Monday 15th August
Caroline was the third reader Story Shop 2016, the daily Edinburgh International Book Festival showcase of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.
Her appearance was on Mon 15th August 2016 at 3 pm in the Spiegeltent.
Story Shop performances take roughly ten minutes and are free and unticketed.
A short bio
Caroline Deacon has worked for a number of years as a journalist writing for popular magazines, penning five non-fiction books on childcare.
You can hear the author read an extract of the story by clicking the play button on the photo above.
The story she read
Be careful what you wish for…
a short story by Caroline Deacon
Jack Looked across at a nearly empty pub. He noticed that a ray of sunshine, filtering through the grubby windows of the Rose and Crown, was highlighting the few remaining tufts of white hair which clung to retired environmental inspector Bill Boston’s scalp just above his red veiny ears. You’re looking old, Jack thought. Tired. Maybe this year…. He glanced up at the sky outside. He should finish up his drink and get back to the gardening.
As if he’d known one of his regulars was thinking of leaving before he’d bought his usual second pint, Mike the barman leant over in his direction, flicking the counter with a tea-towel. “What’s that sister of yours up to now Jack?”
Irresistible. Jack lowered the glass onto the counter and nodded for Mike to fill it up again.
“Well I told you about the cruise, didn’t I? The food poisoning? Ten grand down the drain that was.”
“Yes you did. And didn’t you say he wrote off that Porsche?”
“Can’t get car insurance no more now.” Jack smacked his lips and raised his glass. “Cheers.”
“Put me right off doing the lottery,’ Mike said, ‘Not that I did it much before, mind. But still…”
Jack nodded, “Doris agrees with me that money just doesn’t buy happiness.”
To think that at first he’d actually felt annoyed about Sheila and Bob’s good fortune, especially when it became obvious that they weren’t going to offer him anything. No, he and Doris were happy as they were. They didn’t want one of those huge TVs, they didn’t need satellite or wifi or any of those things. Make do and mend, that was their family motto. Why, what would Doris do with herself in the evenings if she didn’t have her stitching and knitting? He drew in a breath, ready to expand further on his newly developed, non-materialistic philosophy of life, when Bill interrupted to tell Mike the news that the early spring had done ‘marvellous things to his marrows’.
To Jack’s dismay, Mike’s attention now turned to Bill and his meteorological equipment. Bill’s garden backed on to Jack’s, and being a three bedroom detached instead of a two bedroom semi, it was slightly bigger, slightly sunnier, and his vegetables always seemed to do slightly better than Jack’s in the annual village fete.
Jack tried to think of a way of bringing the conversation back to his sister, hopefully via a suitably witty put-down, but nothing came to him. Eventually his pint was finished and he headed back to the comforts of his potting shed.
Poking in the back for dahlia stakes and slug repellent, he noticed an unfamiliar black watering can hiding behind a sack of fertiliser. He lifted it out and turned it around in his hands, examining it from every angle. It looked like a tiny watering can, but it didn’t have an opening for water. And it wasn’t actually black, just filthy. Probably metal of some sort, badly tarnished. He rubbed at it with his sleeve to see if he could find a label. As he began to uncover the unmistakable gleam of brass, a tiny ‘pop’ made him jump and gasp. At the same moment, the can released a puff of smoke which Jack then inhaled, setting off a coughing fit.
“Oh dear! I’m so dreadfully sorry. This happens every time! Oh my, are you all right?”
Jack peered through watering eyes and clearing smoke to find a slight gentleman with a goatee beard not unlike Fred’s, the Rose and Crown’s retired maths teacher, crushed up against him. Jack stepped back, knocking over a stack of empty flower pots and saw the attire. Definitely not Rose and Crown material: shiny, rather lurid colours, strangely cut, and held up at the waist with what appeared to be a sash.
The stranger drew himself up to his full height (about 5ft 2ins) and said in a majestic tone somewhat spoilt by a squeaky timbre: “I’m the sprite of the can, and I can grant you one wish.”
“Get away! A genie in a can?” Jack felt his mouth hanging open, but couldn’t bring himself to shut it.
“Not a genie, a sprite. Genies live in much grander accommodation, if they exist at all, which I very much doubt. As I said, I’m the sprite …”
“As in the soft drink?”
“Please! I was quite busy when you called you know.” The sprite scratched his tiny nose and glared up at Jack. “Soft drink. I’ve a good mind to…. So. I Am The Sprite Of The Can, and I Can Grant You One Wish….”
“Don’t you mean three…?”
“Chinese whispers.” The sprite sighed. “Three indeed! It’s always been one, and always will be.” He looked disparagingly up and down at Jack, who was wearing his oldest gardening trousers with the darned knees and his grey crocs. “Well, what will it be? Do you want to be wealthy beyond your wildest dreams? That’s very easy to arrange.”
Jack shuddered as he thought of Sheila and Bob. “No! No lottery wins thank you…”
That necessitated a lengthy explanation. It seemed that the sprite had not been let out of his watering can for some time.
“How about marrying the most beautiful woman in the world? I can help you by removing any lawful impediments, and then arranging a meeting with the object of your desire. I can get her to fancy you dreadfully for a few hours as well, but that’s as far as I can go. It used to work really well, but nowadays, what with quick divorces and sex before marriage, you’ve got to be able to follow it up with something yourself. I mean, look at Elizabeth Taylor. I’ve helped quite a few unlikely characters there, but they just didn’t have the staying power.”
Jack considered exchanging Doris for Scarlett Johanssen. He doubted his ability to oust other suitors even with supernatural help, and decided to stick with what he knew in that department.
“I’m not sure I want anything… What about ending all wars?”
The sprite assessed Jack more favourably. “Now. That would be a good one. Unfortunately, I’ve only got limited powers. I can’t interfere with the world at large or tamper with natural laws. I can’t say, change the weather.”
A thought struck Jack. He didn’t often get good ideas, but this time he felt he was really onto something. “How about making me able to predict the weather? That would help with the gardening, and give me real clout at the Rose and Crown.”
The sprite considered Jack with renewed contempt. “Is that all? I mean, here’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and you just want to know what the weather’s going to do?” As Jack nodded his agreement, the sprite snorted and disappeared.
Jack stood still for a moment, wondering if there had been something funny in his lunchtime pint. “Probably that smoked mackerel – I told Doris it smelt a bit off…. still I’d better get some strong stakes on those phlox with the winds tomorrow.”
He stopped, realising the implications of that thought. Yes, he knew without a doubt that there would be strong winds tomorrow. He knew it absolutely. He felt he’d always known it, and yet he also knew that he’d not possessed this kind of knowledge a mere hour ago.
That autumn, Jack was more miserable than he had ever thought possible. His garden had improved with very little effort since the sprite’s visit. He knew precisely what to plant and most importantly, when. He no longer lost anything to the vagaries of the British weather. The tiny plot was the most outstanding in the district and really had no room for improvement. If he wanted, he could spend most of the day in the pub. However, since he’d won nearly all the prizes at the village summer fete, he’d discovered a rather unpleasant fact about his neighbours. They didn’t like a winner. They favoured the underdog in everything, and in his village there were now plenty of underdogs.
No one wanted to discuss gardening with him, and the other great topic – the weather – seemed closed to him too. If there was one type of person his neighbours hated more than a winner, it was a know-it-all. Conversations about the weather were no fun with someone who always seemed to know exactly what was going to happen. Conversely, since Jack knew what to expect, he found the national pastime – weather prediction – acutely boring. He was now a very lonely know-all who was beginning to irritate his wife by constantly ‘getting under her feet’ at home.
Once again, he was fruitlessly searching the potting shed for the brass can. He tried rubbing other bottles in the vain hope of finding some other supernatural being who could help with his predicament, when he saw Doris marching up the garden, followed by two men with large cameras slung over their shoulders.
“These gents are from the press – they want to talk to you about your weather predictions.”
Not wanting to discuss genies, sprites or any other dubious topic with the tabloids, Jack fobbed them off with vague talk of twinges in knees and swallows. As good newsmen, they could sense Jack was holding back, but could get no further. They departed reluctantly, one muttering to the other, “That guy could make a fortune if he really could predict the weather”.
Jack watched Doris shooing the journalists out of the garden via the side gate. But then, instead of disappearing into her own domain, she stomped back down the path to confront him. “What’s all this about? How do you suddenly know what the weather’s going to do? I mean, these days you always know when I should hang the washing out. What’s going on?”
It was with a feeling of relief, of a problem shared, that Jack unburdened himself to his wife of 40 years. He explained about the sprite, and why he’d chosen his wish, and how miserable he’d been ever since.
“You did what…?” Doris gasped. “Do you mean to stand there and tell me that you passed up the chance for us to be rich, really rich, because of Sheila and her… food poisoning? All you wanted was to know what was going to happen to your beastly garden?”
Jack could see that perhaps he had misjudged his wife slightly. Maybe she wouldn’t be the confidante he’d hoped for. That feeling was confirmed when he saw her storm into the car and screech down the drive, destination unknown. He did, however, know without a doubt, that she would be rained on later that afternoon.
(c) Caroline Deacon, 2016
Part of Story Shop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
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Live Periscope broadcast of Caroline Deacon reading Be careful what you wish for… on 15 August 2016 at Story Shop during the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
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