Red Stripe Candy 



Ever experienced one of those scents that seems to haunt you all day with no good reason? Perhaps it’s identified itself with you as a relic from another time, another age; perhaps a gentler time, perhaps not. Whatever the reason, once remembered it seems to pervade your whole life, reminding you of all your traumas and delights… until the reason for it comes striding along the drive…

Red Stripe Candy was written as one outburst, one single great outpouring of emotion. I hope it greets you as such. Within this story are several of the many themes I address in my work. I shall leave you to identify them yourself as you take this magically realistic journey with Libby, Roy and Miss Virna.





Virna Morrell occupied the corner by the slatted french window like a jewelled ornament shrouded in black lace. When she spoke, only her lips moved, only her breath scattered dust motes in the bracketed light.


      “Comin’ Miss Virna.”

Libby’s voice carried in from the kitchen on a wave of cooking smells. There was cabbage, and all kinds of green stuff fresh cut from the garden that was hemmed in by weeds and brought closer to the house each season, now that Hemmings was starting to feel his age.

      “Hey, Libby!”
      “Yes, Miss Virna.”
      “Libby! It’s almost two o’clock.”
      “Comin’, Miss Virna.”


The clock in the hall began to groan as Libby pulled herself through from the kitchen into the drawing room where each piece of furniture fell waiting under her familiar hand,

      ‘Better than Kin,’ she would say, in private, ‘at least you knows where it stands!’ 


She stood behind Virna’s chair and straightened the bright flowered print of her frock with one hand. With the other she pushed back a stray lock of starlit black hair and wiped the pain from her face.

      “Now then, Miss Virna. Just what is it you want to see today?”
      “The train, Libby. The train.”
      “But it’s just the ol’ milk run, Miss Virna, ‘tain’t nuthin’ special.”


Virna remained silent, her eyes fixed on the slats of the right hand shutter where it hung, waiting for the years in Libby’s gnarled and broken hands to shake the rust from the hinges.


“If I opens the other side, perhaps we’ll see the Reverend and his pretty wife in their new car. You know they always wave. And the way her face lits up a dull day! Like your sister you said, back in ‘34... but Abby would have been about thirty then and she cain’t be no more than, oh, twenty five or so, and her with those two kids runnin’ round like peas in a pod...”


Virna’s gaze remained fixed on the right hand shutter. She sat perfectly still, like a dark butterfly resting, all folded wings and withdrawn, inwardly-directed senses. At two o’clock each day, between mid-May and August, if the sky was open and wide and not closed and shuttered and dark with clouds, like this room in which she sat, the sun would chip sparks from the gold on her fingers and from the inlaid silver and mother-of-pearl around her throat. Her head would lean forwards and a little to one side, and she would smile.


Libby was still speaking,


 “…an’ when the clock strikes we can watch it shower the old-town with doves, an’ some o’ them dirty grey pigeons they seem to’ve taken up with. Cain’t say I like grey. Was grey the day I buried my daddy. Was grey the day I got the letter sayin’ my Joseph weren’t never comin’ back an’ it’s grey when I look in the mirror. And the pain! Some people say pain’s red but I tell you it ain’t so. Pain’s grey!

      “The train, Libby.”
      “Yes Ma’am, Miss Virna.”
      “Can’t help but see the church whichever way I look, Libby.”
      “Yes Ma’am, Miss Virna. The train it is. Choo Choo.”
      “Shut up, Libby.”
      “Yes Ma’am, Miss Virna.”


Outside the french windows the air was still, like the world was holding its breath and waiting for summer to steal in unannounced, with the ground barely dry from last nights shower. Beyond a quarter acre of grass stood a row of tall leylandii that cast fine, filigreed shadows over the lawn. Hemmings had planted them in his fiftieth year so that Miss Virna didn’t have to see the way that the houses and sheds and streets and the bus station had crept steadily up towards the old house. As the town had grown, so the trees had stretched up and wide as if conspiring to keep the worst of the days from her. They filtered the street noises from the air, and when the wind blew they bent with an old-fashioned grace to protect the shingle roof.  


From beyond the cypress hedge the house seemed enigmatic; an anachronism, looming like an elder sister over the small, white, clapboard church at the bottom of the drive as though they were locked, religion just a curve away from tradition, a slow crunch of gravel apart.


Virna knew that journey almost as well as she knew herself. Though it was a journey she hadn’t made in years, still, it felt like yesterday.