Friday, 28 May 2010

Breakfast Storm (#fridayflash)

He’d left her sitting legs crossed at the dining table in her pink silk dressing gown, sipping a glass of orange juice, staring at his cold cup of coffee and wondering about the future of their marriage.

Leanne and Damien usually breakfasted together early, before the kids were up, because he had to leave for work by seven. It was an opportunity to spend time together. This morning had been no different, except he’d left earlier than usual, at her demand. They hadn’t argued, although now she wished they had. She’d been baiting him for an argument, she knew that, but instead he’d given her what she said she really wanted: the truth. He’d told his story, and now she understood him. Now she wished she hadn’t asked.

She’d gone upstairs to her bedroom, and was furiously applying her make-up. She told her self she was glad he was gone, glad she’d spoilt his happy mood

“Would you like some toast, love?” he’d asked. He even buttered it for her, and added her favourite, raspberry jam. He’d kissed her on the head as he placed the plate in front of her.

He was happy, so it seemed the right time to ask.

“Can we go on holiday by the sea this year?” she’d said.

He’d looked at her with his azure eyes, with his sad gentle eyes that were always bloodshot because he never slept well, and seeing the hurt, she knew she’d asked the wrong question. If she was honest with herself, she’d known it was the wrong question before she’d asked it. But living by the sea was her dream, and they had the money to do it. Damien had his own business. He could work from almost anywhere. But when she’d asked if they could move by the sea he’d snapped no, he liked the city. She decided then she’d at least try to live her dream for two weeks a year. She’d been pressing for them to holiday by the sea, instead of the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds made the other school mums jealous. But it didn’t have a beach.

Damien shook his head, not like he was saying no, but despairing, like he wanted to say “why did you have to ask again?”

She felt guilty for upsetting him, but she wouldn’t admit it. She folded her arms.

“Why not?” she asked.

“I’d prefer not to. Please don’t ask why.”

This was what she expected. He’d done this before, then started a story of a haunted cottage by the sea. It sounded like a bad dream to her, but he’d never finished the story. He’d mention the cottage, then he couldn’t go on.

She watched him stir his coffee in a swirling pattern, gripping the teaspoon too tight. She waited. Usually she’d nag him to tell her. But this time she waited. Her patience paid off.

“I shouldn’t have let her go,” he said.

Leanne tensed. Under the table, her foot was shaking. This was a new story. There was another woman. He’d never mentioned her before. He was holding his forehead in his hand, rubbing his temples, staring down at the table.

“You told me you were single,” she said. “You never said you were divorced. Is that why you don’t like holidays by the sea? They remind you of her?” Leanne was seething.

“Yes,” he said. “I mean, no. Yes, they remind me, yes, I was single when I met you.” He was nearly crying. “Will you listen Leanne? Will you let me finish?”

Leanne sat silent, her eyes glaring. It meant he could continue.

“She was called Hannah. When we were on holiday, we’d go swimming together in the sea everyday. It was our special thing. We both loved the sea. We’d go every year. We stayed in my favourite cottage, near the village where I grew up. Hannah liked me taking her there.

“One evening on our last holiday we were woken by the thunder. The rain was coming down in torrents. She wanted to go swimming in the storm.

“I said no, it was too late, I wanted to sleep. So she said she’d go on her own. I said no, she mustn’t.

“I should have insisted. I knew the legends, I’d learnt them as a child. There’s wisdom in the old legends. I told Hannah the legend: ‘On the day of the storm, one day a year, the sea spirits come to claim a human life. They come for a sacrifice.’ She laughed. She laughed, so I didn’t insist. Every day since I ask myself: Why didn’t I insist?”

Damien was crying now, but Leanne wouldn’t touch him. Her arms were still folded and she’d crossed her legs. He’d loved another woman. He still loved another woman.

He was too upset to stop. He needed to tell the story.

“She looked like a goddess as she stood on the beach, naked in the rain, her sodden hair blown wild by the violent winds. She looked fierce, ready for battle, ready to slaughter.

“When she dived into the waves, the winds roared with malevolent laughter, and I knew she was gone, I knew she’d never be back. But I didn’t believe my feelings. ‘Stop being so superstitious,’ I told myself.

“I watched at the window. I watched for an hour. Then I called the coastguard. They wouldn’t go out searching in the storm.

“She never returned. They searched for her body, but they never found it.”

“I was single when I met you Leanne. Widowed, single. Not divorced.”

Leanne was crying too now. Damien reached for her hand across the table, but she flinched and pulled away.

“Leanne?” he asked.

“Just go,” she said.

He reached for her hand again. “Leanne, please.”

“Just go.”

He’d left his coffee and his toast and gone upstairs to kiss the kids goodbye before he left.

“Goodbye Leanne,” he said after he’d put on his coat. The car keys jangled in his hand. His eyes were still moist and puffy.

She didn’t reply. She didn’t know how to. She stared at her orange juice, waiting for him to go.

Eventually, he gave up waiting for her to speak. The front door clicked shut. She wasn’t sure if he’d be back. She wasn’t sure if she wanted him back.

She checked the clock. In five minutes the kids would be up. She gulped her orange juice, slammed the empty glass down on the table, and stomped upstairs to put on her make-up.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Mid-life Reality (#fridayflash)

Jason's dream of being famous didn't shatter in an instant.  It crept away slowly through the years of performing in cheap taverns, meat-market nightclubs, and at friends' weddings.  One particular night, not long after Jason's forty-seventh birthday, the final remnants of his dream slunk away as he slept, without fanfare.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Bibliophilia (#fridayflash)

He slams the book down onto his desk and stares out the arched window, clasping a wrinkled hand over his forehead. The hum of cars driving past agitates him, like the wasps that buzz in his garden when he's trying to enjoy a tankard of cool beer. He'll need a beer soon. But first he grabs the book and throws it at the wall. Its pages crumple on impact, and it crashes to the floor.

"Bloody rubbish," he says.

He walks across to his kitchen, and takes a can of beer from the fridge, pouring it into his tankard.  He swears to himself as he sips it.  The beer calms him down.

When he's finished he picks up his wallet and walks out onto the street towards the bookshop.  As always he goes the the secondhand section - a book that's been read must be worth reading - and chooses a title that attracts his attention.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The girl at the counter never lets him pay full price.

"That's two-fifty," she says.

He hands over a fiver, and tells the shop assistant she must take the full three pounds.  She gives him too much change, and he pretends not to notice.

Back at his flat, he scuttles upstairs, goes to straight to his study and sits at the desk.  He holds the book tight to his chest, feeling its energy.

"This is the one," he tells himself.

He lifts the book to his face, breathing its aroma.

This is the one.

He flicks the pages with his fingertips, listening to their gentle click.

This will be the one.

With trembling hands he places the book on his desk and opens the cover.

As he begins to read, he stops shaking.  The words meet his eyes and hold him, enchanted.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Snarky Tree: A Parable (#fridayflash)

No one knows who made the first snide remark, whether it was the roots or the trunk or the branches or the leaves.  Common consensus blames it on the soil, although the soil vehemently denies this assertion.

The soil, it is said, grew weary of its lowly station, beneath all other things. In its insecurity, it began to assert its superiority.  The soil, it is true, is intimate with the internal rhythms of the earth.  Most soils in the world find delight in this intimacy.  But the soil beneath the tree began to wonder what it was missing out on by being mere soil.

"Tsk," it whispered to itself one autumn.   "I don't know why I waste my time beneath this tree listening to the noisy rustle of falling leaves, things of little consequence, when I could be beneath a great city, hearing the deeds of great men."

Thus the soil came to the  conclusion that it was superior to the tree, and it began to pass its time thinking about how it could arrange a move to the city.

Roots, you may know, are sensitive, gentle beings, and when they overheard the musings of the soil, they were much affronted.

"What's the soil getting so high and mighty about?" the roots said to one another.  "It may know the rhythm of the earth better than we can, but it certainly cannot sense the mood of things like we do.  And it puts the nutrients it creates into such awkward places for us to reach, so we are forced to keep growing."

The roots became angry with the soil, and began to waste their days gossiping with one another about the soil’s rudeness.

The trunk, being connected with the roots, overheard their gossiping, and though it was slow of mind, it gradually understood that they were dissatisfied.

"Why are the roots complaining?" the trunk said.  "They live in a warm bed of soil, and they are only there because they are weak and could not stand firm in the mighty winter winds as I do. They have no toughness or strength."

The branches overheard the words of the trunk and, understandably, they became annoyed.

"Why does the trunk think itself better because it is strong?” they asked one another.  “We may not be strong but we have learned to taste the winds and to dance to their wishes.  No one dances quite like us."

The leaves begged to differ.  Not only did they believe themselves to be better dancers than the branches, but they were also the ones who had made friends with the light.

"Who do the branches think they are?" the leaves asked one another.  "If we had not made friends with the light, we wouldn't be able to share with them the life light gives to us."

Eventually, after a year of bickering between the soil and the roots and the trunk and the branches and the leaves, autumn came again, and the leaves fell, as they did every year.  And the soil complained again about the noisy inconsequential rustle the leaves made.

Winter passed and spring came, but no leaves grew on the tree.

Later that year, it died, and  when the mighty winter winds arrived it fell to the ground of the forest with an empty thud.