BROKEN A Short Story By Susan Shirley

“I can’t go on, I can’t go on, I can’t go on.”

“I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it.”

I screamed those words over and over and howled like a wounded animal, sobbing as I did so, for days on end. The pain I felt was physical, it really was. I didn’t know how to bear it. I still feel the pain as keenly as I did back then.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, nobody else knew then, nor do they know now. I still paint on the smile when I paint on the lipstick, just as I did the day after it happened. It’s just me, him and my friend Annie that know. I had to tell someone so I told Annie. But the pain is killing me. I still don’t understand how he could do that to me. How could he discard me that way? Like I was nothing? Maybe I was nothing to him? I’m not even sure that he cares. Maybe he didn’t ever care?

I play this over and over in my head, every single day. It’s driving me insane. I’m not interested in other men. My sex drive has vanished, which is probably a blessing. I keep asking myself whether the pain will ever diminish and I don’t have an answer. I suspect that now, it won’t.

“I can’t bear it, I can’t bear, I can’t bear it.”

When I’m alone, I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes and have to pinch myself hard to stop them. It seems to me that there is only one way out of this. I’ve heard it said that drowning is quite a pleasant way to die, although I’m not sure how anyone knows that. I could walk into the ocean and just keep walking, until the sea covers me. Perhaps that is what I should do?

I honestly don’t know what I did that was so wrong. I thought adults discussed things, but we didn’t discuss it. He ended it by text and gave me no chance to explain myself. I thought he would have met up with me to discuss it, but no. Yes, I had been wrong to question him by text. I admit that. It had been a hard evening.

“You do know that he’s having an affair with Emily, don’t you?” they said.

“Why would I know? I don’t know him that well?” I had become very accomplished at the lies.

“He’s leaving his wife for her.”

It wasn’t that that hurt so much, although, of course, he doesn’t know that. If, as I really suspected, it had been a one night stand, and she’d embellished it to make it seem better for herself with her friends, I’d have understood. I wouldn’t have been happy, but I would have understood. Things had been difficult between us. We’d both been working silly hours and I had been working away a lot.

It was the private things, the things he told me that only I knew that hurt; that made me think there might have been some truth in it. I would have told him this, if he’d given me the chance. But he didn’t. It was almost as though he couldn’t wait to rid himself of me. He’d needed me once, when things went wrong, when his child was taken into hospital, when his father died. How did it all change? I don’t know how to shield myself from the pain. I don’t know how to stop it hurting.

He told me that I shouldn’t have doubted him, but I didn’t know what he felt for me. My own insecurities came right back to hit me between the eyes, but he didn’t know any of that. He still doesn’t.

Of course, I don’t walk into the sea. I don’t know whether that’s cowardice or courage. I exist. I even smile and laugh, outwardly. But, inside, I am dying. Still dying. I can feel myself becoming brittle and solid so that there is no heart or soul left; just a shell of skin. People just see a shrivelled up old hag now.

It was all so many years ago now, I’m in my seventies now. It’s what, 30, 35 years ago? Of course, I know exactly when it happened. The date is imprinted on my memory. I still cry, frequently. I don’t self-harm anymore. I stopped that about 15 years ago, when it stopped helping.

My health is failing now, despite keeping reasonably fit.

I still wonder whether I should just walk into the sea.


©Susan Shirley 2014


Letter to an Unknown Soldier

There is a charitable organisation called  It was advertised on BBC Breakfast this morning.  There is a statue of an unknown soldier at platform 1 on Paddington Station.  The soldier is reading a letter, so the organisation is inviting people to write a letter to the soldier, to commemorate World War One.  This is my letter:

Dear Tommy

Are you the Grandad I never met?  The one who didn’t get to meet his three sons nor see them grow to manhood?  The one who was unable to be with his wife when his baby daughter died?

What a loss for you and my Grandmother, the one we just called Gran.  She did a sterling job with those boys, you’d be proud, they grew to be fine men, all with a trade.  She instilled morals and values in them that made them grow into honest, proud men.  They were all proud to fight in the Second World War.  And, unlike you, they came home to tell the tale.

Of course, the one of whom I’m most proud is the eldest, the one who was my father.  The one I watched playing cricket and football so well.  He must have inherited those skills from you.  I bet you would have had so much fun playing football and cricket with those boys.

How awful was it for you in those trenches?  I don’t know much about them, except that you were standing shoulder to shoulder with your mates, ripe for the killing.  That they were wet and full of rats.  That the clothes you wore were really not fit for purpose,  and it must have been horrible.  I bet you must have felt so lonely and that makes me feel really sad for you.  I bet you missed having your fry up for breakfast in the comfort of your own home, and your roast beef and Yorkshire pud on a Sunday.  Gran was a fine cook, so you’d have been well catered for.

Did you know that she ended up as a cook in one of the richest households in London?  In service, as it was called in those days.  She worked her way up from the bottom, and ended up in that exalted position of cook.   She left there to go to Carshalton Childrens’ Hospital, and the stories she told from there were something else.

What was it all for Tommy?  Oh, I know what the rhetoric, of course.  There’s always rhetoric.  But really, what was it for?  We, the Allies, lost about 6 million military personnel. Somewhere between 700,000 and 800,000 of them were from Britain.  I assume that’s mostly soldiers, but I don’t know.    Over 20 million people were wounded, and if the TV programmes I’ve seen are anything to go by, some of those wounded were amputees, or worse.  I know that we shot soldiers for desertion when, often, they were suffering from what we now call PTSD.  So what did it all achieve, when, only 21 years later, we were at it all over again.  I’m not a historian, but I somehow think that there was a link between the two wars.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you Tommy, but I’m grateful for what you did.  If not for you, I might not be here now, sitting up in bed, typing on my laptop.

Thank you Tommy, to all of you Tommies.

With love.


©Susan Shirley 2014

Guard Cat Rhea and Cat Language

Regular readers know that I have four cats and love them dearly. Sometimes they do things that really confuse me, other times, they just make me laugh. Rhea’s behaviour when someone comes to the front door is an example of this.
I first noticed it a few weeks ago. Someone knocked on the door and she ran to door growling. I’d never seen this in a cat before.
“Does she think she’s a dog?” I wondered.
Nothing else in her behaviour changed, she’s a very loving little thing, so I thought no more about it. Until it happened again. And again. It now happens every time someone knocks on the door. Wherever she is in the house, she runs to the front door, growling.
One of the reasons that cats growl is that they feel insecure or threatened, and it is actually not as an uncommon as I thought for cats to growl when someone comes to the door. It’s their way of saying,
“Go away, you’re not welcome here.”
Cats also growl when they are angry. And if they start hissing and spitting, leave them well alone.
Why has she just recently started this behaviour? I don’t know for sure, but I think it is because she is predominately a house cat. She will occasionally go outside, if the weather is nice and I leave the back door open, she’ll stay out for a while. But the moment that door closes, she is like a little Meerkat, standing on her hind legs at the door, until I let her back in. She has never stayed out over night and shows no signs of wanting to do so. (Which is just as well, I don’t like my girls being out overnight.)
So, because she is in the house most of the time, it’s her domain, her territory. And she’s very fussy about who comes in. The funny thing is, if someone comes in, she will usually hide. As I said, she can be a little timid.
Rhea is a great talker. If I pick her up, she says “yes” or “no.” Seriously. That’s exactly what the noises she makes sound like. In fact, all of my girls like a little chat. Particularly when they see birds in the garden. I’ve always called the noise they make when they see birds chattering, but it’s also known as chirruping or chirping. It’s a very distinctive sound, and only ever use this when they are watching birds.
I’m pleased to say that they all purr. My Titan had the loudest purr. I even recorded it and used it as my ‘phone ring tone, it was so loud. Most times it’s a good sound, but did you know that cats sometimes purr when they are distressed or in pain. It seems that it is the cat equivalent of sucking a thumb or some other similar comfort gesture.
Then there’s the meow. I think cats must be Italian, because, in the same way that in Italian, the same word can have several meanings, cats do this with meow. It can mean,
“Hurry up and feed me,” or
“I’m not in the mood for you to stroke me, I’m annoyed with you,” or
“Cuddle me.”
And then there is the yowl. Usually, this means the cat is in some sort of distress. However, quite often, male cats will make this noise when they are engaged in a turf war. Two of the male cats around here sit in my garden making this noise for hours. It’s also, apparently, a noise they make in mating behaviour. Obviously, I wouldn’t know about that, my cats are just not those type of girls.
Cats also use body language to communicate, but that’s the subject of another post. So, for now,

©Susan Shirley 2014


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The Thames Path

Yesterday, my friend Becky, her dog, the lovely Jess, and I walked some of the Thames Path. We walked from Tower Hill to Canary Wharf, which is about 4 miles.

For those of you who don’t know, the Thames Path is a National Trail, running from the source of the Thames, near Kemble, in Gloucestershire, to the Thames Barrier at Charlton. The total length is about 184 miles (so only another 180 miles to go, if I want to do the whole lot!). The trail was opened in 1996.

The original plan was that the whole path along the Thames could be walked, but in some places the Towpath is not available. The part of the Thames along which we walked, you actually need to walk along the shore in some places (so you can only do it at low tide). We elected not to do that, for a number of reasons.

There are some new, and presumably very expensive, flats along the bank side, so there are gated areas which prevent you from walking directly along the towpath. Having said all that, we were able to walk along the bank most of the way. Around St Katherine’s dock and that first part of our walk, we had to walk “inland” a bit, but it was ok, there were some old buildings which made it worthwhile.

We stopped off for lunch at the Prospect of Whitby at Wapping. The Prospect is one of the oldest pubs along the Thames (probably in London) dating back to 1520. Fortunately, there is a beer garden, so Jess was welcome. Understandably, in times gone by, the pub was frequented by those who used the Thames, and no doubt some of those were smugglers and pirates. Certainly, that is the reputation of the pub. Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys are also believed to have been regulars. The pub also stands on the border of Wapping and Limehouse. Anyway, the food was pretty good, and not too expensive so I’d go back there again.

Whilst walking along, you get to see all the river traffic, including a rather nice yacht that passed us. I’ll be honest, I didn’t recognise most of Wapping now, much of what I remember has been pulled down and new buildings erected. We carried on to Canary Wharf and decided to call it a day there, but not before we’d looked back to see the Shard across the other side of Deptford on the south bank.

At Millwall Park (there used to be seven windmills, hence the name Millwall) we decided it was time to make out way back to the stations so we could go our respective ways home, but not before we stopped off at the Cat and Canary, in Canary Wharf, for a well-deserved drink. Canary Wharf is on the Isle of Dogs, on the site of the old West India Docks, once one of the busiest docks in the World. The name Canary Wharf comes from the name of the dock built there in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, which was a subsidiary of Fred Olsen Lines Ltd for Mediterranean and Canary Islands fruit trade.

All in all, a lovely day out and good exercise as well!


©Susan Shirley 2014


My Day of Thank Yous!

One of the joys of having your own blog is that, within the confines of legality, you can write pretty much anything you want to write.

So today, for me, is a day of “Thank Yous.”  I have so much to be grateful for, and, walking through my beloved St James Park yesterday, where the daffodils and crocuses are out in bloom, just made me realise how fortunate I am.  Thank you Universe, for all that beauty!

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am preparing myself for my future life if I am made redundant later this year, hence writing as much as I can now.  This is a showcase for some of my work; so thank you all, and please keep reading.  (And, if you like the posts, maybe you would consider “liking them” on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.)

Next, I want to thank my friends and family.  In particular, I’d like to thank my friend Anne Germain.  Anne and I have been friends for many years, since we first worked together, and have shared tears and joys and the odd glass of wine or two!  Anne took the plunge and started doing what she loves a number of years ago.  I’ve had a number of private readings from her, and I can tell you, she is spookily accurate.  Always makes for an interesting evening, when she can tell me what’s happening in my life before I know about it!

You can check out her website at

I’d like to thank Linda Formichelli, a freelance writer.  I don’t know Linda personally, but I wholeheartedly recommend her book “Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race,” not just for wannabe writers, but anyone who is thinking of becoming self-employed.  And while I’m on the subject of writers’ resources, thank you also to Sheryl Jacobs for “50 Freebies for Frugal Writers.”  There are lots of other books out there, but I haven’t read them all yet.  (Note the word “yet.”  I’m sure I’ll get around to it.)

Lisa Irby is another one of my heroines.  She has a website about setting up websites, and she explains things in a really simple way.

Sophie Lizard is also a favourite.  With so many resources available on the web, sometimes it’s hard to know which ones are worth looking at.  I’m not saying that none of the others are any good, just that these are ones I like.

Thank you everyone, for all your help and support.  I’ll let you know on this blog when I publish my first book, and I shall pray that you all buy it.

And if you want to check out more of my work, take a look here:


©Susan Shirley 2014

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Cats shouldn’t eat….

I am an animal lover.  I admit it unashamedly.  Anyone and everyone who knows me, even slightly, will know that.  My first, as yet, unpublished, book is about my cats.  So, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I am signed up to a number of blogs, etc, about animals.

I received an e-mail today that told me about a number of common foodstuffs that cause cats a problem if they eat it.  That got me thinking.

Four cats, all with different tastes in food.  All with different eating habits.

Rhea, for example, loves a spider plant.  She’ll have a little chew whenever she can.  I tell you, I can put a Sergeant Major to shame now, for my shouting abilities. I’m sure that isn’t good for her,

“You ‘orrible little cat, get off that plant!”

Artemis:  Pretty much anything that is edible goes where she is concerned.

Oceana: she is convinced that she’s human, except of course, when she is bringing mice home.  And is very keen to take food off of my plate (or anyone else’s, come to that).  Even the bones of sprats, which was one occurrence.

Telesto: I think she comfort eats.  For a cat that doesn’t much like humans, she certainly finds enough humans to feed her.  Anyone who puts food out for stray cats or the foxes, Telesto finds her way to their homes and then comes back her for seconds.  I seriously thought she was suffering from bulimia when she vomited over my freshly changed bed linen on Monday morning.

And Dreamies.  They will do almost anything for Dreamies.  Or the supermarket home brand equivalent.    Rattle a bag of Dreamies and I can do anything.  Actually, I’m a bit surprised that they still fall for that one, but they do.  Polythene bags.  What is the fascination for polythene bags?  Rhea loves a little chew of them; Artemis tries to sit in them.  (I know, I know…)

Cats are curious.  Whatever it is, they want to know all about it.  This morning, Artemis was standing like a meerkat, sniffing the bottom of my coat.  (That will be the dogs I stroke on the way to work.)  They even go through the waste bins, just in case I have inadvertently thrown away some food that might be essential for their survival.  I can’t have a glass of wine without them checking that it’s not something they might like.

Telesto knows that she doesn’t like peanut butter, but it doesn’t stop her from holding a full inspection of my breakfast every morning.  Just in case something might have changed.

So I’m not surprised that cats often eat things that they shouldn’t.  I’m only surprised that they stop where they do.

©Susan Shirley 2014

The Italian Bookshop

I posted a few months ago that I had started to learn to speak Italian.  I purchased my textbooks online, but through the Italian Bookshop in Soho.  Of course, now I’m on the mailing list, and recently received an invitation to a function that was taking place there yesterday.  I didn’t understand most of the e-mail – way too advanced for me, but my Italian friend gave me the gist of it, and agreed to come along with me.

The basis of it was that there were two female journalists, one of whom has written a book called Do You Know Who I Am.  More correctly, that’s how it translates into English.  The author, who writes for Marie Claire, Vogue and others, was talking about her experiences interviewing various Hollywood stars, and other aspects of her working life.  My friend told me that I’d really have enjoyed it had I been able to understand it.

The event ended with wine and nibbles.  The manageress of the bookshop started to talk to me in Italian and my friend explained that I am a studentessa.

The manageress said, “Maybe it was too advanced for you, but brava!”

She was right, it was too advanced for me, I understood a few words, but that was it.  Good job I had V to translate.

What I did realise though, was, that although I didn’t understand most of it, I did hear the words.  Most of them, anyway.  I’ve always thought that Italians and Spanish speak so quickly that I’d never be able to understand, but I realise now, that’s not the case.

The journalists – and I am ashamed to say that I didn’t get their names – were lovely ladies and it was a very pleasant evening.

Thank you Italian Bookshop.  Until the next time.


©Susan Shirley 2014