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In case anyone is a glutton for punishment.... - A Most Illuminating Tale
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Robert Wells or Mr Waters
Date: 5.33 pm, Saturday 29th May, 2004
Subject: In case anyone is a glutton for punishment....
Security: Public
You might as well read my 1200 words (well, 1190) as no one else ever will.

For anyone who doesn't know, the End of Story competition is run by the BBC although I've no idea what the prizes are. They provide eight short story beginnings and your job is to finish one of them off in under 1200 words (although I would quite like to try finishing them all off and wrapping them up together in 9600 words).

I finished off this story, and this is how I did it:

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As everyone except Ursula knew, the economy flights had unreserved seating and while she was scuffing her shoes, trying for all the world to look like she wanted to board this flight, a small riot began at the gate as passengers anxious for window seats pushed their way to the front. It was several minutes before she was walking across the tarmac to the small, garishly painted jet.

She desperately searched for a valid excuse to run back to the terminal. She had left the house in a hurry. Had she left the gas on? Left the windows open? Locked the doors? Had she packed everything? Knickers? Shoes? Toothpaste? Anything not to have to set foot on that plane.

She knew she had packed all she would need. The suitcase in the wardrobe went with her whenever she travelled with David. It was a bespoke Louis Vuitton made with a fabric of David's design: royal blue leather with his own crest picked out in gold. He had presented it to her one Christmas. It was always packed and ready to leave. She hadn't even bothered checking it, just loaded it in the back of the taxi.

Her heart pounded as she approached the stairs. As she stood on the bottom step and faltered, unable to carry on, she saw the hostess's face drop. She could almost hear the groans from the inside the plane. To them, Ursula, 44, married and still in love, not yet wholly unattractive, was nothing but another delay. To her mother, she was nothing but a sucker. To the world, she was nothing but a freak.

And the longer she stood there, the more defiant she felt. So, yes, she was scared of flying. Yes, she was scared of what she would find at the other end. But she did still love David and no one could deny that. She would stay where she was until she was good and ready and they could just wait until the cows…

And then she saw the baggage handlers. The last pieces of luggage were still being loaded. They weren't waiting for her at all. She was not the centre of attention and she knew she never would be. She would always be the good woman behind the good man. Was that her place? All the determination drained out of her and she stood there with no idea what to do next. Maybe the right thing was to go home and never mention her doubts. She looked across and saw a familiar blue case. Well, that was an omen. She still had time to retrieve her luggage and pretend this never happened.

She stormed past the baggage handlers, grabbed her case and ran as fast as she could back to the terminal. The girl from the check in desk was waiting, along with two men from security. Just as Ursula was anticipating being frogmarched to some detention cell, the girl, whose name was Jane, took her firmly by the hand and walked her out to one of the coffee shops.

"You sit here until you've calmed down. I know exactly what it's like" said Jane, bringing a glass of water over from the counter. "We can get you on the next flight if you want. Just come and see me when you've made up your mind".

It didn't take Ursula long. As soon as she had stopped shaking, she drained the glass of water, stood up, waved goodbye to Jane, and walked out of the airport forever.

It was dark by the time she arrived home. There was half a bottle of Chablis in the chiller and she poured most of it into a single glass and climbed the stairs, dragging her case behind her. She collapsed on to the bed and fell asleep almost instantly, dreaming of her David trapped in a lake of fire-red hair.

When she awoke, the case was by the bed and the glass was on the table, as she had left them. She was still wearing the clothes she had left for the airport in. Something had changed, however.

In the chair in the corner of the room, perfectly framed by the morning sunbeam, sat David.

"Surprise" said a warm deadpan.

For a moment, Ursula lay waiting to wake up. When he came beside her and gently kissed her head, she decided that this was as real as it was going to get and she threw her arms around him.

"You said you were in Milan."

"And you believed me? You honestly think I would miss our wedding anniversary? Well, maybe I have in the past," he admitted, grudgingly "But not our silver. What man could forget 25 years married to the most perfect girl in the world. I just needed time to organise the party. Now you wait here and I'll get the breakfast."

As he bounded down the stairs like a teenager on a first date she could hear him talking about the day he had planned and the old friends who were coming. Ursula tried to wake herself up. She turned on the radio by the bed and some boring politician answered her about sending assistance to some disaster or other. Had the days really drifted together so easily? She never had been good with dates, but to forget a landmark like this? She padded to the en suite and looked at herself in the mirror. A pale bedraggled woman looked back at her. She started to run a bath when the pop of a champagne cork from below snapped her thoughts into place.

What was in the mirror wasn't One Size Fits All. It was Bespoke. This woman was finely crafted to live this finely crafted life. One of a kind. Hang Spring Cleaning! She didn't have to feel guilty about enjoying her life, and she had proved everyone wrong. David never had strayed. She undressed and looked long at her figure. She had a perfect figure and no one was going to tell her otherwise. She pulled on a robe and began to tidy up the bedroom while waiting for the bath to fill.

As the 9am pips chimed from the radio, she noticed for the first time the tag on the suitcase. It wasn't hers. The case was, it had to be, it was one of a kind. But the label wasn't even a style she knew. She tuned it over to read the name.

L. Hassenberg.

Ursula threw the case on the bed and opened it. This was no mix up in labels. These were not her clothes. These were the clothes of someone proud to be One Size Fits All.

"Of course" said David "There really is business in Milan". He proudly laid down the breakfast tray, complete with champagne, croissants, orange juice and a small elegantly wrapped box. "I sent Lola out in my place. Are you alright?"

But Ursula wasn't listening to David anymore. She was listening to the radio.

"Our main headlines again. Flight number KL1054 from Bristol to Milan crashed last night after refuelling in Schipol. Officials are blaming pilot error."

**********************************************


Well you can't say I didn't warn you. Anyway, that is how I did it.

Don't worry. Lots of people better than me have entered.
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