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
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.
I look at the embracing couple again and call out “Robbie”.
The man looks across at me.
“How about sex?”
He looks genuinely sorry.
“I will,” says the woman.
As usual, we’d love to hear your feedback.
This story was out there , even for us!
Just the way it should be. No holds barred.
I really loved the first part, great setting and characters. After that I got lost a little. The focus on the sex, while the intriguing sentence from the first part remains unanswered: ‘ It was the last time I slept with a man. ‘ Why? Maybe I missed something?
I can’t speak for Eden, of course, but all I can say is that such a bizarre (absurdist?) prompt made me feel I had carte blanche to write any fantastical thing that occurred to me (in keeping with the starting material Eden provided). It was more or less the approach I took in my first novel, The Sparrow Conundrum. In an absurd world the concept of ‘meaning’ comes a long way down the list of priorities (which seems an appropriate stance to take faced with today’s plagues – physical and political).