After the second of our solo offerings in this sequence, Eden Baylee and I are back with the next in our ongoing series of 800-word collaborations. This one was started by Eden and follows the usual pattern of us alternating 200-word sections with no discussion of where the story should go or what points – if any – it should make. We just want readers to enjoy them. If you need to know more about the project, you’ll find it here.

Prompt: She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change..
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill


Can Live Without Them

The sound of a jackhammer outside the window woke Lidia from a deep sleep. For a second, she had no idea where she was and why the room looked so bright, then it hit her. She wasn’t in bed. It was the middle of the afternoon, and she’d fallen asleep at her desk—a first! She stood up and stretched her arms above her head. Her butt hurt, and her lower back ached from sitting on the plastic chair. She closed her laptop and headed downstairs.

The house was quiet.

“Tim? Where are you?”

No answer.

In the kitchen, the dishes piled in the sink, and the smell of garbage wrinkled her nose.

Why did she always have to clean up his mess?

She bagged the rotting garbage and threw it outside in the bin. The noise of roadwork sounded again. She walked around the corner and saw workmen breaking up a part of the street. There was one worker operating the machinery while another three stood and watched. She approached them and gesticulated with her hands to say, What’s going on?

One of the men saw her. He raised his palm at her and screamed “Don’t come any closer!”


Even in her still befuddled state, the irony of his words raised a smile. Usually the shouts she got from building workers carried invitations which not only suggested moving nearer to them but involved removing various articles of clothing before doing so. His warning was unnecessary anyway; she didn’t even want to be in the same street as that pounding hammer and the dust and chunks of material it was throwing up. Also, her mute question was superfluous because, lying along the pavement beside the workmen were several long PVC drainage pipes obviously ready for laying. As a writer of crime fiction, she knew exactly what they were and how frequently, in fiction at least, they were seen as convenient disposal channels for various body parts. Disregarding the man’s continuing gestures, she stepped onto the pavement and looked more closely at them. They were wider than she’d expected and, slowly, the possibility formed that they might help her resolve the dead end she’d reached in the plot of her latest story. Eager to develop it, she waved at the man, turned and walked back, grateful that there would be no Tim there to barge in yet again and disturb her.


By the time the sun set, Lidia finally stopped tapping at her keyboard. The brief interaction with the road workers was all she had needed to energize her novel. Now, as she reread her chapter with smug satisfaction, something else tugged at her—hunger. She had missed lunch but was in no mood to cook.

And where the heck was Tim?

Lidia threw on a light jacket and headed out. She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked.

He didn’t bother to look up. “Suit yourself,” he said.

Lidia motioned to a server and asked for scotch on the rocks before sitting down with a menu. She was happy before she walked in. Now doom and gloom in the form of her son sucked away any joy she had felt.

“Look Tim, I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m not putting up with this any longer. If you don’t like living with me, then move out. My house is not a hotel, and I’m not your maid.” She knew he had nowhere else to go, but their little arrangement was no longer working for her.


“OK,” said Tim. “I’ll start looking for a flat.”

His dull, bored tone surprised her as much as his words. She couldn’t help but reply, “And who’ll be paying the rent?”

He shrugged. “Probably Dad. At least till I get my uni grant.”

“Have you asked him?”

“No need. I know he’ll do it. He’s… different.”

It was another matter-of-fact, throwaway remark.

“What do you mean? Different from what?”

Tim lifted his head. The directness of his gaze disturbed her.

“Not what, Mom, Who.”

Some seconds passed.

“Me, you mean?—Me?”

Tim nodded.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, his voice low, gentle. “You’re a great mom. I’m proud of you. And not just for the books. But you don’t live in the same world as us. As me and Dad.”

Lidia started to reply but he went on.

“The things that bug me can’t be solved by some tricky bit of plotting. Dad’s the same. He didn’t want to leave. He’s still in…”

He stopped. Shook his head.

“He told me he couldn’t be what you wanted. And I’m the same. I can’t either. I’m a waste of space. And I know you’re not my maid.”

He stood up.

“Bye, Mom.”


All comments welcome.


 I’m finding that having to follow the strict guidelines Eden Baylee and I set out when we began the collaborative adventure of writing 4-part stories with 200 words in each part is proving interesting even when, as this month, the stories are not collaborations but, to vary the experiment, solo efforts. You’ll find Eden’s separate take on the same prompt here.

Prompt: “You could make a living doing that kind of thing.” I suppose I could, but I’d never thought about it, until then.



 Old people always try to let you know they’re better than you, that they’ve ‘learned from experience’. They don’t always say it but they seem to hint that they’re always right about all sorts of things. And if they’re not doing that, they seem to be able to make their silences about stuff seem very loud, very sort of expressive. They don’t need to bother disapproving of what you’re doing; their little head-shakings and sighings say everything they need. It’s like you’ve come into the room all happy or excited or something and run straight into a blanket, one that’s not even warm. You try to get enthusiastic about something, share it with them, and they do those little smiles that aren’t smiles. Sort of ghosts trying to get into their faces.

In fact, very early on, I stopped telling them what I’d been doing and just asked how they were. They always had plenty to say then, not just about whatever aches and pains were in the news but also how much they’d suffered, especially ‘when they were my age’. And that was when they said weird things like ‘You lot, you don’t know you’re born’. What’s that mean?


I’m only 12. I’ve still got a lot to learn. I know that. They don’t need to tell me. And they certainly don’t need to try to make me feel such a dumbo that all I do is creep about like some cat or dog and lick their hands (or probably bums for some of them). So I keep quiet most of the time. They don’t really know about Jill, for instance. They think they do, but they don’t. She’s weird. Used to play football and other boy things, then, all of a sudden, she’s wearing lipstick and dresses, putting blue stuff on her eyelids and sticking bows and fancy things in her hair. She says her uncle Norman likes her like that. He buys them for her. He’s old, but I don’t even think he’s her uncle.

One day, she asked me to touch her chest. I know that’s supposed to be good but it was just weird. There was this round bit, not very big. More of a lump, really. She looked at me but I just felt embarrassed.

‘D’you like that?’ she said.

I didn’t really but I didn’t want to upset her so I said, ‘Yes’.


I don’t know why she did that. I really didn’t understand it. Maybe that’s why I changed. Yes, changed. I stopped going out as much. But that was probably because Dad  bought me that wood carving set, too. I loved it. I’d always made things, even when I was little, but they were just with plasticine and stuff like that. Mum told Dad off. She said giving me sharp chisels was stupid but Dad knew I’d be able to use them properly. And I did. I loved sliding them into the little logs and seeing the pale, shiny wood when I stripped the bark off it. I spent hours in the garage making all sorts of things – owls, bears, even horses, although their legs were hard to do. Horses’ legs are so skinny. At first, Mum let me put them on shelves in the dining room but, in the end, there were too many so I had a sort of menagerie or zoo in my bedroom. It was great. Dad said it made him proud. He said, “You could make a living doing that kind of thing.” I suppose I could, but I’d never thought about it, until then.


But even Dad got it wrong. It wasn’t work. It was play. I enjoyed it. I didn’t want money for it. Like I said, I’m 12. I don’t need to ‘make a living’. I get money from him and Mum. They’re not old but they still say the sort of things that old people say. For instance, when Jill came last week asking why I wasn’t going out like I used to, Mum said to me, ‘That girl’s no better than she should be’. Now what does that mean? It makes no sense. It made me want to ask Jill about it, whether she knew what it meant. But I don’t think I can. Yesterday, at school, she said she wasn’t allowed to play with me any more. At first, when I asked why, she just shook her head and didn’t say anything. But that just made me more curious, so I sort of nagged at her till she told me. She said her uncle Norman’s said if he sees her with me again, he’s going to do some horrible things to me. I don’t know why, but she looked really scared when she said it and I believed her.


All comments welcome.




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.”



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.