Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week, Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
One Summer in London
“Do it.” he said encouragingly. “I dare you.” His eyes glared and he flashed a wicked smile. Old friend indeed. “Suppose I get caught, then I shall be imprisoned or fined or something awful might happen in which I shall face undue humiliation and regret. It would be your fault, of course.” I added. He laughed and sipped his drink, carefully setting it down. “So? It's a proper dare and a man of honour such as yourself would be obliged. Just like university.” Ah yes. The memories came flooding back of endless drinking and stupid pranks and now we were grown middle-aged men with careers. He had dared me to do something unspeakable. “I can't.” I stammered gulping down my drink hastily and looked at my watch. “I must run, I have important...”
“Nonsense!” He bellowed loudly. Complete and utter rubbish. You have lost your nerve, that's what. Gone the way of sensibility and paved your way to being a stale old fart.” I hated it when he got that way, drunken lout. “Alright,” I said calmly. “I'll meet you. But should anything horrible happen, it lies entirely on your head, including the fine.” He roared with laughter and motioned for another drink. “I knew you would do it. There is hope for you yet.”
The next day I had lost my nerve, rationalizing that the way of the coward is far better than reckless drunken dares. Still, I managed to collect myself and take a long walk in the summer heat, which ended in front of an auction house. I waited impatiently and my friend strolled up in that smarmy way of his, grinning ear to ear. “Make up some excuse. Go on, you are good at that sort of thing.” He looked at me expectantly. I stared at him and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Then I made my way to the entrance.
A receptionist stared for a moment and asked, “Pardon?” A lie popped into my head just that instant. “Please direct me to the inventory of items to be auctioned. I am here to organise,” I said authoritatively. She nodded, pointing to the back room. I walked quickly through the hall and found a large room filled with boxes and lots of old things which had been stacked into neat piles.
I rummaged for a long time until I found the item I was looking for. I held it up to the light noting the size, and finally knew what her secret really was but I can't say it just now. Then I balled up the object of my affections and stuffed it beneath my shirt, wondering if anyone would notice I had spontaneously grown fat. In silence I strolled to the front and passed by the receptionist. “All in good order!” I shouted, saluted, and rushed out the door. I doubt she noticed anything, as a child had spilled a large drink on the floor and there was quite a commotion and cleaning up. I met my friend and we quickly walked, looking over our shoulders every five seconds to make certain we weren't being followed. After a long and weary walk we sat by a fountain, where small children were playing, and tourists were photographing everything in sight. It was a nice, crowded place to stop for a moment and rest.
The sun beamed down on everything and I felt a trickle of sweat run into my eye, or perhaps it was just nervous perspiration. Wiping my forehead, I pulled out the purloined item and my astonished friend whispered reverently, “I can't believe you did that. Oh the glory of it all. You sir, shall make history.” Just then, I saw policeman pushing through the crowd pulling people aside. I tucked the object inside my shirt once more. “There is but one thing to do,” I said hastily. “Run.” And so we did. We ran as fast as we could that hot summer day. Through the parks, hiding behind ice cream vans, riding buses, running faster and faster with the fear of being arrested.
We made it all the way to Notting Hill Carnival, where there was a gleeful crowd and parade with people dancing in the streets. I pulled my friend through the crowd until we went to a side tent where some attractive ladies were dressing. A girl looked at us askance, she was painted all over and had a feather headdress. “You here for the parade, mate?”
I nodded slowly. My friend piped up readily. “Yes. We would like to dress in the ladies costumes.” She laughed. “Aw, bless!” The girls were very nice about all of it, and lent us bikini tops and painted our faces. I put on the item I was hiding as part of my costume. I had no choice, I couldn't leave it in the dressing tent. No one seemed to notice anything unusual.
Soon, we were directed to a float. I had noticed a group of coppers milling about the crowd, but thankfully we seemed to blend in. Frantically we danced and waved to the beat of reggae drums as the float slowly rolled through the street. At the end, we jumped off and danced through the crowd, and somehow managing to stay late into the night, meeting all sorts of nice people at the after parties who assumed we were much more than partners in crime. It was all terribly exciting and good fun, dancing until early dawn with our headdresses askew and face paint smeared.
Then we went to the tents and changed into our clothes. I had taken off the item and folded it under my shirt again. Not being able to wash off the face paint we looked a sight, all bleary eyed and hungover in a walk of shame sort of way. Somewhere down a road we stopped at a newspaper stand, laughing as the newspaper headline screamed “Who Stole Queen Victoria's Knickers?”
That concludes our London short fiction stories based on the theme ‘Summertime’. But please do continue to send your general submissions to email@example.com. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.