800 WORD STORY ~ MISTAKES, LIES, AND HYPOCRITES

The seventh of the 800-word stories created by author Eden Baylee and myself takes another sideways look at the way (some) people behave. (Incidentally, the choice of title also provoked a friendly debate between us about what’s known as the Oxford – or Serial – Comma).

In case you’re unfamiliar with the story series, you’ll find its background information (although nothing about that comma)  here.

Prompt: She started taking up a lot of bad habits
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill

***

Mistakes, Lies, and Hypocrites

She started taking up a lot of bad habits after her husband died. With no more sense of duty or commitment, Laura got up late, ate whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and only showered when she could no longer stand her own stench. She hardly left the house, and their friends, most of whom had stuck by her because they loved her husband, now knew better than to show up uninvited. Ron was the one with the open-door policy when he was alive, not her.

His wheelchair sat in the corner of the living room where he’d spent his last days and nights, quietly watching television or listening to music. He went from someone who could not sit still to someone who sat still all the time.

Ron had suggested they stay the night with the Jordans after the party, but she wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed. Being the more sober of the two, she drove.

If only she had seen the flashing hazard lights sooner, she would have avoided plowing into the semi-truck parked on the shoulder of the highway, causing the accident that paralyzed and would eventually kill her husband.

***

It was Jill who first remarked on her transition to ‘the new Laura’. Jill the soft-spoken Christian, Jill the “I’m only saying it for your own good, dear”, Jill whose husband had left her six months into their marriage, but not until he’d slept with every other woman on the street except Deirdre.

“I know how hard it is, darling, but you must try to forgive yourself,” she’d said, “The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away”.

I wish hed bloody take you away, thought Laura, wanting to throw the chamomile tea Jill had asked for in her face and get back to the bottle of Sauvignon she’d started at breakfast.

“Guilt’s such a self-destructive thing. Eats into your soul,” Jill continued, her smile at odds with the sanctimonious narrowing of her eyes. “It won’t let the old Laura I knew free to be who she really is.” She ended with a sigh of false sorrow.

Bugger the old Laura, Laura thought. Kow-towing to stupid old farts like you, shoving that bloody wheelchair about the place, pretending to laugh at Rons crap jokes or give a shit about whether parsley roots a substitute for celeriac. I prefer the new me.

***

Laura picked up the phone and dialled a number. It went to voicemail after three rings. She hung up, pressed the redial button—voicemail again. She hit redial continuously for another ten minutes until a woman’s voice answered.

“Hi Penny.”

“Laura?”

“Yes.”

A pause lasted longer than was comfortable. Laura waited until Penny finally said, “It’s been a while. How are you?”

“Keeping to myself, you know … since Ron died.”

“I understand.” The meek voice on the other end betrayed nothing.

Laura had imagined this conversation numerous times, but she couldn’t have prepared for it. “What exactly do you understand?” she finally said.

“Ron was a good man.”

Laura bit down hard on her lip before speaking. “Cut the bullshit, I know about you and Ron, Penny.” A pause again, only this time she wasn’t waiting for a response. “You were having an affair before the accident. Ron said you were even planning to run away together, only … you can’t run away with a cripple, can you?”

“Laura, don’t be crude, please let me explain—”

“No! You listen to me. I took care of him because I put him in that wheelchair. But you … my big sister, how could you?”

+++

“Laura. Please. I know you’re under stress…”

“You know bugger-all, Penny. You’re like the rest of them. Sick!”

She let the silence hang between them, intrigued to know how Penny would wriggle out of this one, but not really caring.

It wasn’t just about Penny and Ron anyway. Laura was sick of all the sympathy and forgiveness on offer, didn’t want it, loathed the falsity it masked. The Jordans cancelling any parties in the immediate future out of respect for Ron, and Jill’s God-given clichés being parroted by all her other consoling visitors. Christ, she’d even received a “condolences” email with kittens on it from bloody Deirdre. The truth was that the Ron whose niceness they were all celebrating had been a bastard. Like Laura, he’d despised the mendacity and corrosion beneath the various facades of their close little community, but concealed his contempt under an easily manufactured charm.

The dragging silence calmed Laura. “You know what?” she said at last, her voice drained of anger. “I’m sick of all this fucking hypocrisy.”

She gave a sharp, bitter laugh, then went on “You were fucking my husband but I’m the bad guy … Really? OK, what the hell. Deal with it.”

***

We’d love to hear your reactions to the stories.

 

 

800 WORD STORY ~ TWAT

After last month’s variation with our solo efforts, Eden Baylee and I get back to normal with the fourth in the series of 800-word collaborative stories. This one has a blunt, uncompromising title but it’s definitely not gratuitously intended. Honestly.  If you’re new to this whole 800 word story idea, the background to it is spelled out here.

Prompt: It wasn’t so much that I’d been blind to the truth. It was just that I’d seen the truth differently.
Parts 1 and 3: Bill
Parts 2 and 4: Eden

***

Twat

Teachers generally don’t get a good press. Oh yes, there are the pious words in the broadsheets about dedication, vocational callings, responsibility for preparing the next generation and the rest, but alongside them are the mutterings from parents who have ‘real’ jobs and envy them their long holidays and 9 to 4 working days in centrally heated classrooms.

But those same parents are glad enough when the school holidays end and they can dump their brats at the school gates and let some other poor sod look after them for the rest of the day.

For me, it all came out when Kenny Briggs told his dad, Big Kenny, a bricklayer, that I’d said in Social Studies that women were second-class citizens.  Well, I had. And it’s true. Most women are still treated like skivvies. But the way Kenny told it, his dad reckoned I’d been slagging off his mum. Well, I had in a way. I’d seen the two of them at a parents’ evening and it was pretty obvious to me that Mrs Briggs was basically bullied by both Kennys.

But then, a couple of days later, Big Kenny turns up and I’m called into the headmaster’s room.

+++

Mr. Wiltshire, our headmaster, is a giant. He stands two metres tall with long limbs and a barrel chest. It’s like the parting of the Red Sea when he walks the hallways; students scurry out of his way. Rumour has it he played basketball in his youth, almost made the pros but for a barroom fight that ended his career. He wears a patch over his left eye after glass flew into his face from a broken beer bottle—so the story goes.

“Have a seat, Mr. Thomas.”

Wiltshire points to a chair when I enter his office. The big man is sitting behind his desk. “This is Mr. Briggs.” He motions to Kenny’s dad who is seated in front of him.

I sit down and swallow hard. My mouth feels dry as sand.

Mr. Wiltshire reads from a paper on his desk. “Mr. Briggs has brought me upsetting news, and I want you to explain yourself.”

I clear my throat. “Yes, sir.”

Big Kenny spews in my direction. “My boy said you called my wife a twat! I should smack you—”

“Quiet!” Wiltshire jumps up, arm extended toward Big Kenny like a policeman stopping traffic. “I’m in charge here.”

+++

He was right, of course. It was his school. He was wearing his gown, but this was macho stuff and they were like a pair of Sumo wrestlers. My chances looked slim. On the other hand, I’d seen through Wiltshire ages ago, knew I had his measure. The gown was a giveaway, too. When he’d first come to the school, he’d used his brawn to disguise his deficiency of brain. Real academics scared him. Most of the staff were intimidated by his bluster, but I didn’t buy it, right from the start. It wasn’t so much that I’d been blind to the truth. It was just that I’d seen the truth differently. It gave me the edge I needed.

“Mr Briggs,” I said, keeping my voice soft but screwing my face into what I hoped looked like shock.

Big Kenny just stared at me, malevolence personified.

“As you’re no doubt aware,” I continued, forcing my shock to dissolve into (I hoped again) concern, “the vulgar derogatory epithet ‘twat’ is the common man’s term for ‘vulva’ or ‘vagina’, i.e. female genitalia. Etymologically, its derivation is uncertain but, conjecturally, it may be from the Old Norse ‘thveit’or ‘thwāt’, meaning a slit.”

+++

Big Kenny’s mouth hangs open. He looks to Wiltshire. “You letting him talk to me like that?”

The headmaster lowers himself back into his chair. “Please, Mr Briggs. I’m trying to get to the bottom of this.” He turns to face me. “What are you talking about?”

“Sir, you asked me to explain, so that’s what I’m doing.”

The large man takes a deep breath and nods for me to continue.

“I’m taking Ms. Jenkin’s Advanced English class this term. One of her assignments is to read up on the history of words and use them intelligently in conversation. I’m starting with words related to the female anatomy.”

Big Kenny tries to chime in but Wiltshire cuts him off. “Get to the point,” he says, curtly.

“Yes, sir.” A part of me feels giddy. “I did not call Mr. Briggs’ wife a twat. I called his son a twat because he was not being very nice to his mum. You see, twat can also mean an obnoxious person.”

Wiltshire leans back in his chair, a look of exasperation on his face. “Get out of here,” he says to me. “And wipe that smirk off your face while you’re at it.”

***

All comments welcome.

800 WORD STORY ~ RUNAWAY DREAMS

Next  month, we’ll vary the sequence but for now  the collaborative stories created by author Eden Baylee and myself continue. If you’re new to the concept, you’ll find its background and an introduction here.

Without any specific pre-planning (as usual) this month’s story took unexpected turns and is different from those that preceded it. We hope you find it interesting.

Prompt: “If you don’t take chances,” said the man in striped pyjamas, “you might as well not be alive.”
Parts 1 and 3 and title: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill

***

Runaway Dreams

The last time I saw Robbie was 1998. It seems like much longer than twenty-two years ago, but that’s how time warps while on the run. He was the love of my life, at least for the short life I’d led up to that point. If I’d stayed in that small town, I might have met others who rivalled him for my heart. There’s no way of knowing for sure and no point in asking “what if” questions anymore. In effect, he’s gone.

Finding someone now would be difficult, almost impossible given I’m never in one place for too long. A couple of years ago, a group of circus performers stayed in the same boarding house with me for a week. It was the last time I slept with a man. He was the least attractive of the bunch, but his quirky personality drew me to him.

“If you don’t take chances,” said the man in striped pyjamas, “you might as well not be alive.”

Not exactly a great come-on line, but it did the trick for me.

In between philosophical discussions, we had sex every night until it was time for me to go.

+++

Perhaps in keeping with his clunky philosophy and his bizarre attire, the sex was pedestrian. Even, in a way, sexless. But the alternative was booze, and, needing to stay alert for any signal that it was, yet again, time to move on, I couldn’t risk that particular release. Getting caught was one of the chances I wasn’t prepared to take.

I didn’t tell him I was leaving and, to be honest, it’s never occurred to me to wonder how he reacted to it. Robbie still smiles through some of my dreams, but until now I’ve  never given poor Stripey, as I called him, a second thought.

And yet it was the so-called crime which brought us together. His act, which involved fire-eating, had gone wrong one night and, after a visit to emergency at the hospital, he’d got back late. I was the only one there and he told me everything, even showed me the burns to his chest. The costume he’d been wearing made them look like a tiger’s stripes. I sympathized. We began swapping stories, and he said what I’d done was excusable because it was what he’d call ‘justifiable revenge’. We had a tentative hug and that’s how the sex started.

+++

My mind isn’t right these days. Why else would I be thinking of Robbie and Stripey? This job isn’t working out, too much starchy fast food and sugar. I need to find a healthier place if I’m going to be paid only in food and tips.

A ruddy-faced, large woman waves to me from the corner of the room. “Miss, can I order? I’ve been waiting for ten minutes already.”

I wipe my hands down the front of my apron and make my way to her table. “Sorry. I didn’t see you come in.”

“Hard to miss me, isn’t it?” She smiles and shows off rotten teeth.

“I … I—”

“Oh don’t worry.” She hands me the menu. “Just give me the breakfast special, double helping of homefries and a chocolate milkshake.”

“Yes, Ma’am, and sorry again.”

“Be good if I could get the shake now.”

“Of course.” I dash off to ring in the order, but a man at the bar catches my eye. I don’t recall him sitting on the stool earlier. His face is partially obscured by a scarf, and he has his head down. I figure I might as well get his order before I forget.

+++

Big mistake. I sidle up to him, reach to tap him on the shoulder but change my mind and just give a little cough. He raises his head. The scarf falls away and the near empty diner is split with a scream. The big woman is standing, staring at us.

“Robbie?” she yells, half-accusation, half-question.

The man jumps to his feet, his scarf slips from his shoulders. I pick it up and try to hand it to him. But he’s already at the woman’s table and the two of them are held together in a tight embrace. Shocked though I am, I’m still moved by the tenderness in the way they look at and hold one another, but the sound of a car door closing outside gets my attention. I sigh and shake my head. It’s Mr Wilson again, still wearing that sports jacket that looks like a pyjama top, and his friend, Sergeant something-or-other. It’s not fair. I suppose I’ll have to go back with them again.

Unless…

I look at the embracing couple again and call out “Robbie”.

The man looks across at me.

“How about sex?”

“No, thanks.”

He looks genuinely sorry.

“I will,” says the woman.

***

As usual, we’d love to hear your feedback.