24 Jun 2014

If you do one thing today, walk

There was a woman crying outside of Barclays on Kingsland Road this morning, wailing into her phone and saying she was going to kill herself. She was still wasted from the night before and accosting passers by for help, though she wasn’t sure about what help she needed. ‘Talk to me,’ she begged me, and so I did, and asked her where her home was. It was just by Liverpool St station. She wanted money, but I only had £2; I gave her that. She said her boyfriend beat her, and that she was a normal girl who just wanted to get home. I told her she could walk home by following Kingsland Road down to Shoreditch, and then she’d be close to the station. ‘I don’t want to walk,' she kept saying. I had a good look at her and couldn’t see any reason for her to be stuck by the Balls Pond Road/ Kingsland Road crossroads.

‘Are you going to call the police on me?’ she asked. ‘Of course not,’ I said.
‘I want you to, so they can take me home,’ she said.

What would I say? Someone needs a lift home?

I do that walk all the time. Somehow I felt like there was a connection between the fact she wasn’t prepared to walk a mile or two down a straight road and her Tuesday morning circumstances. If you don’t have the resolve to walk for less than an hour, how can you transport yourself to a different life? I have sympathy, but walking home would have been so simple. ‘Just walk down that road,’ I said again. 'You'll soon see where you are.'

'I don't want to walk,' she objected. 'Can you get me a bus?'

It’s then that I realised that getting into the walking habit is actually far more than just walking. Getting from A to B on your own two feet is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself.

23 Jun 2014

Three flashes - short fiction

In a bid to actually finish something, Nik suggested we take it in turns to choose the title for a piece of flash fiction every few days. I'm not sure either of us really knows what makes a good piece of flash fiction, but I personally feel like a bit of a cheat. Flash fiction seems to have some of the impact of poetry without needing any of the skill. It's such an enigmatic form that throws up so many more questions than it answers. Even when done badly, the framing hangs the words on the wall just so.

My favourite of Nik's is Man on Fire, which works very well as a short piece (excellent last line) and his favourite of mine is The Locked Room (which I thought was overly melodramatic). I suspect that Nik's Man on Fire is the only one of the six that stands alone as a whole, whereas mine are character sketches.

The one rule is that we're not allowed to read each other's until we've finished. Unwrapping them is the fun part. My own rule is that I just spend ten minutes or so on this whilst eating my sandwich at lunchtime. I think Nik's have been bashed out in American airports, which is so much more glamorous than me with mayo on my keys. 

One Minute - Nik V

“Big Issue?”

You know what? Today I will. I look through my wallet and take out two pound coins. I put them in her hand and try to smile. It seems like the right thing to do even if she’s homeless. She looks at them in a funny way, inspecting each one carefully like I have given her fakes. Have I? Is she going to get into trouble? Am I?

She looks through her pile of magazines, before handing me one. I inspect it carefully. What if she has given me a fake copy, a bootleg one? I flick through it. It seems legit.

We stand and look at each other, two potential forgers.

“Do you believe in monsters?” she asks like she knows what she’s talking about.
No, I don’t.
“Yes,” I say. 

She looks around then takes the Big Issue from my hand. She puts it at the back of her pile and gives me another one. I look at her and nod in agreement. I take the two pound coins from her hand and put them in my pocket. In my wallet I manage to find another pound coin and two fifty pence pieces. I place them in her hand.
She smiles and asks me what the time is. I don’t know and I tell her. 

“Just wait one minute”, she whispers. “Then it’s time.”


One Minute - Mia V

The balmy day glued the back of my thighs to the sofa. May as well stay put for a minute more, since I don’t like the feeling of peeling skin from leather, but it’s then that I notice a flash in the leaves of the silver birches. Like glass, a sharp shard of light. And again.
Investigation requires unsticking myself and going to the balcony. The trees smell cool, like toothpaste and wet bark.

There’s someone in the trees. I squint. Not in the near spinney, but the cluster further back – a grey shape, hiding in zebra legs. He’s spying on me, I’m sure of it. There’s the flash again – a binocular lens?

James has some cigarettes in the kitchen drawer. I don’t usually smoke but retrieve them and perch on the balcony wall. I shake my hair from its tie. When I pull on the cigarette, I work my lips, and the tendril of smoke ribbons heavenward. I flick ash, see my feet. They’re sandy-tan and prettier than before.

The lens flashes again and I loop a leg over the wood, sitting bravely above the pavement. It’s not a bone-shattering drop, but I’m risking a fracture if I fall. I stare at the cunnilingus cloud. Did I just say that? An anvil of cumulonimbus cloud, foretelling a storm.

There’s a jay hopping in the shrubbery – I can see the shock of forget-me-not blue on his wing. He’s a beautiful bird, as substantial as a magpie but as fair as a maiden. 

Man on Fire - NV

I didn’t even have time to get annoyed at the man squeezing past me in the stairwell before I realised he was on fire. He didn’t seem to care himself and by then he was already so far ahead it didn’t seem appropriate to run after him. If anyone else was noticing they weren’t doing anything about it either. By the time I reached the platform myself I had caught up with him and we got on the same train. ‘Ha’, I thought to myself as I sat down. ‘See, how far all that rushing got you’. 

He sat down in the seat opposite me and immediately started reading a book. I found it hard to tell if the sweat dripping from his forehead was from the sprint-like descent down the stairs or because his upper torso was engulfed in flames. I looked around. Still, nobody in the carriage was paying him any attention. I felt bad just sitting there watching him burn, but then I decided that it was far too private a condition to point out to a stranger. 

The heat was taking its toll on his book and as the page he was on started turning from brown to charcoal I began to worry about him missing out on vital plot points. Luckily he finished the page before it disintegrated. I wondered if the butler did it or if they were going to live happily ever.


Man on Fire - MV

Gordon hadn’t spoken in three months. He didn’t know what had happened to his tongue, but where it had once flicked deftly around his mouth, forming vowels and clicky teeth-tipping sounds, it was now a heavy beached whale.

I suppose this is what lethargy is, he thought to himself. The eyes, lighter than the tongue to manoeuvre, still looked around the room as they had before. He could see the corduroy curtains, the chintzy chairs and the stained doilies. The home smelled of stale fags from the nineties. The disinfectant rasped the back of your throat.

“Still not talking, Gordon?” asked the nurse. She was a proper East Ender like him, family from Bethnal Green. He’d known her uncle Pete who bred fighting dogs. Her mother had been a stunner. Where was she now? He’d meant to ask, but didn’t want to risk crinkling that garden-fresh face.

She had a posh look for a common bird – a ski slope nose that spoke of the Alps, and whilst he was on piste, tits to match. A funny girl who played cards with him back in April, when he still spoke.

“I set fire to my boyfriend last night,” she said to him. Gordon’s lips felt floppy but his eyes were hooked on hers. Nobody could hear her as she said, “Meant it too. You ever scared by yourself? I sometimes wonder how far we’ll go. See my arm, here?”

Clear stepping stones of bruise showed a hand print.

Gordon wondered if they’d ever stab each other, or cut out each other’s tongues.


Locked Room - NV

Peter couldn't sleep. He had tried every trick in the book, from counting sheep to reading to jerking off, but this evening nothing could stop his mind from spinning at a hundred miles per hour. Tomorrow was the day, his day, finally. For as long as he could remember he had been trying to find out what was behind that locked door. Even his older brother, who he could normally count on to betray their parents' trust at any given opportunity and for the smallest of rewards, had proved impossible to bribe. Up until the day he had turned 18 himself, now almost two years ago, they had been partners in crime, both trying their hardest to convince parents, grandparents and family friends to reveal the secret unsuccessfully. Back then he had even promised Peter he'd tell as soon as he found out. But when the day came, suddenly it was like those years of brotherly scheming never meant anything and he'd been answering each plea with same deadpan "you'll find out on the day" ever since.

Lying there now, Peter couldn't help but feel a certain degree of bitterness about being the last in the family to find out, but at least the wait would be over tomorrow. After what seemed like an eternity and a half of twisting and turning Peter caught a glimpse of his alarm clock just as it changed to 11:11. He made a wish and finally fell into a peaceful slumber.


The Locked Room - MV

Mother said some sad and strange things on her deathbed. In and out of consciousness, she rode waves of memories and hallucinations. My brother had warned, close your ears to her delusions if you want to remember her well, but I thought, instead, I never knew Mother yet.

The sobs were hard to take. Guttural, from under her collarbone, lifting up her bird chest like a paddle puppet. One day she spoke mainly of a cat and kittens, of feeding them bread soaked in sugar milk from her fingers.

What I can’t stop thinking of, though, is the locked room she rambled on about. She had been flirty and girlish all morning, like I’d never seen her (nor would I want to), and then she descended into the deepest depression. She spoke of pulling furniture into a hidey-hole – a loveseat, a bottom drawer and a bookshelf of poetry. I never heard her read a poem in her life; she never read aloud to us and favoured science journals. She called, wailed, for someone called Jerry, and I pieced together he had left for war when Mother was twenty and that he had silver threads in his amber eyes.

Then she dragged Jerry himself into the room, kissing his wounds and forehead intermittently, taking off his uniform and sponging his skin.

 “I shall never love again as long as I live,” she said, with a fierce look on her face that added ten years, if it were possible.
I realised then that she had been true to her word, and for the first time, I liked her.