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Read the Signs: A short story to celebrate the Grand National, held at Aintree every year

‘Be sure to choose your horse for tomorrow’s Grand National,’ Adrian said to Dessie, walking into their spacious lounge.  ‘I’ll be going to the bookies first thing in the morning before doing the weekly shop.’

Dessie shifted in his recliner to take his mobile phone out of his trouser pocket.  He typed into the search engine “Grand National runners and riders” and seconds later had the list of forty horses running in Liverpool’s most prestigious horse race.


He scrolled down the list to check out which horses were the favourites, noting that many had high odds, twenty, thirty or forty to one.  The favourite, Corach Rambler, was set at eight to one which was still quite high odds so he scanned the names of the horses, jockeys, trainers and owners.  Again, nothing grabbed his attention and he swiped the screen window to close it.  ‘You’re going to have to leave it with me,’ Dessie muttered, ‘but I promise I’ll get back to you before you head into town tomorrow.’

Adrian nodded and threw himself down on the sofa.  Dessie winced.  The springs weren’t going to last too long if his partner was going to abuse their fine furniture in such a carefree manner.


The twenty-eight-year-old couple had been an item for two years, deciding to live together a month ago.  They had found a terraced house to rent just outside the town where they both worked and had fallen into a good housekeeping routine with Adrian loving to shop and cook, whereas Dessie was happy to clean and tidy.   All was not rosy in the garden however when it came to hobbies. Adrian was a bit of a couch potato liking to watch sci-fi and fantasy on TV whereas Dessie was more active, preferring to go to the gym or for a run around the nearby lake.  He was somewhat envious that his partner could keep his slender figure without having to do any exercise or count calories, whereas he had to build up a sweat at least three times a week and consider every morsel he ate in his quest to remain slim.  ‘If you are going to watch Game of Thrones for the fifty second time, then I’m off for a run,’ Dessie announced standing up.

‘Enjoy,’ Adrian said, fiddling with the remote, then lying back when he found one of his favourite episodes of the popular series: The Purple Wedding.  Dessie rolled his eyes and headed up the stairs to change into his running gear.


‘I won’t be long,’ he called out to Adrian a few minutes later.  There was no reply, just the striking chords of the theme music to Adrian’s favourite programme.  Dessie rolled his eyes once again and stepped out into the early evening air, stopping at the gate to do a few warm up stretches.  A white transit van drew up to the kerb beside him, the words Arch & Co. Van Hire written in startling gold on the side.  A lad with a blond crew cut, was seated behind the steering wheel, his arm resting on the open window.

‘Evening,’ he said.  ‘I’m looking for number twenty-six, but the houses don’t seem to be numbered.’

Dessie grimaced.  ‘There’s been a bit of a problem with vandalism in the area.  Some of the local youths thought it would be a fun to either steal the numbers or paint over them. Many of us took them down knowing the local postman has been doing this round for decades and knows everyone in the street.  What number did you say?’


Dessie pointed to a house across the road.  ‘The one with the yellow door,’ he said, stretching his right arm across his chest.

‘Thanks, enjoy your run,’ the lad said and, looking in the wing mirrors to see if the road was clear, he manoeuvred the  van across the road bringing it to a halt in front of the house.  Dessie stretched some more, checked his watch, then set off along the pavement at a steady pace.


He ran to the end of the block and took a right hand turn, the street lights suddenly illuminating a row of shops, the first being the local chippy run by a Korean family.  The aroma of hot oil, frying fish and crispy batter assaulted his senses and he wished he could enjoy a full plate of fish and chips splatted with salt and vinegar when he returned home rather than the lentil curry Adrian had prepared the previous evening.  A sign in the window caught his eye as he jogged by:


Ramblers wanted for new club starting

Sunday 14th May.


An email address advising those interested to contact Lucinda or Derek was written beneath in smaller print.  Not being remotely interested Dessie pressed on.


He ran past the local overpriced supermarket, the newsagents, the post office and the bookmakers, a reminder to check the horses running in the Grand National before going to bed.  If he hadn’t chosen a horse before Adrian left for the town centre he’d have to place his own bet and he’d never stepped into a bookies in his entire life, having been brought up by parents who believed gambling to be the work of the devil.


Shaking off the memories of his not too unhappy childhood, but one that had left him appreciating his present love filled lifestyle, he ran on, his pace quickening, his muscles having warmed to the task of pounding the pavement.  A yellow banner waved in the breeze above the wrought iron entrance of the local sports ground which would be a hive of activity over the weekend.


5 mile Race in Aid of Save the Children


it announced and Dessie ceased running, choosing to jog on the spot as he read the details of the race on a large poster stuck to the gatepost.  He made a mental note of the upcoming event on Saturday June 24th thinking he was well able to run five miles and with a little more training he had as good a chance of winning as any other competitor.

Telling his brain to ignore the onset of tiredness in his leg muscles he set off towards the crossroads turning left past the local pub, The Coach and Horses, its sign hanging precariously on one hinge, another victim of the vandals that had yet to be fixed.  Dessie increased his pace as he approached the lake around which was a gravelled path used by many locals to take in the fresh air.


An elderly woman, muffled up in a purple great coat, with matching woollen hat and scarf was walking her brown and white Jack Russell.  She stepped to one side allowing Dessie to run past and offered a mumbled ‘good evening’.  Dessie raised his hand in greeting, hoping the lady accepted the salute as a sign of thanks.  Some dog walkers seemed oblivious to others, taking up the entire pathway, allowing their dogs to be on the longest of leashes over which runners could easily trip and fall.


Dessie ran on increasing his pace once again as he reached what he knew to be the half way mark.  The crunch of his feet on the gravel was accompanied by the lake waters lapping up against the stony shore.  A full moon peeked out from behind a cloud casting shadows across his path when suddenly out of the corner of his eye he espied a fox foraging in the undergrowth.  The fox looked up as he ran past, his golden eyes gleaming in his long brown face.  Dessie was sure the animal would turn tail and make a dash for it but the cunning vulpine must have decided the runner was not a threat and it returned his gaze for several seconds before returning to its nightly task.  On Dessie ran, his mind returning to winning the five mile race later in the spring.


Having circumnavigated the lake he was pleased to see he did not have to slow down at the crossroads of The Coach and Horses, the green man flashing, indicating it was still safe to cross.  Deciding the chippy would be the finishing line he pushed on, a final spurt in order to win his imaginary race.  He raised his hands in mock victory ignoring once again the sign about the walking club in the window.  He slowed down to a jog as he approached home  and commenced his stretches once again noting that the van emblazoned with the logo Arch & Co. Van Hire was still outside number twenty-six.  Entering the house Dessie called out a greeting to Adrian, his only reply being the music to Game of Thrones.  Undaunted he headed up the stairs to take a shower.


The following morning at breakfast Adrian once again broached the topic of picking a winner for the Grand National.  Not wanting to bet on the favourite, Dessie decided on Delta Work, liking the reference to the Greek letter, Greece being where he and Adrian had spent a romantic getaway the previous year.  Dessie was sure it was a good omen.


At five fifteen the couple sat down on the couch to watch the race, both disappointed when neither of their horses came first.  The favourite, number twenty-six, Corach Rambler, ridden by Derek Fox and trained by Lucinda Russell, romped home.  The Ramblers, who owned the horse, celebrated in style later that evening, all sporting their colours of purple and gold.


Dessie sighed as he threw his betting slip into the bin.  ‘You’d think that our holiday in Greece would have been a sign,’ he said, giving Adrian a peck on the cheek.

‘Signs!  We need to start studying the form, not be looking for signs,’ Adrian scoffed.  ‘There’s no such thing as signs!’


I hope you enjoyed this short story. Did you spot the signs that Dessie missed? You might want to read it again now you know the winner of the Grand National 2023. Will Corach Rambler win it again this year? We will know on Saturday 13th April.


I do like horse racing and I visited the Irish National Stud in Kildare a couple of years ago. Please click on the link to learn more.

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I'm not sure what I was supposed to notice as a "sign" but after the 2nd reading I noticed the fox and Jack Russel mentioned earlier in the story and they then appeared later. Ramblers was also mentioned at least twice. But I must confess that I didn't know what I was supposed to be looking for. I did enjoy the story and I always marvel at your use of descriptive words and phrases.


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