CUCKOOS OVER WEST SPIRE (part 1 of 9)

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PART I: Cuckoos Hiding

Never let your guard down – that was Alice's motto. For temptation was always hiding, waiting for the chance to ruin everything. If you didn't keep your guard up, the next thing you knew, you had gained a stone in weight and the bosses weren't so quick to remember your name. Those special projects you had worked so hard to be good at, suddenly started going to that girl in the office you really didn't like very much, the one who was younger than you, perhaps a little prettier too; the one the bosses noticed was a stone lighter than you.

For breakfast, Alice ate fresh fruit and natural yoghurt.

In the hotel's dining room, she glared across the breakfast table at her husband. Doug was incapable of understanding his wife's concerns. He was of the opinion that when on holiday, work could get imperially buggered for guards were supposed to be let down – like the gates of Troy opening up for a big wooden horse. But Doug didn't have to worry about the soldiers hiding inside that horse, because anyone invading his fortress would only find a tubby, pear-shaped man working alone on his computer in an office that used to be the spare bedroom in their two-bedroom house. The little Doug knew of office politics came from the many arguments he invariably lost with his decrepit printer that he should have replaced years ago.

For breakfast, Doug ate anything that could be fried.

Alice watched her husband shovel a large forkful of bacon into his mouth. He needed a shave. He needed a haircut.

"Are you enjoying that?" she asked across the table, which, unbeknownst Doug, really meant, "You're as disgusting as the pig you're eating."

"Yep," Doug replied, which, Alice knew all too well, simply meant "Yep."

Doug took a gulp of tea, wiped grease and egg yolk from his chin, slavered ketchup over a fat sausage, and said, "They certainly put on a great spread, don't they?"

Alice made no reply because she knew Doug didn't need one. He forked the fat sausage, and, as he bit into it, began reading a pamphlet that promoted local activities to be enjoyed while holidaying at Odd Place by the Sea.

After a moment's silence, Doug picked up the teapot to pour himself a third cup and offered to pour one for Alice too.

"No," she said. "I'll stick with fruit juice."

"Come on," Doug replied, "just one cup. You're always complaining you're tired. Some caffeine to wake you up?"

"No, really, I'm fine with fruit juice," Alice said, but actually meant, "Shut your stupid, pig-eating face."

And that was the trouble with Alice; she no longer told Doug her true feelings. Doug might've believed all was hunky-dory in their marriage, but the truth was his wife had grown tired of spelling everything out to her husband, tired of his complacent ways. She wanted Doug to sense the cracks in their relationship; she wanted him to realise for himself that she was no longer happy living a life where habit had forced love into silence. Doug thought this holiday to Odd Place by the Sea was just a holiday. He didn't appreciate that it was a make-or-break package deal. Alice's love for her husband had faltered, and she needed to know if he was willing to fight for their marriage.

"What are you looking at?" Doug was saying.

Alice checked herself. She had been staring into the middle distance, but when her eyes gained focus, she realised she was actually staring at a painting on the wall behind her husband.

She narrowed her eyes. "That painting," she told Doug with a nod towards it.

Doug gave it a quick glance over his shoulder, shrugged, and then returned to his breakfast and pamphlet.

The oil painting was of a black and pointed tower rising out of the calm, grey sea, like a giant spearhead. There were birds flying around its tip. Rising from the table, Alice moved for a closer look. The birds flew around the tower in such great numbers they looked almost like a storm cloud.

"Don't you think it's beautiful?" Alice said.

Doug grunted through the noisy sounds of chewing and swallowing, which Alice understood to mean, "Don't know. Don't care."

"It's called Cuckoos Over West Spire," Alice continued, and at once looked puzzled. "Funny choice of bird," she mused. "Do cuckoos even like the sea? And they don't flock like this, do they?"

"Hmm," mumbled Doug.

Alice peered closer at the painting. "Wait a minute ... They're not cuckoos at all. They're not even birds. They're people with wings. Like tiny angels."

"Crazy Golf!" Doug announced.

"What?"

"There's Crazy Golf down on the seafront." He flapped the pamphlet in the air. "We should have a game after breakfast."

Alice stared at her husband for a long moment. "Sure," she said flatly. "Why not?"

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