Thursday, January 26, 2006

Untitled - chapter 2

I wish I had something new to put up here, but I have more or less completely failed to sit down and get anything written. In lieu of something fresh though, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share with you some more of my NaNo novel.

Here's Chapter 2 (you can find chapter 1 here). If you look really closely, you might spot some autobiographical details.




My name is James Archer. I am 31 years old. I live in Nottingham in a nice house that I share with my girlfriend of 6 years. I have a small and deeply unfulfilling job as an IT Consultant for one of the largest corporations in the world. I am quite tall, but I’m otherwise pretty ordinary looking. I am ordinary. I am ordinary. I don’t really have any big problems, except that I seem to have an uncanny knack for testing my girlfriend’s patience. I don’t really know how I do it. I’m not a tidy person, although I would deny that I am an untidy person. I can see how someone might think that of me though, as I have a tendency to put things down. I put them down all over the place. As soon as I have put an object down – a CD, a piece of paper, a lighter, my car keys… whatever… that thing becomes completely invisible to me. Until I need that object again, my brain is able to totally ignore it, even if it happens to be lying on the middle of the floor of our living room. When I need it again, when I want to listen to that CD, find that bank statement or go out in my car, I know instinctively where to find it. If it’s not there, then I can become agitated:
“Have you seen my car keys?”
“They were right here, and now they’ve gone”
“In the middle of the floor?”
“Right there.”
“They were in the way. I kept tripping over them, so I picked them up and popped them on the table”
“But I left them on the floor…”
and so on….

Part of me can completely understand why Catherine might want to pick my car keys up and pop them onto the table. Who leaves keys on the floor where you can trip over them and kick them around? Sadly, part of me will never understand: I put my keys down and I knew where they were. When I discover that they have been moved, I find that a little distressing. No matter how logical the place where they were put, they were put down somewhere different to the place that I put them down.

I suppose I can’t help the way that my brain works, and sometimes I really wish that I could. I have no big problems in my life, but as I get older, I seem to be finding it harder and harder to let the little things go. It starts with the car. I walk away from the car, and I’ve not gone twenty meters when a thought creeps into my head: did you lock the door? As soon as the thought arrives, I know that I have to go back and check. I will jog back to the car, and when I am a few meters away, I will click the button on the car key, and the lights will blink at me to indicate that the car is now locked. I never go and see if the doors were actually unlocked before I hit the button. I don’t need to know. All I need to know is that the car is locked now. Sometimes this happens when I’m inside the house, or when I’m in the office. Wherever it happens, I find it extremely hard to think of something else. Once the thought has crossed my mind, I find it impossible to let it go and to think of something else. It sits in my mind. It taunts me. I have to check. The handbrake is even worse. To check that the handbrake is on, you actually have to walk right up to the car and look inside. You can’t protect your dignity and your sanity from a small distance and the press of a button. You have to walk right on up to the car, look inside and see for yourself that of course the handbrake is on.

Locking the car. Putting the handbrake on. These are both things that everybody does without thinking about them To suddenly start worrying about them seems, well, mad. Sure, occasionally you go back and you find that in fact you did leave the handbrake off, but the car didn’t run away – at least not far. Of course, discovering that I did, in fact, leave the handbrake off only reinforces the compulsion to check it. Or to find something else to worry about.

Ah, finding something else to worry about. This is a speciality of mine. I wear glasses. I have worn glasses since I was five years old. I can’t say that I am totally at one with the idea that I wear glasses, but it has never really bothered me. But suddenly it began to. My glasses started to weigh heavily upon me. I couldn’t get comfortable. They were too tight. They hurt my nose. They rode up over my ears. They weren’t straight. The lenses were scratched. Ah. Scratched lenses. If I could only have back the time I have spent peering at scratching on my lenses that I cannot actually see when the glasses are on my face. The lenses are plastic. They will scratch. I cannot see the scratches, and if I could, they aren’t really all that expensive to replace. Surely it would be easier not to worry about them, to just shrug and get on with my life? Why do I find myself compelled to look at them, to examine them? To search for imperfections? To obsessively polish them with a lens-cleaning cloth, in an attempt to keep them clean that ultimately only serves to increase the probability of scratching?

I’m not stupid. I know when I’m starting to do it. I’m wise to my brain and the tricks it tries to play on me. Does that mean I can do a damn thing about it? Not most of the time.

You’re probably amazed that I can function in society at all. Sometimes I am. You’re probably amazed that I have a girlfriend. I definitely am. I guess I have a mildly obsessive-compulsive streak. It’s funny though. What makes someone mad? Madness is a relative term and is a product of the society in which we live in and what that society deems as “normal”. I sometimes wonder how fine the line is between my mildly obsessive behaviour and being genuinely mentally ill. Not big enough to be comfortable I should think, and yet I can and do function in society. Well. Perhaps not at parties, but that’s another story.

So I was dumped by one of my oldest friends. Would you be surprised to hear that this played on my mind?

I had no right of reply. I could not stand up and defend myself against the charges. As far as Carl was concerned, that email was the final chapter in our friendship. He was putting our twenty years of friendship behind him and he was moving on to his other friends. The ones he felt more comfortable with, the ones he looked forward to seeing again. I’m sorry. Am I sounding bitter? I’m afraid I can’t help it. I just don’t understand.

“Why would you dump a friend” I asked Catherine.
“I don’t know”
“I know he’s getting married, but Juliette always seemed so nice. Not friendly exactly… but perfectly welcoming. It couldn’t be because of her, could it?”
“I don’t know”
“But it’s not fair. Who goes out of their way to end a friendship? Why couldn’t he have just been like a normal person and let it wither?”
“Look. I don’t know. How long have you known him?”
“We met in 1981”
“So more than twenty years?”
“Well it does seem odd, but perhaps he felt that he needed to move on.
“I just don’t understand”

It’s true. I don’t understand, and I don’t think I ever will. He’s always been a bit, well, odd…. But maybe it’s me. Perhaps this is the effect that I have on people. Maybe my other friends can’t wait to be shot of me as well and are only waiting for the right moment.

“Well why don’t you ask some of them?”. Catherine was looking up from her newspaper. This was familiar territory. I had clearly been rambling on about this for long enough, and loudly enough to distract her from the crossword. “Why don’t you ring some of them up and ask them?”
“What do you mean”, I said, knowing full well what she meant. She meant that I should stop moaning, pick up the phone and chat to my mates. Seek reassurance from the people I was closest to.

I don’t think she really understands the relationship I have with my oldest friends. Like most men, I can have a telephone conversation with my mates that sounds to the casual observer a little something like this:
“….. ……”
“Me too.”
and so on for about 5 minutes, and apparently sometimes consisting entirely of grunts. When I hang up, a by-now-very curious Catherine looks up at me.
“What was that all about?”
“I’m meeting John in half and hour at the cinema. We’re going to see the new Kevin Smith film at about 9pm, then we’re going to head over to the ‘City Duck’ for a pint and perhaps on to a pizza.”
“You arranged all of that just now? On the phone?”
“But I only heard grunts. How?”
“Dunno. We also talked about getting all the lads together for a weekend at the Test Match next year.”

I don’t really have phone conversations with my mates to seek reassurance or to discuss my feelings. I have phone conversations with them to make concrete plans to do something. That something usually involves meeting up to watch sport or to go to a gig, and it certainly involves beer. Why would I want to talk to these people about the way I’m feeling? They’re my friends. Why would they want to know about that.

Of course, being dumped by Carl was something that didn’t just affect me, it was also going to have repercussions amongst our circle of friends. Everyone has a circle of friends don’t they? You meet someone and become friendly with them, and over time you get to know the other people they hang about with – their partner, their mates, and their house-mate. Sometimes you become friendly with them and they become more than just friends-of-friends and become mates in their own right. Carl and I have known each other for more than twenty years from the day we first met at school. We had school friends in common. I knew some of his friends from university, and some of his friends from his life in London. Many of these I would be able to drop without a second thought (especially that guy I have met about once, but he somehow wangled his way into our Fantasy Football League and proceeded to win it every year). But others…. Others are a part of the fabric of my life, and I can’t let them go so easily. Some of them I have known for nearly as long as I have known Carl. We went to the same schools. We hung out together. They are my mates, and they are Carl’s mates. I have been dumped and they have not been dumped. How are they supposed to react to this news? When a couple of your acquaintance splits up, although there is often much noble talk about remaining friendly with both halves, in reality this is an extremely difficult trick to carry off, and you always end up choosing. Is this the same scenario? Are our friends going to have to sit down and decide between us? Is this an exercise that they can go through by themselves, or are they able to have some kind of conference to discuss it, to list out the pros and cons.

Maybe I should call them. I think I might need to state my case.


I'm away next week, but maybe I'll get something written the week after, eh?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Some Dance To Forget

Posted per the request of my favorite author...


Give me something. Anything. There seem to be moments when I am so empty, like there is nothing there but hollow, wandering thoughts and a non-stop parade of memories I would rather not relive. My life, it hasn’t been all bad, but then, there’s not been that much good has there, or I wouldn’t be laying here in this bathtub wishing for nothing more than the courage it takes to scream aloud every frustration I have. And I have them, to be sure, plenty of them. Who doesn’t anymore?

That’s the thing, though. No one seems to care about anything anymore. We’ve all got our own problems and our own worries. Who has time to check on their friends or their family when they can barely see above the rising tide of all the things they have to take care of, all the things they have to worry about, and then some that maybe they don’t need to worry about, but do anyway. I know I don’t. Have time, I mean. I don’t have the time to think of all the people who might be worried about whether or not I am doing well my first time out on my own. Likely there aren’t many.

Certainly not my mother. My selfish, annoying mother, who would forsake her own children for the love of a crack dealer who has no intention of taking care of her or thinking about her future. Only thinking of spiriting her away from her miserable marriage with promises of change, Tantra and other things I can’t bear to dream of. No, somewhere, she is in a cramped apartment, living with him and believing she can be happy if she just tells herself she is, the same way she always has, the same way she always will. God will make it all better eventually, she’ll tell herself. God will reward her for her patience...God my ass. If there is such a thing, it’s a huge cosmic joke and the laugh isn’t on God. I’ll tell you that. Imagine for a moment, if you can, that you are all powerful. You are all knowing. You are all seeing. And you can do anything you like. You created the world, everything in it. Do you really think that you would take time to check in on each of the workers in you cosmic ant farm? Because I know I wouldn’t. I can barely be assed to keep up with people I like, let alone all the people I have ever met. No sir, if I had created the universe I’d be in Tahiti with a lovely woman on my arm, and handsome fellow feeding me fresh fruit and marveling at all the lovely things I can get people to do, all because I am God.

I pick up the soap and have a little laugh to myself, for a moment, seeing that God [if there is such a thing] and my mom have just a little in common, too much to do for themselves to check in on their own creation. She’s like that, my mother, being compared to God. But not a Goddess, mind you, that’s heresy.The soap feels strangely cool tonight as I wash myself. That may be that the water is a lot hotter than I normally run it. Its steaming tonight, nearly boiling, and my neurotic masochism has turned my skin a bright pink already. But I don’t mind it so much as it feels different, and as lonely as I am, and bored, different is alright. Either way, the soap is delightfully cold. I am using a bar tonight. Not one of those fluffy things that I get in gift sets every year from people who have no idea what I like or who I am, nor one of those gels that you can buy even at the local grocery store now. No, tonight I have a plain, boring bar of washing soap. And it smells clean. And refreshing. And different.

I am afraid I haven’t really got the energy to do what I have to do tonight. I don’t feel like going out, being pretty, being charming, getting people to want to be around me or be with me. No, I don’t feel like that in the least. But old habits die hard, and I will go, same as I have, night after night for nearly a year now, and I will laugh. I will talk and I will dance. It will be alright, once I make it to the dance floor. I always manage to forget how terrible things are when I am dancing. I feel better, freer. Happy, almost. You know that song by the Eagles where they say some dance to forget? That’s me they were talking about.

So to forget, to be beautiful the way only I know how to be, I have to be here, in this too hot bath, listening to the echos of the people in my apartment, chattering and flirting and laughing below while I get ready. I suppose I ought to hurry, someone might have to pee. But you know, I can’t be troubled by it. Its my place, right?

So I pick up the razor and I move my candles a little closer and I lather the soap much thicker than I have been. My legs are long, I know this, and I am blessed with a nice complexion, but it still means that shaving is both necessary and a nuisance. I was never much of a shaver, blame that on my mother as well, not letting me start until I could nearly drive a car. So I have to take my time, running the razor over my leg gently, in slow strokes I make as steady as I can.

Its about the only thing I make steady in myself. Sometimes it seems to me like my spirit is slamming up against the inside of my body, trying desperately to find a weakness in the fortress. One day I fear it will, and I will finally go flying out of my body and away from everything around me at last. It won’t come soon enough, if you ask me.There was once I felt it, when I was still in high school.

There was a guy who worked with me at my after school job, and he was a witch. Or a male witch. A mystic or a warlock. Whatever you wanted to call him, he was a lot like me, and he knew things he shouldn’t and he sensed things before others could think or say them. I felt him, a presence, long before I ever met him, and once I did I took to spending a lot of time with him. I would bring him home with me after work, and we would sit in my room, all candles and heavy scents, and we would talk about things I thought were deep or spiritual.Once, at his apartment, [he was much older than I was] we sat, and he lit a stick of incense and brought me in front of him and took my hands and with his soft calm voice he put me in the deepest meditation that I have ever been in. And softly, slowly, I made my way out of my body and walked about without it. I could see him there beside me, feeling the things I did and seeing the things I did, even though we were far from where our bodies are resting and where we should have been. When we finally came crashing down into our bodies again I was exhausted. I slept there all night, before going home the next morning I told him I enjoyed myself, and maybe we could do it again sometime. We never did, but I have been looking for a voice or a way out ever since then, and I can feel it in myself on nights like this.

Unfortunately, its not all I feel. All of my daydreaming has caused my attention to wander and I’ve managed to nick myself on the top of my thigh. I press my hand there to stop the bleeding and look up to the top of the cabinet, crawling out of the bathtub and reaching for a band aid, cutting of the sticky part to cover the cut. See, this is where I get, when I dream. A cut on the leg, another inconvenience and a stinging reminder that I can’t go back and I can’t quite make things the way I’d like them to be. So I am here, sitting on my floor, the cold of the tile against me, and I am empty, hurting and frustrated.

Fill me up. Give me something, anything, to distract me from all of this. To distract me from what my life has become. To distract me from the things I wish weren’t real, and the memories I can’t seem to escape. Distract me from myself. And give me something new.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Untitled - a nano novel

I think this probably counts as cheating, but whilst I brew up something newer about a guy who doesn't dream, I thought I'd share with you the first chapter of my recent NaNoWriMo novel.

Be warned though, if you show any interest, I might post the rest of it, chapter by chapter.

I'm looking for a title too, so suggestions welcomed.

(oh, and I haven't really read back through it yet, so please try and ignore all glaring errors).


Chapter 1

Can you remember the first time that you were dumped? The first time that someone decided to cut their relationship with you short; to tell you that you aren’t wanted and to sever all ties and to walk off into the distance? I think it is supposed to happen to you when you are a kid. Perhaps it happened to you when you were ten and it was your first girlfriend. Perhaps you thought you’d never recover from the pain and shame of it all, but before the end of the week you were snogging Melanie Johnson in the bus-stop as though nothing had happened. Does that count? Perhaps it doesn’t, and you haven’t really experienced a dumping until you are ditched by your first serious girlfriend, where your relationship has gone a little further than those first kisses. Maybe even that doesn’t count as a proper dumping; maybe you can only consider yourself to have been truly ditched when someone you love unconditionally casts you aside and leaves you gaping like a fish and wailing at the injustice of it all.

In this world, you are either a dumper or dumped. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and the only way to protect yourself is to get them before they get you.

I can’t say that I agree with that point of view, although on the bare statistics of my life might lead you to think that I do: of the three serious girlfriends I have had, I dumped two of them. The first was easy. We’d been going out for about three months when we both graduated from University. She lived in one part of the country and I lived in another. There didn’t seem to be any point pretending that this could turn out to be the great love affair of my life, so I told her that it was over. I don’t flatter myself that she was especially surprised or upset by this news, but as I basically told her on the last night of term, I didn’t really get to see close up if this was the case. The second time was harder, and it took me a full year to pluck up the courage to do it. The relationship had lasted for three years and we were living together. The news came as a brutal shock, and I felt like a total shit. I still do. I had been thinking about it for months, but for her it was news totally out of the blue. To make matters worse, we continued to live together for another month before I was able to move out. Throughout the whole sorry business, I was sustained by one thing: the sure and certain knowledge that I was doing the right thing for both of us in the long run. Apart from a couple of brief visits in the first few months after the break-up, I haven’t seen her since. My parents still exchange Christmas Cards with her.

Are there guidelines for dumping someone? Is there a resource that outlines what is, and what is not, acceptable behaviour? Should you give someone notice? I, the undersigned, hereby notify you that I wish to terminate our relationship in one month’s time. That kind of thing. Would making the whole process more businesslike make it any less painful or difficult? Would there be the right of appeal? Relationship tribunals? Claims for unfair or constructive dismissal?

Can you dump someone nicely, or is it such a fundamentally distasteful task for everyone concerned that you are better off just spitting it out and being done with it? You could be about to shatter someone else’s world, does it make any difference how you do it? It’s not as though being nice about it ultimately softens the blow, is it? What purpose does it really serve, except perhaps to make you feel a little better about yourself, to maintain that illusion you have of yourself as being a decent person. It was a tough job, but you did it as nicely as you could to spare her feelings. Bully for you.

Actually, I don’t believe that, although I suppose that all these things are relative. I don’t know whether being as nice as I could about the whole thing softened the blow at all for my last girlfriend, or if ultimately the Stalinism of time has re-written what happened in her own head with a view that better suits the purposes of her own ego and her own self-esteem. Why not? That’s what I’ve done in my head. Dammit, it was tough at the time and the poor girl took it hard, but I’m pretty sure it was for the best in the long run and she’s probably happier now, eh?

I got dumped for the first time when I was 31 years old. It came completely out of the blue and has left me shaken. I am finding myself running over and over in my head the sequence of events that has led us here. Could I have done anything different that could have avoided this? Of course I could. Could I do anything now that might alter this? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I shouldn’t really be surprised that I got away with it for so long. I can’t imagine that there are many more certain ways of avoiding being dumped than the one I have steadfastly adopted over the years; be spectacularly unsuccessful with women. It’s the best way. It’s far more reliable than the “dump lest ye be dumped” school of thought, even if it’s not a course to be taken lightly. In fact, I’d go further. Not only should you be spectacularly unsuccessful with women, but you shouldn’t even run the risk. You shouldn’t try, lest you succeed. Ah, way to go to find someone to share your life, James, way to go. Moron.

Anyway. So I was dumped. I have been dumped. I am dumped.

I don’t like it.

I have no right of reply.

What’s worse is that I was dumped by email. I heard that Phil Collins once informed his wife that it was over by fax, and I thought that would be pretty hard to beat, but email isn’t really any better. It’s a disposable form of communication. It says it all for me that you can’t be prosecuted for libel for something you have written down in an email, only for slander. It’s a strangely permanent impermanence, and it’s a terrible way to find out that you have been dropped. I think what is worse it that I was at work when the message arrived. Usually a non-work message is something to be treasured, something to be read immediately, and I instantly dropped whatever pointless task it was that I was doing to read the new message.


“Okay, here’s the thing. Now I was going to send this months ago but I guess I was avoiding it, thinking I wouldn’t have to and now I do.

“I just don’t see the point in us being friends any more. And far from being a weird and immature decision, I think it’s a very adult one. The last year or so that we’ve met up, things have been very strained between us. Neither of us seems that happy to see the other. Neither of us really asks or seems to care how the other one really is. Bitterness and envy – I don’t know why – seems to hang in the air, coming from both of us. The atmosphere is very odd. And there is bickering and bad looks and bad moods. And both of us are guilty of this. Just the whole experience isn’t great. It’s not all the time. Meeting up with you there are doubtless a few moments over the weekend/whatever but there’s also lots of other things going on and I don’t know why. It’s almost as though neither of us really wants to hang out together but we feel we have to. We’re clinging to years of history together. And it doesn’t have to be like that.

“I guess another problem is that I never feel this way with any other friends of mine. I always feel like they want to see me and that we have a laugh. And that when I leave them I want to see them again and there aren’t any problems. But it’s not like that when I’ve seen you. I always feel that either you or I are pissed off. They’re pained experiences. And so I’ve just been wondering why we still do it, why we still meet up. I don’t really think you are bothered. I’ve had one email from you in months. No phone calls. All other emails have been jokes or group get togethers. Nothing personal at all – no how are yous, where are you, what’s wrong. Nothing. I just don’t think we want to hang around together any more.

“BUT I don’t think the blame lies at any one person’s door. I’m not finger pointing and I don’t want any bitter slanging matches. I think for whatever reason we’ve grown apart and we’re different people now and we should just move on. We’ve had some good times and let’s just leave it at that.”

Yeah, that’s right. I wasn’t dumped by a girlfriend, or anything as prosaic as that. No. I was dumped from a far greater height than that. I was dropped by one of my oldest friends. A guy that I have known for more than twenty years. A guy who I first met when I was 7 years old. Dumped. Dropped. No right of reply. As far as he was concerned, that email was it. I was dead to him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Funeral Poinsettias

This is part of my favorite chapter from my NaNo novel. Also the hardest to write. Enjoy.


"The message of Christmas is that the visible material world is bound to the invisible spiritual
world." * Author Unknown
Chapter 11

I can see the snowflakes catching in Gail’s hair, glinting as the light from my Aunt Susanne’s
sleek black Mustang pulls in the drive. Our breath, rising in a steady mist, is the only thing to
give away our presence.

If it were anyone else, I would worry. But it is only Aunt Susanne. Gail gives me a puzzled look,
as I put my finger to my lips, indicating we should be quiet.

We both watch her over the hoods of the other cars filling the driveway. The light from the inside of her Mustang shows her re-applying a lip gloss and powdering her nose.

"Is that the one that got so drunk at dad and Charlotte’s wedding?" Gail murmurs to me, barely a whisper of a whisper.

Before I have time to confirm that, yes, she was the one who was drunk at the wedding; she
manages to confirm it for me. We are momentarily blinded by a flash of silver glinting in the
sparse light of the car.

"A flask? Did she just drink from a flask?"

I nod, and put my finger to my lips again. I glance down for a moment, tugging at my socks and
making sure my outfit is not getting wet. Gail’s legs are wobbling a little, and I put my hand on
the small of her back to steady her.

Susanne dabs her eyes with a tissue and opens the car door. In the quiet of the snow and the
outdoors, we hear her sniffling.

"Huh-huh-huhp." She visibly gulps as she reaches in to the back seat and pulls out three rather
large bags of presents. She sits them on the hood of her car, and reaches back down inside the
vehicle. She sits on the hood two boxes, which looks as if they have spigots on the ends of them.
I preempt Gail’s question.


She nods, and we turn our heads back to the scene before us.

She has somehow managed to get the bags and the wine all in one trip. She moves up the drive
with the slow shuffle, shuffle, drag –step of the half-drunk, half-reluctant at heart. She passes
close by, and I suck in my breath.

"Huh-huh-huhp. Mmmm." Her sniffles grow a little louder as she makes her way up the drive.
She leans against the door frame, resting her head there for a moment. Her chest rises and falls,
indicating a sigh. Possibly the resolution to go in and face the family. Possibly one last fresh
breath of air before the stifling warmth of the living room. Whatever it is, she is ready. She leans
against the doorbell with her elbow. A little longer than necessary, because even at my car I truck hear the Ding-ing-ing of the bell.

The outside is flooded with light and I see my uncle Jeff in the door frame.

"Hi there, Susanne. Its so good to see you. How are you?" He glances out into the snow, sees us,
and puts his arm around Susanne to lead her away from the door.

Before it closes we can hear her start crying in earnest.

"Oh Oh Oh How sweet of you. How sweet. Not well…"

The light closes behind her and we immediately stand up to stretch our legs.

"What is going on? " Gail exclaims in a stage whisper. "She could have used the help "

"Gail, I am not ready, just yet, to deal with her. It’s too much. It hurts so much still. And she
doesn’t make it any better."

"I don’t get it."

"James, Gail. She still isn’t over it. Most of us aren’t. But she lost it. She can’t keep a grip on
reality much anymore."

I can feel my own chest tightening as I think of it. It squeezes and pulls. I feel like I am running
out of air. My eyes prick up, like I’ve eaten something really sour.

"What about him, Barb?"

"He’s dead. He died two Christmases ago. He was her son."

Oh, God. I hate that word. Dead. Dead. Never going to come back. The memory is all that’s left.
I don’t want to cry. I don’t. I need to smile.

"We all loved him so much. All the best Christmas stories have James. He was so funny. Full of
–of-" Life. Say it, Barbara. Full of life that he no longer has. Its why you cry and your aunt drinks
herself into insanity.

"Shhh." Gail puts her arms around me and lets me lay my head on her shoulder. My cheeks feel
* *

I was icing cookies on a pop up table in the corner of the dining room when he
came dashing in. His heavy black hair was falling in his face. His white shirt
was pulled out of his slacks and bunched up around the edge of his Christmas
sweater vest. He has pulled his tie loose and the knees of his slacks were

I looked at him, indignant. At 8 years old, I was trying to develop in to a
little lady. I delicately lay down the icing tool and looked up at him, trying
my best to look severe.

"What is it James? Grandpa is letting me ice the cookies. See?" I held up a
Christmas tree with sprinkles.

He was bounding from foot to foot on the balls of his feet. I could see he was
excited about something.

"I found something,. It was an accident. But I found something." His black
eyes were sparkling with merriment. He knew it was big.
I started to feel curious and a little excited myself.


"Come see. And don’t tell Moriah. She’ll let the secret out." He tugged on the
puffed sleeve of my Christmas party dress. "Come on "

I jumped up and followed him through the mud room. He ducked our aunts and
Grandma and Grandpa in the kitchen. He put his finger to his lips, telling me
to keep quiet. I crouched down behind the open pantry door, and waited.
He cracked open the door to the garage, careful not to make any noise. He
beckoned me to follow him.

I slipped out into the garage and had to stifle a squeal.

Three beautiful bikes were lined up next to each other, with bows tied to the
handlebars. He walked up to a royal blue one, streaked with red. This one was
clearly his. He ran his fingers over the handles and down to the seat. He
examined the reflectors at the top and back of the bike, and the horn in the

Next to it was my bike. I was sure of it. It was a beautiful jeweled green. It
has streamers from the handlebars. They were yellow and green and white. The
leather seat was white and looked quilted.

I was almost afraid to touch it. Even in the dim garage light I could see how
it sparkled, how pretty the paint was. It had that lovely new bike smell, of
leather and grease and the chains and the rubber of the new tires.
And Moriah’s bike was a vision of girlishness. I new she would love it. It was
pink, as pink as it could possibly be, with little purple and white flowers
all over it. There was a wicker basket attached to the front, and sitting
inside it was a beautiful doll for her to mother. Even her seat was a pale

I sighed at the loveliness of the three of the bikes lined up next to each
other. I looked over at James. He had a sly look on his face, one I had seen
many times when we played together.

"I want to ride mine."

"No James " I protested. "We are going to get caught. Grandpa is going to be
mad that I don’t have the cookies done yet."

"Oh, just a minute " He pleaded.

"You do it," I suggested breathlessly.

"I will." I backed up and watched him as he hitched up his little clacks and
went to get on the bike.

"Wheel these out of the way." He pointed to the other two bikes. I scurried
over and pushed them closer to the garage door, just a little.
I watched as he slowly pulled back, and made slow circles in the garage.

"Is it nice" I asked.
"It’s so much fun. Aw, come on Barb. You should do it too. You’re already out
here, huh?"

I glanced at the door. Unsure. It couldn’t hurt, could it? I dashed over to my
bike and hitched my skirt up as I put my feet on the pedals.

"You better watch out. I am the best bike rider in this family" I claimed.

"We’ll see about that." He laughed at me.

We chased each other in dizzying circles. I felt the tickle of the steamers
against my hands. I started to laugh. James laughed too, wriggling his handle
bars quickly, as if he could not keep control.

Then he honked his horn. I stopped. He froze too. We knew we would be caught
now. Quickly, we jumped off the bikes and pushed them back to where they were.

"Do you think they heard?" I asked him.

"I don’t know," he looked up. And froze.

Grandpa was standing in the doorway.

"What do you two think you are doing?" he asked. We were in big trouble. I
could feel it.

"Um, well," I began.

"Its all my fault," James interjected. I brought Barb out here. I saw them and
I wanted her to see. "I guess I got carried away."

Grandpa smiled.

"I did too, when I brought them in. I honked the horn too. Well, don’t tell.
Not Moriah and especially not your Gran. Pretend to be surprised, and I won’t
get you in any trouble, okay?" We sighed. We were safe.

"Okay, Grandpa," we chorused, angels again.

"Good. Now, Barb, I think you have some cookies to finish. James, come with me
and we’ll fix your tie, or your mother will no we’ve been up to no good."

"Yes, Grandpa."

I went back to my cookies. James got his tie straitened. And we pretended to
be surprised. But, I remember, from that Christmas on, Grandpa never let them
hide anything in the garage.
* *
When I see poinsettias I always think of James. They were everywhere at the
funeral. Everywhere. I always thought it was a cruel thing to do, to include
the flowers so associated with Christmas in his funeral flowers. Every
Christmas now, I see them everywhere and I think of him.

It had been a rough winter. It had snowed heavily, a lot more than it usually
did. We had all been staying at home, wanting to be careful. But the snow
turned to ice, melting during the day and freezing once the sun set. It would
snow again, and again.

We had a white Christmas that year. It was amazing. Mounds of snow in the
yards. The Christmas lights twinkled like stars through the blanket of snow.
James and I had brought our sleds to the Christmas party, and pulled the
children through the snow. Later, while they were playing with their new toys,
we went outside and played ourselves, tossing snowballs back and forth,
running around like we did when we were kids. When we had exhausted ourselves,
we pulled out our old blankets and set on the porch, drinking wassail,
smoking, and remembering old times.

It happened Christmas morning. He was driving home from seeing Aunt Susanne.
His car full of presents, he was surely going to go take his traditional
Christmas nap. I knew he would be over to see me that evening. We always got
together on Christmas Day to watch movies and bake cookies together. It was
one of my favorite parts of the day. It was always refreshing to have him and
his humor after mom and Moriah.

I remember that I was angry with him. When he didn’t show on time, I was mad
that he was late. He was never late, and he always called. I had the dough in
the freezer already. The kettle was boiling. And he wasn’t there.
When the phone rang two hours after he was supposed to arrive, I picked it up
with a fire in my chest.

"This had better be good." I had said into the phone. It had better be good.
But it wasn’t James. It was Gran. James had been in an accident. No, he wasn’t
okay. He was dead. No, he hadn’t suffered. It was quick. A patch of black ice
and a tree. His neck and back broken. The seatbelt couldn’t save him. That was
all there was.

I hung up the phone and ran directly to the bathroom and threw up. I lay
there, sobbing, in the floor. It felt like hours.

This was my fault. He was coming to see me. And I was angry with him. I was
angry with him. I had been working up my speech about responsibility all
afternoon. And he was dead. I had been mad at him while he was in his car,

I was so angry. At myself. At the weather. At everything. How? How could he
die like that? He was so young, so full of life. He had so much left to do.
And I had been angry with him over a few hours. God, what I would do for those
two extra hours. What I would tell him. More than the ‘see you tomorrow’ or a
joke about his cooking skills. I would tell him so much more than that.
He had looked so beautiful, the day of the funeral. His thick black hair still
springing from his face, as if alive all on its own. His best black suit, a
red tie – his favorite color. His long lashes were rested on his cheeks. His
hands were folded neatly. He had that look on his face I knew so well. The
look of innocence that I saw when we were younger and he was about to get us
into trouble. It was my favorite look.

I had this sick desire to reach in a try to see his eyes - his beautiful green
eyes that I loved so much. I could always tell what he was thinking by the
look in those eyes. I wanted to shake him and tell him that he needed to wake
up. I wanted to beg him not to go. I wanted to offer to swap him places.
I fought the urge to straiten his lapel for him, and stroke his tie. I wanted
to hold his hand and whisper all the things I meant to tell him. I had all
these things I needed to tell him. I wanted to tell him I missed him already,
and that I had so many things to tell him before he went away.

I wanted to tell him I was sorry I was mad at him. I didn’t mean it. I wanted
to tell him that I loved him. He was my best friend. I wouldn’t know what to
do without him. I wanted to bend down and kiss and kiss and kiss his forehead.
But I didn’t. I just stood there, looking at him. I looked at him for such a
long time. I didn’t want to leave him alone. They pulled me away, eventually.
They set me down in the front row. I could still see from there. I couldn’t
pull my eyes off of him. I felt like my heart was being torn out through my
throat. The tears were streaking down my face, I stayed quiet. But I was
shaking, and I cried until there were no more tears left. And then I kept
crying, even though I had nothing left.

When we went outside, to see him buried, I stood and watched with a terrible
feeling in my gut.

They had asked me to say something. I was his best friend, his cousin, I knew
him best. When I got up, I looked at everyone there, everyone who had eve
loved him. My throat dried up. I wanted to do him proud.

"James," I began, "was a truly unique man. He had an energy that was
contagious. He had a laugh that filled a room. He had the youthful wonder of a
child. He had the strength of emotion of a man.

Those who knew him best would say he was an enigma. He loved without reserve,
he gave without complaint and he lived without regret. His capacity for
kindness was astounding, his faith in the good of people unwavering.
I was fortunate to know James all of my life. He was the best of friends. He
was the loyalist of family. I have had the pleasure of seeing each step, each
moment, each year that he has grown. I was also lucky enough to have that rare
brand of friendship he offered, full of unconditional love and undying

When our Grandfather died, it was James who held me. It was James who gave me
comfort. It was James who gave me hope.

He told me to remember that death was not the end. That the ones we love never
really leave. He told me to instead of weep, laugh. To celebrate the wonderful
things that I had done with him. To honor him with the sound he loved most,
the sound of a happy grandchild.

Today, I will try to honor James with laughter at the memories we shared. I
encourage you to do the same. Remember the friend he was, the son, the family
member who was always there. Remember the mischief he got you into. Remember
the things he loved.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not cry a little. If I did not tell him
how much he was loved. How well. And how much my heart aches to see him again.
Today, honor James, with both laughter, and tears and remember what he said.
In time, we will see him again."

I stood there, watching my Aunt Susanne cry with grief. See her sobs, which
wracked her whole body, so that when she went to lay a lily on his casket, it
took three people to get her there.

I watched the snow fall, lightly, mocking the thing it had done. It danced in
the air and lay on the poinsettias and lilies that filled the wreaths and
flowers that were set about the area. They would melt, it was warm, and they
dripped down the huge petals of the flowers like giant tears. I watched the
wind shake the bright centers, each little piece quivering like the bits in my
chest, and fall, softly into the dying grass with all the swiftness of the
tears I was crying again.

My face hurt, I could feel the wind on it, burning it. But I didn’t want to
leave. As they set him in the ground I felt pieces f my chest leave, like they
were going in with him and I would never get them back.

I stayed late. Later than even Susanne, who had to be taken to the hospital
for her hysterics. I sat there, next to him, wondering what I was going to do.
Who I would talk to. Who I would tell my secrets to. I grieved for him, and as
I left I left him a gift. Something only he and I would miss. A tiny
gingerbread Mrs. Santa, who went with my favorite Mr. Santa. I had slipped
over to Gran’s and stolen it before the funeral. He would have her to keep him
company. He would remember.

And so would I. Every Christmas I would remember the missing, when I put my
little Santa on the tree. And I would remember our Christmases together.

"I’ll miss you." I told him.

I’ll miss you.
* *

Monday, January 09, 2006

Father and Son

It's about time I had a go at this, isn't it?

This is an idea that has been floating around my head for a few months now. It's inspired by a guy who I play football with on a Thursday night. For the last few years now, when we are short of numbers, this guy brings his son along to join our game. Initially he was only making up the numbers, but as time has gone on, this lad has got better and better, to the point where he is now just on the edge of overtaking his dad (of course, this is as much to do with his dad getting older as it is about the lad improving). They have an interesting father and son relationship, and I think that Rich usually finds his dad something of an embarrassment (what 15 year old doesn't?). I began to wonder how Rich would look back on these games when he gets older...


I used to be quite sporty when I was a lad. Looking at me now, you probably find that a little hard to believe, but it’s true. Perhaps I wasn’t the most gifted athlete in the world, and I was never quite good enough to get into the school team, but I was a trier. God, I used to run my little socks off. It didn’t matter what game it was, I always wanted to play. Cricket, hockey, basketball, table tennis, British Bulldog… anything. But football was my absolute favourite. I loved to play football. At school I was often one of the last players picked and I spent a lot of time in goal – not because I was any good, but because I was happy to be playing at all. And I was. I really was.

My dad loved football too. Like a lot of teenage boys, I didn’t spend a great deal of time talking to my dad. Well. I suppose didn’t really spend any time talking to my dad. Dad was just my dad. I could talk to dad anytime, and as a result I barely spoke to him at all. But he liked football.

From time to time dad would take me to a game. I think it was probably his way of trying to bring us closer together, to spend some ‘quality time’ together. It didn’t really work. I loved playing football, and I quite liked watching the big games on the telly, but somehow watching a struggling lower division side with my dad wasn’t much fun. It was almost always cold, it was frequently raining, and there were big long silences between us as our side shipped goals and I lost all sensation in my feet.

I think my dad first asked me to play for his 5-a-side team one week when they were short of numbers. He’d been playing for almost as long as I could remember. Every Thursday without fail he would get home from work early, grab a quick bite to eat and then head out to meet up with the lads for a five-thirty kick-off. He was always back by half-seven. Sometimes he would try to talk to me about his game, usually the goals he had scored, but I would generally just scowl at him, make some remark about my homework and stomp up to my room.

And then he asked me to play.

I was tempted to say no, for no real reason other than the fact that I was fourteen years old and he was my dad. In the end though, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a game. I was quite excited at the breakfast table that morning, but naturally I kept up a look of what I hoped was supreme indifference; at least until dad went to work. Judging by the twinkle in his eye as he told me to make sure I got home quickly after school, I’m not sure that he was entirely taken in.

“You wouldn’t want to miss the big game tonight, would you son?”
I scowled, but only got a big smile and a wink for my efforts as dad practically danced his way out of the kitchen and out the door to the office.

He was right though, I was excited. The rest of the day crawled malevolently by until finally – finally – I was walking out onto the pitch with ten or eleven of my dad’s mates, ready for the game to begin. They were a motley bunch, but the first thing that I noticed was that dad was by far the oldest player on the pitch. I don’t think dad was particularly old at that point, but what son really knows the age of their own father? He’s just your dad, isn’t he? He was probably in his late forties at that point, but most of the other players were lads in their thirties. They weren’t all fine physical specimens, and several of them were beginning to look a little comfortable around the middle, but they were all, without fail, taller and slimmer than my dad. For the first time in my life I became aware that my dad wasn’t going to be around forever.

For the next hour, dad ran and jumped and shouted as vigorously as anyone else on the pitch. I don’t really remember the details of the game; what the scores were, if my dad got any goals or if my side won or lost the game. What has stayed with me though is the sheer vitality of my dad. He was constantly talking. Almost every time there was a shot on goal, we would hear these little exclamations: “Oooof!”, “It’s in!”, “Pick that out!”. It didn’t seem to matter if the ball had ended up in the net or not. We were actually playing on opposite sides that night, but that didn’t stop dad from offering me his own unique combination of coaching and taunting. Although the other lads cut me a lot of slack, I just physically wasn’t able to compete with them. They were all faster and stronger than me, and far more confident on the ball. The others may have made allowances for me, but dad made none, or at least none that I could see. He was uncompromising in his tackles, at one point bundling me over onto the hard Astroturf.

Did I get any sympathy? Did I hell. “You should have passed the ball sooner son. Play the simple ball”. I only had about two shots on goal in the whole game, both pathetic, but dad was quick to laugh “HAHA!” and then run up to me, ruffle my hair and offer me some quick advice about keeping my head over the ball. It was a really remarkable performance. I’m not sure that any of dad’s mates really knew what to make of it, and I think that they were mildly concerned that my dad would knock the confidence out of me.

As we were driving home after the game, dad asked me if I had enjoyed myself. Without looking over at him I simply grunted that it had been “Alright”, and that had been the end of the conversation. When we got home, I jumped straight out of the car and disappeared up to my room. I had loved it though, I had loved every minute of it, and I couldn’t wait to be asked again.

I played several times over the course of the next few years. At the time I thought that I was getting better and better, which was true, but I was gauging my performances against my dad, and he was getting older. The pinnacle of my footballing career had to be the night that I nutmegged my dad on the way to scoring a fantastic goal. He might have looked mortified to the casual observer, and all his mates ran up to him to tell him it that it was surely time for grandad to be hanging up his boots, but I saw the look he gave me. It didn't last for long, and I almost missed it, but it was a look of pure, unmistakeable pride.

I think that was the last night that I played with them. I’m not really sure why I stopped, although probably it was something to do with girls. Somehow football started to take a backseat to hanging around bus shelters chewing gum. Looking back though, those are the moments that I cherish, the moments when I felt that I was closest to my dad. Those are the moments that you miss, and when I think of them now, I miss him terribly.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

My Secret Life

I'm not sure what I think of this. What do you reckon? I never got any further, I think I reshaped the general idea into my NaNoWriMo.

My name is John. John Doe.

That isn’t really my name. John Doe is the name assigned to any unidentifiable corpse in the possession of the authorities. John Doe will do fine.

My real name is one you can find on every street, in every bar. As usual, as normal, as mundane as anyone.

Well, my Earth Name is.

And my story is ordinary. Well, ordinary for me. I’ve never known quite what it’s like to be anything other than what I am. I can only imagine what other people’s lives must be like. To me, this odd strain of events is simply my ordinary life. I’m aware most people’s lives aren’t like this. Maybe one in a thousand, one in ten thousand, one in a million, perhaps.

No one knows the exact figures. But we will see.

I haven’t told you my real name because I don’t want to be found. I don’t want people to know who I am, what I am.

If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. You’d curl your lip and think bullshit and try and edge away from me on the train. If I felt like talking to you.

I don’t much feel like talking to anyone anymore, for any reason. Don’t take it personally. I just don’t. I don’t trust people. I don’t trust anyone. Or anything.

You have no reason to trust me either. Everything I could tell you could be a lie. The deathbed confessional of a man, sealed in state until I die and to be read and analysed and mocked by my children.

Some of them could say I wish I had known him better. Some of them will say Dad was a fruitloop. He spent too much time at

This is what they will say. And is no more true or untrue that this confessional. I don’t expect you to believe me. I expect you to ask me pertinent questions, some of which I won’t be able to answer, when I least expect them.

You know how to drive a car. You just can’t explain the internal combustion engine, or electricity. Unless you’re a specialist.

I am not a specialist. I am a foot soldier. A grunt. One of the many.

I am in hiding. Not just from this world ; from myself. Who I really am. Sorry, who I really was.

I’m trying to fool myself. The past is past. The past is no longer. There will be no more of these moments. No more lies. No more hiding from myself. I will be able to stand up, and say I am. One day I will not be living in fear of being exposed. One day I will not deny the facts when people ask me, who I am, what do I do?

My name is John Doe. I work a low-level office clerk job. I don’t necessarily want to be noticed. I just want to be paid. I want to go home at the end of the day to my flat, switch on the TV, fire up the Internet, eat my pre-processed food, and forget why I am here, and what I am meant to do when I get this far.

When I watch TV, I’m hiding. When I’m on the Internet, I’m hiding. When I’m not staring at the mirror, looking deep into my diluted eyes, whispering to myself My name is John and I am an undercover agent, canvassing a war I am in hiding. I am lying to myself.

We all lie to ourselves. Some lies are bigger than others. We tell ourselves that we are happy. That we are living in the best of all possible world. That we like this life.

We lie because if the truth is an ugly fact.

I like this life. It’s not bad. A life of relative material comfort and an absence of excessive labour. It’s better than what I left behind.

It’s a frequent problem. The agent goes undercover for so long he forgets who he really is. Why he’s really here.

This is my secret.

My presence is no mystery. No secret. They know who I am. Why I am here. What they know, and I do not, is how much longer I have left. All I have to do is fool them a little while longer. That I am still embedded deep inside enemy lines. That I am still undercover.

Sure, I could tell you why I am here.

I could tell you that not even my parents know who I really am, or what really happened to them one night thirty seven years and eight months ago. They’re still happily married.

Me? One starter marriage, failed, and no children. A modern outcast. But a perfect candidate.

Sure, I could tell you, but what would be the point of reading on after that?

This isn’t for you anyway. This is for me. This is my way of trying to make sense of my life. This is me trying to work out the whys and wherefores of all these things. I’m trying to make sense of my life.

I don’t know if I can make sense of it anymore. I don’t know if I’m just unable to make sense of it, or if there isn’t anything much to make sense of. I don’t know even if Einstein could make sense of this. Maybe there is no reason to find.

I would hope that I am wrong. That somewhere, somehow, I got it wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.

And I wonder, does everyone feel like this, does everyone else feel this way? A bystander in a life, a stranger in a world, a square peg in a round hole, not quite fitting in, but faking it through, day by day, is that how everyone else feels? I don’t quite know, to be honest. Nobody does. Nobody really knows anyone else that well.

Nobody can really know me. I don’t know myself. And I don’t always want to. What I remember of my past life – that is, too much – I don’t want to remember.

I know this. I volunteered for this. I had a choice, and this was the choice I made.

Everybody makes mistakes.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pink Dress

Alright, this rough, so don't laugh. Any advice at my terrible ability to write third person would be very much appreciated...And I was thinking, about the whole colalborative novel thing, ST. Are we giving that a whirl?


"My bed feels like it is floating." Elizabeth said, turning on her side to look across the room to Carrie, sitting on the edge of her vanity stool, watching in interest as her friend lay there in a towel shifting from side to side.

"How? Like it wobbles? The floor is uneven or something?" Carrie leans over, as if to inspect the quality of the furniture.

"No, its different from that." Her eyes flutter open and closed as she tries to think of another way to describe the feeling she has at that particular moment. To her, it seemed the wind had swept in her window and cradled her mattress, swinging it gently to the cadence of an unsung lullaby. "Its almost like flying...or being pulled to the side in a windstorm."

Swinging her legs over the side of her bed, shamelessly letting the towel fall, she dangles her feet over the edge, her toes lightly kissing the carpet as she swings them back and forth. She breathes deeply as her toes kiss the carpet, bit by bit lowering her feet to the floor.

"Do you ever feel beautiful for no reason, other than knowing you are?"

Carrie, a sweet but down to earth girl, shakes her head with confusion written upon her face. "I don’t think I have. I mean, you know, men have told me I am beautiful. But I think it is different to know. Why? You really like this fellow, don’t you?"

"Its not that. I like him, but," she answers, standing up and stretching. "Did you ever get tickled as a child?"

"Yeah, quite a bit actually. My granddad, he would chase me through his house and tickle me. I would laugh really hard. You know, giggle loudly and shriek the way kids always do when they are tickled. I loved it. But what does that have to do with being beautiful? This guy, Jayke, he tickles you? That’s why you feel happy?"

"No. My dad used to tickle me. He would do what your granddad did, only he would scoop me up in his arms and tickle me after tossing me onto the living room sofa, and all I could do was gasp for him to stop and laugh until I cried. He would laugh too, and kiss me on my forehead before letting me get a head start on him trying to catch me again. That’s how I feel tonight. Like I am being chased down my hallway with tickles a moment behind me."

She crossed the room and began to shift through the closet. Sighing, she turned to Carrie again. "No, I don’t think there’s a man out there that just wants to tickle me now."

"Too right," Carrie replies ruefully. "And if they do...well, what kind of man is that?"

Elizabeth reaches into the closet again, pulling out a lipstick pink dress, tied with a bow in the back. Crossing the room, she stands before the mirror, and holds it in front of herself, tossing her long blonde locks over the side of the dress, peering this way and that.

"You know," she says thoughtfully, "It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this."

"What wasn’t? The dress?" Carrie stands, looking into the mirror and smiling. "I like it."

"No, I mean men. Love. Life. None of this was supposed to be like it is. Remember growing up? Everything was going to be different than it turned out to be. Especially men, though. Especially them."

Reaching over, she flipped on her radio, letting the sounds of the music fill up the room as she rolled on her nylons. Picking up the beat of the song, she sways her hips this way and that, dancing about the room, searching for her bra. Dancing to and fro, she lets the music slide through her ears, down through her fingertips and toes as she searches, humming the tune as she slips it over her breasts.

"Do you remember when Madonna came out with this song, ‘Material Girl’? I loved that song. And I bought the record, and would play it in my room. I had a pink comforter and I would wrap it around me and turn up the stereo and sing into my hairbrush. I had a pet poodle, and he was my audience. I would imagine him and handing me diamond bracelets and all sorts of fancy things."

"Yeah," replies Carrie, dodging her gleefully dancing friend as she moves about the room. "I remember. It wasn’t fair. I thought every man would be bringing me flowers and candy and dresses."

"Yes! Pretty dresses, that was the most important, wasn’t it?" interrupts Elizabeth, laughing lightly as she digs through the closet, tossing out shoes this way and that. "Every man is born to worship you. That’s what my Daddy always told me."

"Right. Turns out he was wrong. I remember, because I wanted to be just like her back then. One day, I was dancing around my room, singing at the top of my lungs, living in my own little world. I was smiling a dazzling smile, I was so cool, and then my older brother came in. He told me I was being silly, and switched off my radio. I remember him storming out of the room and slamming the door. It caused a scratch on the record." Closing her eyes Carrie lets herself drift back to that day in her mind, remembering how shattered she felt. Sighing, she looks up at Elizabeth, seeing her pull on the pink dress, and smooth it about her waist. "Its been the same since that day, though, reality always seems a bit like my brother, eager to point out my faults, shoot down my dream of finding the perfect man and slamming the proverbial door."

"Well, then this dress is a little symbolic for both of us," chirps Elizabeth from in front of the mirror, adding jewelry to her ensemble delightedly. "Tonight I am beautiful because I say so, and when we go out, you and I, with our fellows, we’ll be stars. We’ll be the women we always wanted to be. I’m tired of feeling disappointed because men aren’t falling all over me. I am tired of men not doing the things my Daddy said they would. Tonight, I am going to believe I am gorgeous without someone’s encouragement. I am going to ride out this beautiful, giddy feeling and see if that works any better." Turning back to the mirror, she paints a trail of lip gloss over her bow shaped lips, smiling back at herself with glee.

"You’re crazy." she replies, shaking her head and straitening her short dark hair in the mirror.

"No, I am in love with myself tonight. Look at me. My senses are in overdrive right now. Everything tingles, every breath is almost overwhelming. I am kissing myself from the inside out tonight. And you are lovely. You should feel this way too. Every man we see tonight is going to wonder how the men we’re with got so lucky to have us. Watch and see. You’re beautiful. You’re classic. And so am I."

Crossing the room, she pulls Carrie in front of her, placing her hands on her hips and giving her friend’s neck a tiny kiss of affection.

"Imagine your favorite screen stars. James Dean, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby. Think of all those classic, beautiful men holding you like you are Vera Ellen or Marilyn Monroe. Imagine yourself on their arms tonight, and think of how lucky they are to have you."

"Lizzie, you’re crazy."

"No, I’m not. Blow a kiss to yourself, go on- do it." she urges from behind her, shaking her hips a bit.

Reluctantly, Carrie looks into the mirror and blows a kiss.

"No! Smile, and do it like you mean it." she demands, pulling a face.

Again, she looks to the mirror, smiling a sly smile, and blushing a bit, Carrie blows a saucy kiss to herself, and stifles a giggle by turning to her friend.


"Extremely. Now, I think I smell cologne outside the door. I think Jayke is here. Want to check?"

"No, go on, I am behind you..." she answers, casting one last doubtful look into the mirror, with the vague hope of seeing a stunning beauty there. When she sees herself grimacing back she turns to the doorway in time to see the fabled Jayke sweeping Elizabeth into his arms and tilting her back in to a silver screen worthy kiss. His brilliant white teeth and chocolate brown eyes flash as he kisses her, and Elizabeth giggles delightedly at his attentions. The room seems to sharpen around the two of them for just a moment.

Shifting uncomfortably, Carrie catches Jayke’s attention in the doorway. Righting himself and Elizabeth, he strides over with confidence and grasps her hand with a firm yet delicate touch. Raising it to his lips, he kisses it gently, and intones with a voice rich in timbre and emotion,

"Elizabeth said you were lovely, but I can see I was hardly able to give your date an accurate description. I didn’t realize how stunning you’d be." His smile settled on her like a cape or a long skirt might, loose about the edges, but clinging in the right spots. Turning to her friend, he places her arm in the crook of his elbow. "Shall we go, princess?"

Turning back to her friend and mouthing ‘what did I tell you?’ she nods delightedly and allows him to escort her down the stairs. Carrie, with nothing to lose, follows, quietly reflecting on his words and wondering exactly what he meant by the word ‘stunning.’

Worrying About Acceptance

Ok, I wrote this right after I wrote "Ravenous". It's an attempt to capture some of my nerves of publishing a story online in front of an audience that I don't really know.

I don't know how accurate my comments are about other people's blogs but, I do know that everyone I checked posted every day. Unlike me. Bum.

Oh and apologies for not mentioning everyone in the story. I haven't got around to reading everyone's blogs quite yet :S


He glanced down at the short story he had just written and wondered if he should really post it onto the site. "Ravenous" it was entitled. He had called it "Sick" and then "Wrong" but even though it seemed completely sick and wrong, neither of the titles really seemed apt. Ravenous, on the other hand, could be applied to the guy, to the raven or to the maggots. Or, he thought to himself, to the horribly insensitive and greedy doctors who had prescribed him his medicine rather than actually investigating his psychosis. Of course, that was 'insider' information that only the author would know, but still, that was what doctors did. Curing the illness whilst ignoring the patient.

So. Should he post it? Swiss Toni had said in his introduction email that any genre was welcome. Did he really mean any genre or was he just being polite? 'Christ', he thought, 'Stop over analysing and just post the damn thing. What's the worst they could say?'

He glanced at the mirror on his desk, at his reflection. 'Plenty', it replied. 'They could think you're a deviant with a twisted and warped imagination. At best, they could think you're a crap writer. Remember what you got in G.C.S.E English Language? B! What kind of writer gets a B in English Language?

'I need a coffee', he thought to himself and got up, ignoring his reflection's comments. In the bright glare of the kitchen, he mused upon the other authors that had joined the collaborative site, Reader-Meet-Author. He didn't know much about any of them, only gleaning items from their respective blog posts. The only ones he did know of and had read before were Swiss Toni (of whom he had had limited contact with already) and Aravis.

Aravis was a photographer/writer/artist, by the looks of things. Hell, she was a complete package of a creative person. He had skimmed her blogs one day and had been totally and utterly lost in the sea of creativity, like a shipwrecked sailor holding onto a log for dear life. Unlike him, she posted every single day and every single one was interesting and worth the read. His own blog, by comparison, read like a Christian Aid pamphlet shoved through a letter box and then dumped in the bin.

The kettle finally boiled and, as he made himself a Nescafe instant coffee, he wondered what his fellow authors were like. Did they post every day? Was he the only one who wasn't really committed to writing in his blog? The only one who wrote about such inconsistant trivialities that it made for a boring read? He sighed and walked back to the computer room, and to his reflection, his own personal tormentor.

He opened up the blog, checked the list of collaborative authors and decided to check out Spinsterwitch. 'Oh shit', he realised as he read her posts, 'it IS just me that doesn't post every day. FUCK!" He sat there stunned and raised his eyes up to the ceiling in a silent prayer, grimacing at himself. He continued to read through Spinsterwitch's post and sighed with worry at the part where she wrote "Why do we create horror?".

He clicked back on "Ravenous" and considered seriously pressing the delete button with the entire thing selected, contemplating Swiss Toni on the one hand stating that all genres were welcome and on the other, all those people who would read "Ravenous" and think "what a load of bollocks".

His finger rested on the enter button and slowly, ever so stomach-churning slowly, he pushed down. Post 100% Complete, the screen depicted. He stood up and got ready for work, trying not to think about the inevitable flurry of comments that would trash his story.



This started out as a piece of fantasy fiction.



He watched as the raven pecked hard at something with its long sharp beak. Wondering if that was where the word ravenous originated, he walked over to the blackbird, waving his arms like a bird taking flight and shouting loudly. The raven gave him barely a glance and puffed its feathers up, hopping for a moment before finally taking to the air and fleeing the scene. There, on the ground where the raven had pecked voraciously, lay a dead bird. A sparrow, horribly mutilated and gouged.

Crouching, he stared at the dead bird and glanced around before finally giving in to his morbid compulsion and fingered the cadaver. It felt soft and under his probing finger things began to writhe in its corpulent belly. His finger pushed harder and the sack of flesh slowly crumpled, its stomach issuing forth its hideous cargo of maggots.

For a moment he was still, his eyes watching the white larvae as they crawled hither and thither. And then, it came to his face, that most innocent of acts. A childish smile.

His mouth made a sound without his mind directing it. It sounded like a snigger. He looked around, scrutinizing his surroundings but there was no one about.

He was alone.

For a moment, he considered what he should do but finally thought better of scooping up the dead creature and stuffing it into his mouth. Especially in public where anyone could see.

Swallowing hard, he buried his head in his hands. Closing his eyes, he began to wish those thoughts away. They were wrong and he knew it; he made himself believe it, at least. Silhouetted on his eyelids was a picture of the bird, the specks of whiteness creeping across in all directions were the maggots, he realised.

Slowly standing up, he reached into his pockets and withdrew the pack of tablets they had given him. He swallowed again, opened his eyes and popped two of the red and white capsules in his mouth. But then spat them out onto the ground as he felt them writhe in his mouth. Looking down he saw them surrounded by the maggots.

His stomach finally began to heave with the utter sickness of it all and he turned and ran.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go?

Hello, this is the starting chapter of the other idea I had for NaNo that didn't get a "vote" while I posed it to my friends. I am tackling it now because I need practice in third person. I would be thrilled to hear if anyone is interested in a second chapter.

* * *
The county fair is a fading tradition. In an age of industry, commerce, high rise buildings and strip malls, it is one few people experience now, and the ones who do are never appreciative of the things they are seeing. They’ve always seen it, they have known it since they were children. To them, it is a wholly unremarkable thing to attend a county fair. It always has been, it always will be.

It is not the fault of the folk who have never seen such a thing that they do not understand it. How can a person who lives in the city understand the miracle of a cow giving birth, when they have never seen one? How can they who have access to giant amusement parks and themed malls understand the excitement one feels at having the opportunity to ride a shoddily assembled novelty or purchase home made jams? One who lives in a loft apartment full of potpourri and scented candles will shirk at the thought of the stench of animals, hay, gasoline and fried onions- possibly one of the most beautiful smell combinations in the entire planet. None of these things will inspire a city dweller to make the trek to the country to experience them.

Nevertheless, a county fair is a wholly remarkable thing. It is a living breathing entity that balloons to life in the space of only a few days; and in the course of its short, riotous existence, effects the thousands of people who are lucky enough to experience its life cycle in profound and amazing ways. Beyond the wares, the excitement, the food and the scents, there is a particularly special way a fair may effect the person who attends it, if only they are able to see it.
A county fair, you see, can teach you everything you ever need to know about life. That is not to say that the secret to world peace is at the fair. You will not find the answer to your seven year old’s algebraic problems there. Nor will you discover a way to make more money for your company nor a reason to convince your wife not to purchase that ghastly Persian Rug she has been eyeing at Macy’s for the last month or so. However, there are still pertinent, life enriching lessons to be learned, and it is the firm opinion of this author that they are the most important lessons you will learn.

* * *
It is important to see this journey through the eyes of someone whom you can learn from. Someone special to this author, but, like you sir or madam, most likely, a wholly unremarkable person. A person of average intelligence and looks, one who has not had more or less education than you doctor, or you mother.

Imagine, if you can then, this unremarkable girl we are about to follow. If you look, in your minds eye, you can see her, in the house across the street from mine. In the second story of her little split level house, pulling on a pair of boots beneath her rather plain ensemble of jeans and a black tee-shirt. Her hair, you can see, is pulled back into a pony tail, and she is devoid of make-up. As she grabs the keys to her boring, mid-size car and dashes out the door you can see that she is much like you.

However, before we approach the destination she is driving to, it is important that in even seeing Jennifer (which is the name of this unremarkable girl) you can tell she has, in part, already learned the first lesson to be learned at the county fair.

LESSON ONE: FASHION - Always Dress for the Occasion

Jennifer arrives at her destination completely ready to head to the fair. Of course, one does not attend the fair alone. It is an experience to be shared, which is why she is picking up her good friend Molly, who possibly like you, has never in her life attended a fair. It is Molly’s apartment complex that Jennifer is now parking her car in, and Molly’s stairs she is skipping up quickly, taking them two at a time in her excitement.

"Come in! Its unlocked." Molly yells from the inside of her house, as Jennifer lowers her hands from her sharp knock at the door. "I am almost ready."

Stepping into the apartment with the familiarity of one who has visited often, Jennifer calls back to her loudly.

"You ought to be glad it’s me. What if it wasn’t?"

"Well, at least I would look nice, wouldn’t I?" this reply, coming from the general direction of the bathroom in the hall is punctuated with the appearance of Molly, who, as it has been mentioned before, and is telling in her dress, has never attended a fair of any kind.

Molly is the type of woman this author would expect to have never attended a fair. She is a lovely creature, with soft curling hair, and heart shaped face and a proclivity for perfumes and lotions that borders on some sort of psychological disorder. She bathes with something slightly more than regularity and slightly less than obsession. She does not cook for herself and has no ambition to do anything that will require her to return to her manicurist in less than the time is required for her to go back to have her nails refilled.

For this particular occasion she has dressed, in her mind, as her friend Jennifer has instructed her. She is wearing a short, rather revealing skirt with several layers of ruffles and a shirt that fits tightly and scoops low in the neck. In lieu of dressy shoes, she has opted for thick soled flip flop sandals and has scaled back her jewelry to one bracelet, and anklet, two rings and her standard earrings.

"I thought I told you to dress comfortably," objects Jennifer who eyes her friend with a wariness that implies she thinks her friend has forgotten exactly where they are going. Unfortunately, for both Jennifer and Molly, their ideas of comfortable are vastly different.

"I did." Molly replies, glancing down at her outfit critically. "Is it too dressy?"

"A bit," replies Jennifer with a standard bit of sarcasm, a tone this reader, like Molly, will learn to both expect and appreciate in time.

"Well, what do you suggest?"

"What am I wearing, you dope?"

"I don’t know, I thought you were dressing before you came."

"I did."

"I see." the distaste in Molly’s voice is indicative of her feeling for jeans, tee-shirts and Jennifer’s taste in clothing in general. "I should dress like I am going to get dirty then?"

"Yes, because you will."


At this time it is important that the reader, and Molly, be informed of the following pieces of information:

There is a large amount of dirt at the fair. Unlike amusement parks, where pimpled teenagers are underpaid to sweep sidewalks and change trash, fairs have large barrels that look as if they should hold crude oil or toxic waste which you will dump your trash into. They are changed once a day if it is a particularly nice fair, and as you might suspect, there are people who are less than eager to use these, and will toss the remains of their cigarettes, corn dogs and candies directly on the ground, where they will likely remain until they are picked up by a kind sole, or else stepped on or thrown out of the way.

There are also a large amount of animals at the fair. These animals will be housed in a particular area, however, being shown in various places on the grounds, they will likely track their feet, hay and other less than pleasant bits of muck around the grounds. These will also not be cleaned up unless very large.

In addition to the animals, there will be people, of all different persuasions, wandering about. Some will be less tactful than others. This means there is a risk of having food, ash, soda or other things dumped, spilled or otherwise involuntarily placed on your person. When you ride the amusement rides, there is no one to protect your dignity other than yourself, so if you wear less than practical clothing you are also likely to be gawked at in the least, and made fun of, hit on, or otherwise violated at worst.

There are no trams at the fair. No men in golf carts willing to transport you from one place to the other. There are no trains to give you a tour before you decide where to go. The fair will encompass no less than 20 acres. The fair always takes place in the summer, generally in what becomes the hottest week of the year, since Mother Nature herself isn’t one to mess with tradition. You will, as a result, spend a large portion of your time walking long distances, standing in lines and eating in sweltering heat with no instant relief from any of the conditions you have exposed yourself to.

As a result you can see why it is far more practical to dress as Jennifer has, in a pair of old jeans, sturdy shoes and a shirt she is not particularly attached to. Molly’s dress, while lovely and appropriate for say, a date to the movies, or a walk in a park with paved trails and a lot of shade, is not entirely practical. And, as comfortable as she may feel at the moment, Jennifer is quite right in suspecting that later in the evening her friend might be less than pleased with her should she not object to her dress at this time.

Since we have a moment, as Molly dashes back to her extensive wardrobe and picks out a far more practical selection, I would suggest, my dear reader, that you also pull on your most comfortable boots or running shoes, and a shirt you like but are not too fond of, and we will follow our two new friends to their next destination.

I'm not shy, but I know someone who is...

In person I can be an utter wreck, but here, with words, I am someone different. Today though we shall just be viewing direct cut and paste from where I normally hang out. I'll try harder next time, I promise.

I lit a match and held it to the stick of incense, sending up a little prayer as I did so. The incense ignited for a moment and then settled to smolder, filling the room with the musky scent of Nag Champa.
Back in bed, I flipped the pillow to the cool side and settled to watch the glowing orange ember in the darkness. After a moment I said quietly, skyward "Please let it be alright".
Closing my eyes I repeated the mantra in my mind until sleep took the worry away.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night....

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth

Welcome to Reader Meet Author.

Writing is both one of the easiest things in the world and one of the hardest, but it’s something I want to do a lot more of. Perhaps one day I will sit down and write a novel. Rather than simply waiting for that day, I am going to start writing now. I am going to write whatever comes to mind and post it up here, just for the sheer joy of it.

It might be long. It might be short. It might be fiction. It might be autobiographical. It doesn’t matter. The idea is simply to get writing.

But this isn’t just about me. I can’t be the only person who feels that there is more to life; there must be other people who feel that there has to be a way of expressing themselves beyond the day-to-day grind of work; other people who feel that they should be writing…

If you are one of those people, then Reader Meet Author needs you as a contributor. Contact me by commenting below or by emailing me at the address in my profile and I will add you as an editor.