I wrote this by taking the characters of two people I spied on in a cafe, and tried to fit them into a story inspired by "A Winter's Tale"...Although, in the end, I think the characters took control over the story and I personally consider the ending to be almost subverting the Shakespearian piece. Anyway, here it is...
The Winter Tale
The grandfather clock was stepping through time with it's usual grinding footfalls, but Roy, as always, did not seem to notice. He had over time developed a capability of sitting with his back to it and, with a pair of widening eyes, a floating gaze and an automatic readjusting of glasses, entering another world. His wife, Anne, would call to him as she did the dishes, but neither her nor the crooked slap of plates piling on top of each other would do anything but reach for his acknowledgement and fill his mind with vague echoes.
Tonight, however, she had to be firm. They were taking care of their grandson, Michael, and they had a schedule to keep. She stepped into the living-room, readjusted her fringe that perfectly latched on the line drawn across her forehead by her eyebrows, and cleared her throat.
" Mmm?" Roy's eyes became rimmed with a modicum of reality.
"If you want to tell Michael a story", she said, looking at her watch, "you'd better do it now. He is supposed to be in bed with lights out in 7 minutes."
"Right, right, right..." Roy muttered, clambering out of his chair. He slowly plodded his way into the hall, and even though his slippers made no noise on the stairs, Anne could smile as she heard his heavy breathing as he sank up to the floor above.
Entering the guest room and seeing little Michael looking out of the window at the furious winter wind hurling itself at the world ignited Roy; he let his eyes breathe in fresh air, raised his arms, and said "Ah! Dear Mikey!" The boy reluctantly turned away from the glass and the wind-drowned trees and bushes outside it, and slid under the warm crushing duvets.
"What story are you going to tell me, Grandad?" Michael asked as Roy lowered himself onto the side of the bed.
Roy didn't answer at once, gazing at his grandson and smiling a little. "When was the last time you visited us, Mikey?"
Michael looked down from his grandfather and thought furiously for a moment, fighting off fatigue. "Last year," he said finally.
"It's been a long time."
"I suppose so, Grandad."
Roy leant forward, letting his eye simmer over the line of his glasses, and said "I think it's time I told you about my stay in Africa."
The surprise seized Michael's sleepy facial features and melted them into a painting of bewilderment. "Really? Tonight?"
"That's right. I think you're old enough."
The boy knew that his grandfather was at the mercy of what his parents had told him, however, and he knew that his bedtime was ready to rake his this pleasantry into pieces. He sat up and whispered "so what happened? Is what cousin Charlie said really true?"
"Ah!" said Roy again. "Maybe, son. Maybe..."
He began to recount the start of his adventures, and they became wrapped up in excitement, leaning in closer and closer to each other, with a spiralling of shadows on the wall as Roy raised his arms in front the bedside lamp to produce visions of pitiless sunlight and bone-shattering animal roars. So caught up in an exotic world of jungles, deserts and volcanoes, they did not notice Anne's figure, blocking the light from the hall.
"Roy, what are you doing?" she asked. "It is more than ten minutes past Michael's bedtime and we both know this story will last for hours. I deliberately placed these short books beside the bed for you to choose one."
Roy, bewildered, murmured something about needing just a little longer, but she would have none of it: "No. Lights off. I'm sorry Michael, but you mother and father were quite clear about this."
The phone began to ring, and she left to answer it. There was a silence in the bedroom, full of disappointment and regret.
"I wanted to hear the story", said Michael.
"Me too", said Roy.
Another heavy silence, outweighing the violence of the wind outside and the ringing of Anne's phone conversation.
"Come on boy", said Roy suddenly, "let's go."
Michael had never seen his grandfather have such a rumbling fire of ice in his stare, and so scrambled out his bed. "Where are we going?"
"We're going to finish the story", came the reply.
Roy made Michael hurry down the stairs and heaped a coat onto the boy's shoulders to sling about his pyjamas. While Anne was still whipping up the walls with her conversation, Roy whisked his feet out of his slippers, drove on his hat, shoved his hands into his coat and walked out of the front door. With a brisk footstep through a cold and raging air and the gentle urging of his grandson to hurry, they clambered into the car and were away, sailing down the road amid the scrambled winds.
Roy was silent. He was never able to finish stories. They always seemed to overlap with other people's stories until they were watered down to nothing. There was always someone who loved to spill your plentiful bowl of tales all over the kitchen floor, spread everywhere as a cold layer of clammy death on the tiles. To hell with this winter, with the grinding lifelessness of the clock and the whistling of the kettle- tonight the red dust trails and sandy sunshine beckoned, and Roy was determined to answer the call.
He wove the car through the darkness, spinning the headlamps across the woods on either side, displaying the night's fiery life under the crippling storm. Michael did not dare to ask where they were going. Soon the road became littered with branches, clutching at the car under their feet and crackling before they were spewed back upon the road behind them. Occasionally a burst of raindrops would whip across the windows with an explosion of wind, and so the wipers were kept on, screaming across the glass. The forest about them became dark mountainous figures scrambling on top of each other, and the limbs of trees rained down to rake upon the sides of the vehicle. All around nature was boiling with a hellish intent, and Roy's unshakeable gaze was racing them further into the depths of the elements' frantic devilry.
Michael looked at his grandfather's hardening look, meeting nature's boiling carnage like an ancient cliffside greeting a sea's army of white flames, and stayed quiet, muffled by manhood.
A tree trunk's corpse, sprawled across the road, suddenly whirled into the headlights' thin arrows of white, and Roy drew the car to a halt. They both stared at for a moment, before Roy got out of the vehicle and walked up to the end of his story, enveloped in the chaos of the elements that were wailing about him. He looked at his surroundings, his eyes darting about under his weather-smeared glasses, and swallowed his saliva. The steel wind's last act, after combing the treetops and splattering the clouds' blood on a raging earth, was to hunch Roy's shoulders, lower his head, and overflow with a giddy delight as he drove his grandson home.
The silence in the car was just as robust on the way back as it had been on the great escape, but now it stung of Roy's disappointment and Michael's guilty relief. They had not gone out far. It did not take them long to get back.
As soon as Michael scrambled into the house out of the cold, Anne ushered him up the stairs and to bed, and turned to her husband. They looked straight at each other.
"You had one of your moments, didn't you?" she asked softly.
"Yes. I suppose I did."
She sighed a little, and took hold of her husband's hand.
Roy gave a weak smile, and said "I'm afraid we 're past our normal herbal tea time, but perhaps I'll put on the kettle?"
A tender smile, a sad laughter.
"You know, Roy," she said, "the person I was talking to on the phone was Paul. We 're keeping Michael for one more day."
Excitement started to tingle in Roy's mind. "Really?" he asked.
"You can finish the story tomorrow," she said, before adding with a laugh, "just before eight-thirty and not in the midst of one this winter's last storms!"
The story was to be spread over two days, but it was there, alive, hibernating before the golden renewal of spring, and that was enough for Roy. He had his herbal tea, prepared for bed, and stared up at the ceiling from under his duvets. Before turning the lights off, Anne kissed her husband on the cheek and saw with satisfaction that sometimes, just sometimes, in his own, helpless way, Roy could see how the world turned in his favour.
She clicked on the alarm clock for the next morning, and they fell asleep to peaceful dreams. The windows trembled with the winter as the tale of the storm began it's last act, sending more floods of winds and rain to slide about the hills.