800 WORD STORY ~ MEANINGS

 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.

***

 Meanings

 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.

 

 

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 ~ SAFE BET

By way of variation, Eden Baylee and I, who have been co-writing stories for our blogs since January this year (and before that on R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast), decided to intersperse the collaborations with solo efforts. We thought it would be interesting to apply the same basic principles (outlined in our introduction  to the series  here ) but rather than be alternate narrators, to write separate, individual stories based on the same prompt. This is mine.

Prompt: Tom lost 25 bucks at the races
Parts 1 to 4: Bill

***

Safe Bet

One Saturday in October, Tom lost 25 bucks at the races. He’d lost a lot more over the years, along with Rick, Jim and his other mates, but for all of them it was easy come, easy go. The times they went home with a (rare) profit just increased their addiction and brought them back to watch short-odds favourites cruise home while their own long-odds choices, that might win sixty or a hundred bucks for a single dollar outlay, trailed home exhausted as the winner pranced around the paddock tossing its head as if ready to do it all again.

But this loss was different. Tom wasn’t rich. 25 bucks was a significant chunk of his week’s wages. But the amount mattered in another, more important bet. With Julie.

In fact, this had been one of his better weeks. So much so that his winnings over the five days added up to 175 dollars. Putting 200 on the losing favourite in the last race was a deliberate, win-win strategy. He’d either win a packet or lose the bet with Julie, which meant when the season ended, he’d have proved his proposal was sincere and they could have a Spring wedding.

+++

Even though they’d been together for three years and neither was interested in other people, little differences in temperament, personality, beliefs kept surfacing, leading to days, sometimes weeks of silences and apparent cooling off periods. They always managed to overcome the differences in the end but when, in September, Tom confessed that, because of a bad streak on the horses, he couldn’t afford to go to a gig she’d been looking forward to, Julie had had enough.

“Again?” she said. “That’s the sixth time. You’ve known the date since July.”

Tom shrugged, shamefaced. “I know, but…” was all he could manage.

“But what?”

“I’ve tried but I haven’t been able to save enough.”

“Because you didn’t want to. It’s the same for me, but I’ve still managed to…”

“It’s not the same. They’ve been laying guys off at my place. I’m lucky I’ve still got the job.”

“Pity your luck’s not the same at the horses.”

Instead of bridling at the cheap jibe, Tom just shook his head.

“Anyway,” he said, “I was trying to save for something else.”

“What?”

Tom turned his head, looked away from her and, his voice low, almost an apology, said, “Us to get married”.

+++

The silence that followed was eloquent. All thoughts of the gig, money, horses, tumbled away to leave fantasies, hopes, impossibilities.

Julie’s reactive “What the…?” never developed into a coherent question because if this was what Tom thought was a proposal she should take it seriously.

The trouble was, they weren’t serious people. She liked gigs, he liked racing with Rick, Jim and the rest. They were just kids. With kids’ obsessions. Kids didn’t get married.

“D’you mean it?” she said at last.

Tom could only nod.

“Ask me,” Julie said.

“Ask what?”

“Ask me to marry you.”

After a long pause, during which they just stared at one another, Tom said, “I really love you, Julie. Will you marry me?”

She nodded and said, “OK”.

They kissed and, eventually, she pushed herself away from him and said, “Here’s the deal”.

When he tried to reply, she put her finger on his lips and went on, “I bet you can’t go a whole month without going to the races…”

But he was already shaking his head. She stopped, then started again.

“I bet you can’t keep your losses under twenty dollars a day for a week.”

“It’s a deal,” said Tom.

+++

200 dollars was the biggest bet Tom had ever made. It hurt to hand so much back to the bookies, but it meant Julie had won. The wedding was still on so he wasn’t a loser.

After that, the strength he’d felt in making that choice made it easier for him to resist the lure of the track. He and Julie spent more time together. Life was comfortable. But boring.

Then, on a warm, gorgeous day in early April, with the wedding date just 10 days away, he got the note. It was a scrap torn from a newspaper with a list of runners and riders for the following day. A big circle had been drawn around a horse in the 3.30: Bless the Bride, trained by Tom Julien.

Tom had never seen a more obvious sign. Rick and the others had been trying all winter to get him back to the track. They must have seen this and grabbed their chance. Tom smiled, folded the paper and tucked it into his shirt pocket. Four streets away, at the house she lived in with her mum, Julie bundled up the week’s newspapers to take them out to the recycling bin.

***

If you haven’t already done so, please visit Eden’s blog for her response to the same prompt. Next month, we’ll get back to our collaborative efforts but, for these solo efforts, all comments are still welcome.