at her watch, sighing at the lost shopping time. She had done the right thing though; the captain had said it was a good job she had noticed the ice, and thankfully the deicer truck was still close by after already deicing them once that morning. Maybe they would make up some time en-route, she thought hopefully.
(20 Years Later)
Thursday November 29, 2018.
‘Love you mum, I’ll see you at the airport,’ Julia said, hanging up the phone and smiling. She was looking forward to her mum coming over, the woman deserved a nice long break.
‘We’re off, Mum,’ Ellie said, walking towards her. Julia opened her arms up for a hug, looking around for the new boyfriend, Josh. He had gone out already.
‘Aim high, and never make do,’ Julia ruffled her daughter’s smooth, sun-bleached hair.
‘I know, I know,’ Ellie rolled her eyes. ‘I can have the world,’ she said, repeating what she had heard a million times before.
‘Yes, my love, you can,’ Julia smiled. ‘Now go grab some bargains,’ she said, handing her sixteen-year-old the keys to her car.
‘Thanks Mum,’ Ellie hugged her tightly, before skipping through the door that led into the garage.
Julia sighed, remembering when she had been that excited. She walked to the window and watched her precious only child drive down the street, her boyfriend sat beside her. He was sweet, and very polite, but she wasn’t sure if he was quite good enough for her yet, only time would tell. A shiver went down her spine as she remembered this same day twenty years ago, how her friends had been so excited to go shopping but had never made it.
‘Honey,’ her husband always seemed to know when she needed to be snapped out of a moment.
‘Coming,’ she answered. Outside, Ben sat in the sunshine at the table by the pool, with a bottle of expensive champagne opened and two glasses poured. Despite the tragedy that had happened so long ago they marked it with champagne every year, because without it she wouldn’t be here now. What had happened that day had made her wake up from the bubble she had been in. It had given her the courage to leave Liam when he was so insistent that she left her job, the one pleasure she had, even when her own mother had sided with him. It had given her the courage to accept that invitation to dinner from a passenger six months later, and then move to America just to be with the same man who now sat in front of her as her husband. It had given her the courage to chase the dreams she dared to have, and now she lived in this beautiful house in Malibu, with the most wonderful husband and a child she had raised to believe that she could have the world, just like she did. She was sad for those who never realized this, people like her mum, who had been so sure that life was meant to be a little bit hard.
‘To us,’ Ben said, raising his glass.
‘To us,’ Julia raised hers and smiled. ‘And where we are now.’
Thursday November 29, 2018.
Julia looked up at the plane that flew overhead as she walked up the path with her arms full of balloons and felt the familiar twinge of longing she got every time she saw one. She still missed being crew so much, even after all these years.
‘Maybe it’s time for you to put your husband first,’ her mum had said kindly when she had gone round there in tears that day almost twenty years ago. Landing day was always hard at the best of times, but after you have done a Black Friday shopping marathon followed by a full flight, coming home to such a mess had led to a huge argument between her and Liam. ‘Perhaps it’s time to stop flying love? We all have to make sacrifices in marriage, and maybe it’s time to settle down now. Not many men would put up with their wife galivanting off like you do...’
She’d been right of course, as soon as she’d given in and stopped flying, started behaving like the devoted wife, Liam had really upped his game, and he was a good, hard-working husband and father. Julia smiled to herself and turned her key in the lock of her smart three-bed semi. She pushed the door open and immediately heard the thunder of footsteps from upstairs.
‘Mum, I love them,’ shouted Jacob, throwing his arms around her as soon as he was close enough. He was growing so fast, she thought, his arms around her at chest height now.
‘I’m sure you have grown since yesterday,’ Julia said, standing back and looking at him, her hands on his shoulders. ‘Look at my birthday boy, all grown up and in double digits now!’
Jacob laughed, looking at the giant 1 and 0 balloons behind her.
‘Right,’ Julia said briskly. ‘That is the last thing I needed to go out for, let’s get this party ready.’
‘Right-ho,’ Jacob marched behind her into the living room where Zoe and Emily were sprawled out on the floor playing computer games. Jacob dived in between them, making the girls groan at their sometimes-annoying younger brother.
‘You have to be nice to me today remember, it’s my birthday,’ he said smugly. Julia caught the look shared between the girls a moment before they both pinned him down and started to tickle him. She stood and watched them, her heart almost bursting.
‘Love, is that you?’ Liam called from the kitchen at the back of the house.
‘Coming,’ Julia called back and reluctantly left the happy scene.
In the kitchen Liam had poured her a glass of Prosecco and she kissed him as she took it. ‘What’s this in aid of?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, just to us and our wonderful family,’ Liam said, raising his glass.
‘To us,’ Julia raised hers back and smiled. ‘And to where we are now.’
Did you know that in the middle of the night, half of your crew sneak downstairs or upstairs to get some sleep in a crew rest bunk? The smallest and most hard to climb into of these bunks are affectionately known as 'the coffins,' perhaps though, the name may be fitting in more ways than one...
Johannesburg – London (JNB – LHR)
Aircraft: Airbus A340 – 600
Time: 0100 UTC
‘Right, I’m off,’ Brooke said over her shoulder as she stepped out of the back galley and into the cabin.
‘Sleep well,’ called Stephen from where he was tidying up the aftermath of the dinner service which had just zapped the very last of her energy.
‘Oh, I will,’ she said. She paused, reaching out to the panel next to the door and switching off the cabin lights, plunging Economy into darkness. There was no subtle, slow dimming of lights tonight, they needed to know that it was sleep time now, it was a non-stop flight from Johannesburg to London and not a non-stop service.
She walked quickly up the cabin, avoiding the eyes of anyone who looked her way in case they should dare to ask her for something. Reaching the crew rest door that stood invitingly in the middle of the cabin she took the key from its hidden pouch and turned it anti-clockwise in the lock before stowing it again. Inside Brooke swiftly descended the stairs into her favourite of all crew rest areas, that little piece of heaven that was loaded amongst the suitcases in the cargo hold. It was a personal preference, but for Brooke she could get to sleep in the tiny bunks under the stairs that were known affectionately as ‘the coffins’ in minutes. Others hated having to contort their bodies just to get into one, rushing down to secure the bigger bunks at the end, or pulling rank and reserving one with their name-badge rudely pinned to the curtain long before breaks even began. For her though, she had always been quite flexible thanks to her love of gymnastics as a child, the snugness of a coffin was perfect, and since they were always the last ones left there was never a need to rush down.
Brooke fumbled for her torch that hung from the belt loop of her skirt, someone had already turned out the lights, probably presuming that since first break started five minutes ago everybody was tucked up by now, just the dim glare of the control panels cast a grainy light at the bottom of the stairs. Brooke ran her left hand along the wall and felt her way around the stairs and to the back. All the curtains were pulled, and she was surprised to find that both coffins were occupied too. Brooke shone her torch around, confused for a moment. There were six bunks, with six crew on first break… so why wasn’t there a spare one for her? She pulled the corner of each curtain back gently, revealing the shapes of bodies behind, all cozy underneath their blankets, just as she wanted to be. Defeated, Brooke stood at the bottom of the stairs and shook her head, someone had obviously messed up the breaks, and her tired body was going to have to wait another three hours before it got a chance to sleep.
‘What happened?’ Stephen asked, as she walked back into the galley. He was wiping down the galley sides, order restored quickly to the chaos she had left just a few minutes before.
‘All the bunks are taken,’ Brooke moaned.
‘Oh no.’ Stephen looked at her sympathetically. He knew how tired she was, he had been at the room party with her until 3am, and right now she wished that she had left when he did and not when the sun had come up. Despite having the whole day in her hotel room to recover, sleep had been fitful, and she really just needed to press the reset button… crew rest had been her only shining light as she had powered through the first two hours of the flight.
‘Somebody must have been confused,’ Brooke said. ‘I guess I’ll be on second break then.’ She rolled her eyes.
‘Here,’ Stephen pulled down the jump seat at the back of the galley and patted it, indicating for her to sit down. ‘I’ll make you a cuppa.’
‘’Make it strong,’ Brooke said, if she had to stay awake for another three hours she would need a huge dose of caffeine. ‘And don’t ask me to do a juice and water for at least an hour,’ she warned, her flight-attendant smile was unavailable for the foreseeable future.
‘Right, get yourself off,’ Stephen said, gently shaking Brooke’s shoulder as she sat nodding off on the jump seat. She heaved herself up and nodded, actually struggling as she tried to find the energy to talk.
‘Aren’t you coming?’ she asked.
‘No, I’m not tired,’ Stephen answered nonchalantly, cleaning the galley side again as he had seemed to be doing for hours on end. Brooke shot him the most shocked look that she could muster. Nobody declined a three-hour break on a twelve-hour overnight flight… nobody. Clearly though, Stephen was one of those superhuman types that could just keep going, and she wasn’t hanging around trying to persuade him what his was missing out on.
She followed one of the other girls in through the door and pulled it closed behind her, sliding the latch across to lock it. There was excited chatter below as the others quickly undressed and climbed into their bunks that were still warm from the previous occupants. Calls of ‘night all,’ were followed by the swish of a curtain and the extinguishing of the light behind… no one was wasting any time. Brooke waited patiently on the stairs until she could squeeze through and to the back again, having seen all the other bunks be filled and so knowing that both the coffins must be free since Stephen wasn’t coming down.
This time she could see, she was the last one in and as such was responsible for turning out the lights. Turning the corner behind the stairs Brooke was surprised to see the curtain pulled across one of the undesired bunks. Another day she wouldn’t have questioned it and would have just climbed into the other, but today she had had time to do the calculations. There was no way that she could ignore the injustice that not only had she missed out on her first break, but now someone had almost got away with staying in bed through them both; she didn’t care how tired they were.
Brooke leaned down and pulled the thick curtain of the bottom coffin back on its runners with a whoosh, hoping that the sound would disturb the inhabitant. She could make out a large man’s body, clothed and laid on his back, without a blanket to cover him. She knelt down to see better, unable to recognize who the culprit was, and trying to remember the rest of the crew… but apart from Stephen she couldn’t recall another male.
The light overhead didn’t quite reach into the bunk and Brooke reached out for the shoulder that she could make out closest to her, shaking it at first gently and then not so. The ferocity of her shaking increased with her annoyance, until she couldn’t help herself any longer and unclipped her torch from her belt.
‘It’s time to get up sleeping beauty,’ she said abruptly, clicking the button and shining the light rudely into his face… Brooke dropped the torch. She could hear herself making a noise, a strange involuntary mixture of a scream and a gasp, as she jumped up and backed away. Her eyes were fixed to the shape of the body that lay motionless still… the dead body that had just taken the once affectionate term ‘the coffin’ to a whole new level.
Landing into London Brooke wondered how she had managed to hold it together these past six hours, knowing what she knew about what was below the cabin floor. With no intentions of diverting over Africa, they had pushed on to home, pretending to the passengers that things were just dandy, smiling with gritted teeth. She sat now in First Class with the others, adrenaline still keeping her on high alert, and with an overwhelming urge to run off the plane. That wouldn’t end well though, not with the dozen or so police officers that had boarded as soon as the doors were opened. With the passengers long-gone, they had had what she assumed was a debrief and were now feebly answering whatever question the police officers could think of next.
‘Do you usually check the crew rest area before leaving?’ A lady officer asked Anita, the Flight Manager, her notepad open and pen poised.
‘Yes, Chloe?’ Anita turned to the new girl who had been responsible for that, who was sat bolt upright with a petrified look on her face.
‘It’s my fault.’ Stephen held his hand up before Chloe could speak. Brooke could see the worry on his ashen face, the face of someone who knew that they had really messed up. ‘I wanted to show Chloe how to do the checks, so I went down with her to test all the equipment. I said I’d check the back bunks but I couldn’t have done it properly. I’m so sorry.’ He shook his head slowly, knowing that he had just committed the heinous crime of not doing his pre-flight checks properly. It wasn’t that they all didn’t skip the odd thing occasionally, but he had just been caught out in the most spectacular of ways. Brooke looked at him with sympathy and hoped that his honesty would go some way towards them in the office forgiving him, that he hadn’t just ended his career in this way.
‘Right folks,’ an older policeman who looked like he was in charge, appeared behind them and stood by the opened aircraft door. ‘You can all get off home now, you’ve had a long night.’ Sighs of relief were followed by crew and pilots standing and gathering their bags together quickly.
‘We are pretty sure the poor bloke was just trying to stowaway,’ Brooke overheard him saying to the Captain as she passed them huddled together in the galley opposite the door. ‘He was an airport employee, and we don’t suspect any foul play. That’s all I can tell you, but we’ll get in touch if we need any information from you.’
Brooke looked down the cabin as she made to get off, just as a black body bag was lifted through the crew rest door and into the empty cabin. Her body turned cold and she shivered, turning her eyes away quickly and walking hurriedly off the plane. All the way at the end of the jetway she could see Stephen walking with giant strides, obviously desperate to get away; she was glad that it wasn’t her that had slipped up and hoped that she would fly with him again one day so that they could talk about what had happened with hindsight; he was a nice guy.
Stephen sank back into the soft leather seat of his car. It was a beautiful day and enough of it had been wasted. He put on his sunglasses and turned the key in the ignition, the throaty roar of the Porsche engine making him smile. Brighton would be alive this afternoon, and he would be there in an hour if he put his foot down.
As he drove towards the carpark barrier he pulled up alongside Brooke who gave him a supportive wave. He tried to look worried and hoped that she bought it. No, he wasn’t worried about not doing his crew rest checks, he was quite sure that they wouldn’t sack him, maybe a painful bit of retraining and a warning… but that would be all. No, he had just got away with so much more than that.
That taught him, he thought as he sped along the M25, the speedometer passing 110 mph. No one got away with stealing from him, and especially not some jumped up South African ground staff guy who thought he was all that. He laughed as he remembered the look of shocked recognition when they boarded on the plane. There he was, his Grindr date from the previous night, mindlessly cleaning the cabin with Stephen’s Breitling watch proudly on his wrist.
Perhaps he had gone too far, okay so yes he had, but the scum had deserved it. He had been grinning like an excited child when Stephen beckoned him down into Crew Rest when no one was looking, thought Stephen was too dumb to notice the watch… had actually believed he was so special that Stephen wanted a repeat of their actions from the night before. No love, I wasn’t blind drunk like I had been then, and no, the pillow across your face as you lay on the crew rest floor wasn’t some part of the game you stupid piece of shit… and you realized too late…