So here we are, three-quarters of the way through my challenge (to write a piece of micro fiction every day for a month and post a few at the end of each week), and once again I want to start with a big old thank you to anyone who’s read and commented on the stories so far – you guys rock QUITE A BIT.
Jan Carson wrote in one of her blog posts that once you train yourself to observe you start to see the foundations of stories everywhere (this ties in very nicely with the whole concept of mindfulness, which I’ve been practicing, albeit fairly haphazardly, for a few years now). Unlike most writers, I’ve always found it tricky to get hold of A Really Good Idea, but since I started this challenge I’m definitely becoming better at noticing all those little daily occurrences that can form the basis of a story. Mind you, when you start seeing inspiration everywhere it can prove a tad overwhelming. One day after work this week I saw so many things with story-spawning potential that I couldn’t focus on just one idea, and I ended up going home and writing about something completely different. But I’m not complaining – maybe some of those other things will find their way into stories yet.
Just a couple of things to mention before I stop wittering and crack on with this week’s selections. Firstly, I apologise for the terrible use of puns in two of the titles – if this trend continues I may need an intervention. Secondly, ‘The lonely sole’ (one of the aforementioned offenders) is exactly 100 words long, and I’m going to go ahead and claim that this was totally intentional.
As always, all comments, criticisms and witticisms will be gratefully received. I do hope you enjoy.
Week 3 stories
Evie catches sight of the banner when she is a few metres from the driveway, and her stomach twists as her foot hits the brake. She shifts the car into neutral and pulls on the handbrake, letting the engine turn over. The banner is pink and sparkly, incongruous against the creosoted fence, the words ‘Birthday Girl’ emblazoned across it in a jaunty, holographic font. This is Ruth-Ann’s work, no question, and Evie knows it is meant kindly, but the banner still feels like an affront. For a start, it has been a good many years since Evie could reasonably have been called a ‘girl’, and she has never been the pink, sparkly sort. But it is what lies ahead, in the house itself, that truly gives her pause. The well-meaning friends; the obligatory Victoria sponge (which, like all Ruth-Ann’s baking, will be a triumph of effort over skill); the sad, single candle (‘No room on the cake for all the candles you’d need!’); the spirited rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’; the playful commiserations. And she will be expected to smile like the Queen and pretend she is happy – or at least not thoroughly crushed – to be marking the passing of another year in this, her life. With one last look at the banner, Evie releases the handbrake and puts the car in reverse.
The lonely sole
There is a shoe abandoned in the middle of the traffic island. It’s not the kind you normally see lying at the side of a road or hanging by its laces from a tree branch or power line (twisted and bruised, beyond all hope). It’s a ballerina pump – silver and perky, with a black, sequinned bow. Much too fine to be left to its own devices like this. It deserves a partner with which to go dancing. Or wining, dining and summer strolling. And later, when too worn out for such things, with which to simply rest in easy companionship.
There are ghosts inside our TV. Most of the time you wouldn’t know they’re there, but if you look really hard, especially when the screen is dark, you can just about make them out. Big Dave, Ma’s boyfriend, says it’s because someone – he looks at me when he’s saying this – left a movie paused for too long and the picture burned right into the screen. Whenever he says this, I hold my tongue and count to ten, just like Ma taught me, and I definitely don’t pipe up and say that it couldn’t have been me since he’s the only one allowed near the remote. I don’t say this because if I did Big Dave’s face would get all scrunched up like one of those pugs I’m not allowed to have (only much less cute), and then he would hit me a swipe. I’ve already had two of Big Dave’s swipes this week, even though it’s only Wednesday, and I can tell you that they sting like anything. Big Dave is strong. Anyway, there are ghosts inside the TV, no matter what Big Dave says, and I know this because I’ve seen them move. Sometimes, when Big Dave has gone to the fridge for a beer or is taking a leak upstairs, they nod at me and gesture to me with their shadowy fingers. They don’t scare me, these ghosts. They’re just lonely, I think, and want me to come join them. And maybe, next time Big Dave goes to take a swipe at me, I will.
You don’t look at me when I come into the room tonight, even though it’s the first I’ve seen of you all day. You are staring at your phone.
‘I think the cat’s depressed,’ you say, as I sit down.
‘What?’ I am still heavy with sleep.
‘The cat. Depressed.’
I worry my fingers through my hair, trying to work out the tangles, then give up. ‘Can cats get depressed?’
‘Of course.’ You indicate your phone without raising your head. ‘It’s all here. Lack of grooming, signs of lethargy or changes in personality, increased sleeping…’
You reach out and start to massage the cat’s head, getting in behind her ears, the way she loves. ‘What’s the matter, old girl, eh?’
And I think, Everything.
Our neighbour was buried this morning.
Here is what we knew about him. He was Polish. He was in his forties. He was a big, strong-looking man – though not so big or so strong-looking of late. He was a welder. He spent a lot of time lying on his driveway under a succession of troublesome cars, poking and fixing, even on rainy, winter nights. He had a wife and a grown-up daughter.
We went to the funeral, regretful that we had not taken the time to learn more. The mass was entirely in Polish.
It is evening now, and our neighbour’s house is very still. I think about them inside – the wife and the daughter, and perhaps some relatives and friends – and how they must be feeling. The intensity of a grief so raw. And the numbness too. I want to go to their door and say something helpful, but I know of no words, either in English or Polish, that can be of any help for this.