by Mick Rhodes

Cora Smith was born on a sunny winters day in 1898, to Ida and Sam Smith. A healthy girl but blind, and according to the Doctor would always stay that way. Sam, a Bank Manager and a man of some if not great wealth, would seek other opinions, but always get the same answer. She grew strong and tall and a happier child you would not find anywhere in Sheffield. Ida and Sam always meant to have more children but it never happened, and with all the love they had given to Cora, their lives did feel full and complete.

By 14 years old she could find her way around for miles, with the help of her dog Rags. Most days she would walk up to the top of her street, turn left for 345 paces, and left again on to some common ground, where her father had taken her as a small child and held her hand so she could run. And run she did. Although now with the dog pulling at the lead to guide her, even though she knew every inch of that common. People would Say, Cora was as fast as the wind, and she would laugh and say I am faster than that old wind.

Over the years, Cora had become good friends with the travellers who stayed on the common. As she got older, she had been allowed out with Rags more on her own. Her father knew the gippos, as he referred to them, would keep a close eye on her. She spent many hours up there listening to their many stories, and riding the horses. Always two or three would see her home.

It was on one such day, when some new travellers had come to the common. A family of seven, one being a lad of about 15. A tall scrawny lad who always looked filthy. He had this thick black hair, which grew in 10 different directions, but mainly straight up. He noticed this girl, with a dog pulling her around, running and running in the field, never tiring or slowing. John could not take his eyes off her. This was of course, noticed by every one else out, so they watched John, as John watched Cora, and although he became aware of laughing around him, he never turned to see what could be so funny. He never suspected he was the cause.

John started to walk over to the girl, who by now was sitting on a small grass mound. She was throwing a stick for the dog who would then fetch it back. Then they would play who could pull the hardest. With the dog growling, and throwing his head from side to side, and Cora laughing so loud. It was to become one of John's favoured memories, he would think of it often in his short life.

That's one crazy dog you have there, what's his name John said. Rags Cora said Crazy name for a crazy dog, sounds about right. Can I pet him? John said. If you dare he only seems to like me, no one else will go anywhere near him. Cora said. She felt the stick go limp, heard and felt Rags being patted. Seems as soft as a brush to me. How did he get the daft name? John Said. Well, mother would keep old rags in a box under the sink, to use as dusters or for cleaning things, and I would get some out, so he would play pulling with me. So to get him to come I would shout rags and wave them about. It well, sort of stuck, Cora Said.

You Blind John said. You Stupid Cora said. Very. said John and they laughed. John leaned over to pat the dog again. As he did, Cora could smell him, it was a earthy smell though not unpleasant, but under that smell, was what she could only describe as a warm friendly sort of musty but nice smell. She liked John. A feeling her father would never have for him.

John and Cora where in separable for the next two years, his family moved on from the common. John did not. Cora's father would go up to the common often to speak to the travellers, about all the time they spent together and using her age as his main cause for concern. He would seek assurances from those who had known her from childhood, that they would keep that lad away from his daughter. This was to be expected from the fathers who lived in houses. No gippo boy would ever get near his little girl. Sam thought. Sam started to cause as much trouble for them as one man could. Spreading lie, after lie about John. John would often end up in fights, on the say of Sam Smith. If the weather were bad, John would try to go to Cora's house. Only of course, when her father was out, and if he could get there unnoticed. Ida had rather warmed to the lad. Although, every time he stood at the back door, she would look at the big scrubbing brush in the tin bucket, and that green soap and wish she could do for his face and neck, what she did for the front steps. But if Cora liked him, she thought better where she could keep an eye on them. They would sit and laugh about nothing for hours. John would help with any chores she would give him, and help Cora, whose main jobs where to peel and prepare the veg for dinner, or polish the brass things. Ida could see how close they were, and how good John was for her daughter. However, in a few days, war would break out, and that would be the end of John.

It all started on a Monday evening just as Sam, Ida, and Cora sat down to evening meal, Rags jumped up and ran to the front door tail wagging. Ida and Cora new this could only be one person. Ida looked at Sam who was watching the dog. Then Johns Knock, but louder. Ida got straight up saying I wonder who that could be. The sight that greeted her would have made her smile, if she had not understood from the expression on the face that looked back at hers, that John had something to say.

Over the next few weeks, she did catch her self-smiling at the memory of John's face. Hair pasted down with something that could have come from the Sunday dinner roast tin. A face that must have had a scrubbing brush on it, but just the front though, ears and neck, just as black as ever. Over time, she would wonder, if John ever had the use of a mirror. Years later if she thought of John that is the Picture that lasted.

Could I please speak to Mr Smith please John said, in a well-rehearsed sort of way. Cora looked Shocked; she was as taken aback as any one in the house, and had no clue as to what was happening. Mr Smith got up and went to the door, before he could speak, John set off. Mr Smith I am going to war to fight for king and country. I will come back and ask you if I can marry Cora, I will look after her for all my life I will make her very happy and get a good job, and make you and Mrs Smith Proud of me. See you after the war. With that, he turned and ran. He did hear Cora shout after him, but he did not turn around. He just ran.

Cora was then to hear her father's only word on the matter. Good. Cora took this as her father's approval of what John had done. Ida knew better.


John's last day.

Would the war ever end, John would think to himself, as he would go over every minute of every day he spent with Cora. He knew Cora would be his one day, that's nailed on. Had been from the day they met, and no matter how bad it got, he never regretted sighing up. It just had to be done. As soon as the war started he knew, it was the only way to get Mr Smith's respect. He could not speak to Cora about it. She would understand.

The entire troop got ready to move. Some push or other. Just waiting for first light. He looked up at his friend. Bill looked at him and said what's for dinner do you think?. John did not answer, it was time to go. Bill moved first, up and out. John followed. As soon as he moved, he heard gunfire. He got maybe 10 yards, when his chest seamed to be on fire. John went down on to his knees. No, no this cannot happen to me I have to get to Cora. May be he thought it was not so bad; he looked up to see Bill looking at him. Just as Bill turned around to see John who was now on his knees, he watched John's face just disappear. A hole in it the size of a cricket ball, and what had been the back of Johns head spray out, with the force knocking him back into the mud and stink.

That Day back in Sheffield, Cora got up early as always, to let Rags take her for a walk. To the top of her street turn left for 345 paces and left again, on to the common. Just the cold wind in her face, Rags, and her thoughts to keep going over. Just then, in the wind she caught a faint warm friendly sort of musty but nice smell. John she shouted many times.

It was some years later when Bill would knock on the Smith's door, and tell Cora what she already knew.

Cora never spoke about John again.

Why am I just lying here John thought, it's stopped hurting now. He got up slowly, things where the same, but different, warmer, quite, slower, more peaceful. With strange lights floating up, some near, some far, not bright, not big, blue, if they had a colour. Strange was the only word that came to mind. In front of him, he saw Bill moving off. He then noticed Peter Brown, standing up but looking down at Peter Brown, lying in the mud and stink. John looked at both Peters, Strange was still the only word that came to mind. Then he had a bad thought, should he look down. No. I'll look at the Peters much the better idea. By this time, peter was looking at John, and pointing down and to the back of John, just to where John did not want to look. Peter then looked down at himself again, then back up at John. Then gave a sort of small shrug with his shoulders, and with what can only be described as a bemused look on his face, Peter, well, folded up in to a blue light and floated off. John never did look down. Cora was now the only thing on Johns mind. Then he was back on the common. He could see Cora walking with Rags.

He went over to them, and walked with them. Time then just stopped for John.

And that was the end of John.

Well sort of.


Cora, Frank and the Children

On Cora's 26 birthday, her father brought home Frank Pickersgill. A Bank manager of course. Well liked, except for Rags. It seemed from that day, that Rags only purpose in life would be to torment, scare, and bite, Frank Pickersgill at every possible opportunity. A job he did thoroughly well for his last years. Cora knew what her father was up to, but Frank was easy to like, and Cora did want to move on and have her own home and family.

By 1930, she lived in a big House in Leeds, and had three children, a dog named Dusters, a good loving husband, and life was fine.

In 1955, Frank had a heart attack at work, and was taken to Leeds General. Cora's eldest son picked her up and took her to the Hospital. All the family seamed to be there, as things did not look too rosy for Frank. After a short time, Cora's son said, we are going to leave you and dad alone just for a little time. Cora nodded.

She took Franks hand and squeezed it.

I'm sorry about this love Frank said. Don't be daft. You will be home soon to get under my feet. Cora said.

Cora, Frank Said, then paused, Thanks girl, thanks for marring me. Thanks for the kids, you made me very happy, then he said something very much unexpected. Sorry about what happened to John. Who! Cora said surprised. Put that Owl outside when you go Frank said. Then went on Ida told me all about you two, young love and all that, but I hope its me you meet up there Frank whispered, pointing to the Leeds Hospital ceiling. Cora smiled and said one day we will all be back as a family again. Frank thought for some time on this. Then said I hope so, but lets hope they don't let bloody dogs in.

As everyone started to come back in, Frank got up out of bed, smiled at Cora and the children, then folded up in to a sort of blue light.

Cora went on for over 10 years; as fit as a butchers dog they would often say. Six grand children kept her laughing. Also, she loved rock and roll music, and when the house was empty, or to amuse the grand kids, she would play Buddy Holly loud, and dance about like a woman possessed.

She had just made herself a cup of tea when she had to sit down, as she did not feel too well. Over the past few weeks, she had found herself thinking more and more of John. As she sat down, he was in her thoughts, and for the first time in over 50 years, she thought she could smell a warm friendly sort of musty but nice smell. John she Called softy.

Light filled Cora's head, which was a surprise to her, to say the least. The room she knew. But not like this, she walked over to the pictures on the sideboard and saw her children, Frank, and the grand children, she knew who every one was. She looked through the window to see the clouds. She turned to see an old woman slumped in her chair. Then she was watching her own children play, but they where much younger. The grand kids opening presents last Christmas. Or maybe next Christmas? After a thousand more Pictures, she saw a small girl running hand in hand with her father on a Common, and finally watched John walk over to a girl and dog playing in field. This time though, Cora ran over to John.


Mark and Sally

M. C. Hammer was being played that loud, Mark thought his head would explode. He had a Friday night mission. Watching a girl who he had never spoken to, but who he spent all week thinking about. She had the most stunning blue eyes, and just danced with her friends all night. Even if he got close to her, shouting at someone in a nightclub, just was not Marks way.

So the big plan was.

  1. Leave early, get car, wait up the road from taxi rank, follow Taxi, and find Address of girl.
  2. Improvise. Suck it and see. Play it by ear.
  3. No idea.

Weeks later, mission accomplished. He was now stood behind the girl, her mother, father and two younger brothers in a supermarket in Barnsley. With one tin of something in a basket. This was it. Now or Never. Seize the moment. Go for it. A bird in the hand. In for a Penny. Find a pin pick it up and all day long, you will have a pin.

Hi all five turned around and looked at Mark, who went bright red. He took a deep breath and set off. I've seen you in the town on Friday nights and have wanted to ask you out but couldn't find the courage. Sally went about the same colour as Mark was. Sally looked at her mother who was now smiling at her feet, and Dad who was laughing at his. Sally walked away glaring at mark to follow. You Stupid. Sally said, Very Mark said, no one laughed. Well only the brothers who had followed them. I've seen you too, with your grow up and out hair. Sally said. She went on for some length, about how unpleasant it was to be stared at, and followed about by daft lads, and how he must keep as far away from her as possible, but as she pushed past him, he had a faint smell about him, she could only describe as a warm friendly sort of musty but nice. It reminded her of something but she couldn't think what. The brothers agreed it was the best time they had ever spent in a supermarket.

One year later, Mark and Sally married. With a rock and roll band playing Buddy Holly, at the Reception.

Years later, the Doctors told them that Sally could not have children of her own.

This they accepted as fate, one of those things. How the cookey crumbles. Luck of the dice.

Paying for their sins.

Shall we go and get a dog, I've always wanted a dog Sally said.


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Circle, 4 August 2005