WOE: Going for Gold

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I am afraid that you’re all going to have indulge me and put up with a whopping entry from me this week, I have been very good recently about respecting the word counts but this piece wanted to be a little larger.  I’m not sure yet how large because I actually wrote it down by hand, the first time I’ve braved writing fiction by hand for many a year.  I guess that I’m the beginning of the computer generation where word processing is just so much easier and quicker, especially when it comes to making changes and fixing mistakes.  I wrote it by hand because my frenetic handwriting seemed better suited to expressing the draft, in black on the stark white of a screen this little tale seemed a little too mad to share, I spent a day trying to spill the words and form the idea that yet again came to me as I was falling asleep but my subconscious editor was holding me back from making a fool of myself but I’ve decided to share anyway.  Let me know what you think.

~

Speeding up the London Eye

She pulled out her knitting from her bag and started rhythmically working her way through the short rows of stocking stitch.  She preferred to keep her eyes on the stitches, not trusting them to somehow throw themselves off the needle without close supervision, nor did she trust herself not to pick up more than one stitch at a time.  She watched her work grow, mesmerised almost by the regular rhythm of her steady work.

She noted that the bench was uncomfortable, a modern metal effort without a back.  She recalled reading in the papers or in a knitting magazine about some modern prank of knitters, what was the name of it?  Yarnbombing, that was it.  She hadn’t felt that it was a particularly wise use of materials and wondered about the criminal implications of cozying up lamp posts and the like.  But now she decided that this bench could really do with some of that yarnbombing, a nice cushion or two, maybe a throw.

Yarnbombing, the word was so worrying.  Bombing, bombs, it seemed like an everyday part of everyone’s vocabulary these days.  Bomb.  Such an ugly, terrifying word.  Tearing holes in the fabric of the world and in the fabric of people’s lives.  After seeing on  television the devastating consequences of yet another terrorist attack, she had vowed never to go into London again.  It just wasn’t worth the risk.  It was a bad place where bad things happened.  She ruled it out, draw neat lines around it and a cut a neat hole around where London used to be in the fabric of her life.

The needles had clicked more harshly when her mind had turned to such matters but quickly they returned to their usual beat, like the clack of train tracks singing a lullaby to the world-weary commuter, the gentle repetitive action lulled her distressed mind.

London.  She had never understood the fascination with the place.  It was like a set, a backdrop to every English film, an almost mythical place where fiction was acted upon, no more real than New York, cities that existed only in high drama and crime statistics.  She had never understood the appeal.  Did people think that they could have a little slice of a Hollywood style perfect life if they wandered through the backdrop of their favourite film or series?  Maybe it was just crass commercialism after all, the media selling it to everyone that they have to visit these places and buy the T-shirt and goodness knows what else.

London.  London.  What was the appeal in the Big Smoke?  the big Noise?  the Big Dirty?

She saw the city spread below her, the iconic landmarks springing from the street plan in resolute 3D, first as cardboard-looking models then in photographic reality.  Buckingham Palace always looked so big on the telly, imagine just the two of them rattling around in there.  The map slipped beneath her feet, pulling her eyes elsewhere and causing her to reach out a hand to steady herself.

She found herself grasping the pinnacle of Big Ben itself, swinging around it like a weathercock in a draught.  The Thames spread below her, the sinuous dividing line through the city, and with a slight flick of her feet she was off, as easy as a champion swimmer but borne aerially as if Superman or something equally preposterous.  She followed the river’s course past the London Eye.

The London Eye was a modern interloper to the historic riverfront, to the tally of icons, to the skyline, to the consciousness of millions of souls the world around.  She had seen it on the television, used for countless establishing shots and for public firework displays.  It was a mere upmarket aggrandised Ferris wheel with goldfish bowl pods instead of tin bucket cages.  She knew of no-one who had actually been in the thing, tickets were expensive apparently.  But now it was like some great stately arch, tall, proud and glowing in the sunlight.  She could imagine that it could be seen peeping over rooftops from many streets around.  Something as iconic as Big Ben but a little easier to glimpse then identify.  It turned so slowly as she hovered and watched its progress, an almost imperceptible rotation.  So slow, so boring!  She brushed her finger against the pods much in the way a child does the petals of a seaside plastic windmill and set it spinning.

Moving on down the Thames with the occasional barge sprinkled on top its murky darkness, she saw a bridge that caught her eye.  It was all made of playing cards.  No wonder London Bridge was always falling down!  She couldn’t remember if it had eventually caught fire too, she could see the flames licking at the plasticised cards and they curling inwards with the heat.  No it really wasn’t a good design choice on the part of whichever lady who had commissioned it.  She hovered again, contemplating the construction and waiting to see if the worst should happen.  Then something small caught her eye, a small red vehicle passed along the top of the bridge.

A bus!  The buses!

The very stuff of nightmares, that icon of public transport whether it was running on potato peelings or not.  It had fallen low in her estimation after those terrible events.  It was a high risk danger these days and as she surveyed the streets around her, she saw that there were countless double-decker buses trundling along.

Her breath caught, the anxiety grew and the world turned to black, a sheet of never-ending black before her.

Then, from one corner, far in the right hand corner, came a bus.

A red, two-storied bus, intent on completing its journey.

Another one followed it.  And another one.  A long line of red London buses.

Then another line formed next to it.

And another line.

There were three buses across and another two on top of each of those.

She wanted to scream but no words formed.

The scale shifted and there were more and more buses, neat rows and columns of them laid out like some graphic arts poster, bright red buses against the black backdrop, more and more of them.

She twisted and ducked and divided but they were unavoidable.

She stirred.

“Ma’am?”

Someone was shaking her arm.

She looked up cautiously, half expecting to come face to face with a London bus.  But no, it was just an officious looking security guard in a too small uniform.

“Ma’am, you need to put those things away in a public place.”

It seemed that red buses were the least of people’s worries after all.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

~

Yes, it’s about four times the length required and it is a little crazy and kind of different from what I usually write, I’ve never written a dream sequence before either.  And as for whether it’s actually set in London as requested in the prompt, that’s up for debate but as I’ve flouted most of the other ‘rules’ too, I guess it doesn’t much matter.  I owe either Mary Poppins or some version of Peter Pan for one image, a nursery rhyme video for another and Dumbo for the final image.  Thanks for reading.

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WOE: Forbidden

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Cappucino

He pushed open the heavy door and made his way to the counter, his motions as routine as brushing his teeth.  He glanced over the counter although he knew what he would order and the girl behind smiled at him, recognising a regular customer.  The early morning rush was over and done with and neither he nor the girl were in any hurry now.  He stated the complicated formula that would make his morning just perfect, one of those concoctions that American style chain coffee shops specialise in – all froth, sweetener and flavoured syrup.  She turned to the other counter and started brewing whilst keeping up the easy, friendly patter of small talk.  Within moments, she was ringing it through the till and he handed over the money, just a few hundred pennies.

He picked up the coffee, glanced around the coffee shop to see if his favourite table was free.  It was, he knew already, he’d checked before even he’d even walked into the shop, checked again when he was placing his order.  He walked over, leisurely rather than purposeful, although he wouldn’t have been comfortable sitting anywhere else.  He picked up a discarded newspaper along the way then settled himself into the big, puffy leather armchair.

This table was the best in the house, tucked into a neat corner where he could watch both the inside and the outside worlds, king of all he surveyed.  He took a long sip of his drink before placing it carefully back on the table, measured motions.  He would make his coffee last a long time, carefully timing the last few sips for just before it got too cold to be pleasurable.  It would be a couple of hours before he would leave but the staff didn’t mind him sitting here even after he’d finish his drink, he was a regular after all.

Enthroned in the deep armchair, he felt cushioned and protected from the world about him, as if he could see out but no one could see in.  He glanced about, the shop was quite empty at this time of morning, the few other faces were familiar, regulars like him.  There would be plenty of time for people watching later, instead now he flicked open the newspaper and scowled at world events.

Just a few hundred pennies that bought him a few moments of peace and relaxation out of a stressful life.  He felt that this was something that he deserved, a right that he had.  What were a few hundred pennies after all?  What price this pleasure?   It didn’t matter that there were places that he should have been or things that he should have been doing.  Nor the fact that the money had come from the envelope marked ‘mortgage’.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

~

I’m a little over the word count this week (461) but I have been under of late, so maybe that compensates!

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WOE: Freedom

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She slipped out of bed and into the clothes laying out ready on the chair in the corner of the room in movements so fluid and easy that the first uncomfortable niggle starting signalling that this was some disturbing unreality to her mind.  The clothes were High Street smart, simple, ordinary work clothes.  Then she headed into the kitchen reaching the cereal down from the shelf and pouring the bottle of milk in those same fluid, easy movements.  She watched as if she was some other external being from this body that was apparently she, accepting the reality but still bemused.  She ate, browsing through a magazine, glancing at the clock.  She washed the bowl and spoon out in the clear and tidy sink then left them on the side to drain.  Her coat and bag were hanging ready on the hooks by the door and the shoes underneath were High street smart, black court shoes like millions of women wear every day.  She took the key down and unlocked the door. Time to go to work.  A day, a routine just like everyone else’s.  It would be a beautiful day.

Her subconscious was fully disturbed now and her conscious started to clamour too, causing her to shift painfully and rouse slightly, calling her back to reality.  A reality where there would be no going to work, where there would be no easy slipping on of ‘normal’ clothes.  A reality where there was only pain and limitation.  The tears smarted in the corners of her eyes as, now fully conscious, she realised the vicious trick that her subconscious had played on her, luring her, deceiving her.

It would have been a beautiful day in that reality.  A day of freedom.

She lifted herself carefully, resting automatically for a moment before stiffly swinging her legs out from under the covers and letting them rest carefully on the floor.  She sighed then chuckled.

‘Normal’ women would have got up and had a shower in the morning, spending time on their hair and makeup before heading out of the door.  Even her subconscious had forgotten what freedom was.

She sighed again.  Ah, freedom.  She missed it when she could remember it.

The dream left her morning tinged with bitterness as she slowly navigated the reality that made her a prisoner in her own body.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

 

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WOE: Sand

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The beach was clear of people, the dank weather was keeping people away, but she hunkered down between the dunes staring out at the sea beyond, running her hands across the cold sand, appreciating the moment of isolation.  She had played and lounged on this beach in and out of season all the years of her life, it was her beach, their beach.  She drew her breath in sharply, some barely conscious thought paining her although her eyes still hadn’t lost their focus on the distant, rolling waves.  The clouds seemed to merge with the water, grey and leaden as her heart.

She dropped back onto her bottom, never caring for the dampness and crossed her legs, brushing back the slightly crunchy curls that form in that specific combination of dank weather and sea spray and drawing the hood of her jacket over her head.  Her thoughts were a blurry fog of emotions, tears slowing forming in the corners of her eyes, smarting.  She stared out.

Slowly she picked up a handful of sand from beside her, letting it drift from her fingers, catching slightly with the wind and spraying out.  She smiled slightly, calling to mind a distant past when she had the freedom of childhood and had tossed handfuls of sand against the backdrop of a fantastical blue sky.  She picked up another, letting it drift again slowly.

Apparently all she had to do was let go, such a simple aphoristic sound bite of modern life that, she felt, was tossed about a little too freely, as if there was a button in front of her and she could reach out and press it and everything would be ‘let go’.  Instead, she reached out for another handful of sand, something tangible, something manageable.

Tense and lost in her flurry of thoughts, she crushed her hand over the sand; it compacted into a loose, damp ball.  She sighed again, letting go of the sand, this time it landed with soft thumps.  Her eyes drew to the soft sound, looking at the scattered piles.

She picked up another handful, letting it drift away before picking up another, holding it tightly this time.

Maybe it was her after all; maybe she wasn’t ready to let go, maybe she was holding on too tightly.  And maybe it was just as simple as opening her hand and letting it fall, however it landed.

~

This prompt response came to me in the middle of a night this week before speedily disappearing from my grey cells, it’s the story of my life at the moment.  This version feels very much second best but it does come in bang on the 400!

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

WOE: To the Moon

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He had been so proud of her that first day, watching her pick out the perfect outfit and making up a packed lunch for her, hearing the shake of nerves in her voice and sending a text message at lunchtime just to make sure all was well.  He was the one who believed all along that she could do the job, who encouraged her to apply, who told her to reach to the moon.

He remembered those first few months when she would hurry home and they’d cook some dinner and spend the evening together.  He loved those moments, something precious to look forward to at the end of his own long day.

Then she started spending time with her colleagues, coming home later, not eating with him.  For a while he had been glad that she had friends, something and someone outside of the narrow confines of home but it had become a niggle.  He still wasn’t sure how he felt exactly, maybe there were words that he wasn’t prepared to admit to, things like ‘lonely’ and ‘abandoned’, maybe even jealous.  He hadn’t been jealous; he knew that.  But now?  He mentally pieced together the jigsaw and realised how her attitude had changed completely.  It wasn’t just how much time that she was spending outside the house but how she was so eager to leave, how she didn’t seem interested in what he had done that day or how he felt.  Then there was the whole thing with her mobile.  He wasn’t allowed near it, snapped at for passing it over when it sounded, suspected of always looking over her shoulder when she texted.  She’d withdraw and take a call, reply to a text message.  He was hurt, he admitted.  But not jealous, she had promised him that it was only work friends.  He had to believe in her still.  Thinking otherwise would itself be a betrayal.

There was no telling anymore what time she’d come home but he always made dinner ready, hoping.  He missed the evenings that they used to spend together, chatting or watching something on the television.  He missed her.  Something had changed in her but he didn’t know what, not yet.

She had told him that she needed space.  Space for what?  Bemused, he’d agreed all the same, letting her go and do her own thing with people he’d never even got to meet.  At the weekends when they had always planned to something particular together, they used to have so many shared interests, she was always going out now with these friends, leaving him behind.

It was nearly time, the earliest that he could expect her.  He sighed, feeling heavy in his heart, unformed and unbidden questions rising for which there were no answers.

He wheeled himself up to the window where he could see the road, see her coming.  He would ask her how her day had been but expect no conversation.  Whenever she did come home.

~

I haven’t written any fiction for so long, you’ve got to have the right ‘head’ on but this story has been whirling through my cobwebs lately and this week’s Red Writing Hood prompt gave me the encouragement to share, all I had to do was fit in the phrase ‘to the moon’ and aim for 500 words.  495, I must be getting better at this word count business!

Apologies to my subscribers for another double dose today!

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

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WOE: Core

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The last time he visited it had been early fall, the first of the cooler days, and as usual, Ma Alwright had been sitting in her rocker, feet on the railing, watching the world go by.  As he climbed the increasingly rickety steps to the porch, he passed the steady line of apple cores balanced on the rail by her feet.  Always apples.  She’d been surprised to see him yet graceful and he had felt no embarrassment.  When she decided to make them coffee and started easing herself out of the chair, it was his turn to feel surprised.  Somewhere along the way, Ma Alwright had aged and despite her remonstrances, he took her arm, further surprised, and shaken too, by the thin, papery skin and weak limb, and helped her up.  He didn’t say anything.

Now it was spring, still cool, and he hadn’t made it back.  As he left the last time, he’d told himself that he would visit more often but that’s what he always did as he got into his car and drove away.  But he’d quickly forget his self-promises and time would continue on by.

As he climbed the porch steps this morning, it was the absent apple cores he noticed first, and felt deeply, the news becoming a sudden, fierce reality.  The rocker was abandoned too now, forlorn.  He hurried inside and was going to the stairs when he noticed the open door to the back room.  He paused on the threshold, briefly wondering when she had stopped using the bedroom above, respectfully holding back as he would have done when he was a boy.

The young doctor, a newcomer in the town, was with her still.  A good-hearted fellow who had taken to calling on Mrs Alwright on his rounds, just neighbourly like.  It was the doctor who had been the one to find her.  Fortunately.  Goodness knows how long it would have been before one of the children had visited.

The doctor looked up:

“I’m glad you could come,” then added “she passed peacefully.”

He nodded, still shuffling awkwardly in the doorway, guilt overwhelming him.  As he had grown older, he realised more deeply how much maybe that she had given up, how life maybe hadn’t gone to her plan when first she had to raise her siblings who had later flown the nest without a second glance then she’d taken in the unruly brood that his own siblings were.  Life hadn’t exactly been kind to Ma Alwright but she’d been the centre of their world, a comforting stability, and her passing was incomprehensible, he was totally shaken to the core.

~

This piece is for Red Writing Hood who asked us for 450 words (441!) exploring ‘core’.  Core has many meanings and as an amateur logophile, I worked in apple cores, the idea of something or someone being indispensable and/or central and the idiom ‘shaken to the core’.  Friendly concrit always welcomed!

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

WOE: A Rainy Night in Dusseldorf

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AKA – The Dangers of Fairytales

Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

“It was a rainy night … in … Dusseldorf …”

“Dusseldorf?!  What kinda place is Dusseldorf?”

“It’s a cool place with all sorts of cute houses and a big castle.”

“Huh.  Sounds lame.”

“Do you want me to tell you a story or not?”

“OK, OK.  Dusseldorf.”

“Right.  Now it was a horrible rainy night in the faraway kingdom of Dusseldorf but a princess was born …”

“It’s always a princess!  I bet there was an evil witch too.”

“No there was no evil witch, just the princess.  You don’t want a princess?”

“No, princesses are silly.”

“OK.  So who lives in this faraway kingdom?”

“A prince.”

“OK.  What’s this prince like?”

“Oh he’s brave and handsome.  They always are you know.”

“Right.  So on this rainy night in Dusseldorf a prince was born … “

“No you don’t want him being born, that’s no fun.”

“Right, OK.  So no young prince then in this story that I’m supposed to be telling you?”

“No.  Being a baby is kinda boring, you know, they just cry and lie there.  See?”

He did a remarkable impression of something that could have been a baby lying on its back, or maybe it was a beetle stuck on its back, limbs flailing.  I nodded, it seemed best to agree.

“See when they grow up they have much more fun, they go fight dragons and they can ride horses.  There’re lots of things princes can do but babies are stupid.”

“OK, so this grownup prince does what?”

“Oh, he goes riding into the forest, because they always go hunting.  I’ve read this you see but I didn’t know it was in Dusseldorf. The book doesn’t say.”

I nodded at this mysterious development.

“Yeah, that’s right, he rides into the forest and sees this beautiful swan and marries her.”

“Marries the swan?”

“Yeah and then the swan comes to live in the castle with the prince.  And they live happily ever after.”

“Oh.”  My mind pursues a more adult course of logic.  “Does the swan like living in the castle or is it rather difficult?”

“No, I expect they feed it cake.  We fed the swans at the park cake, they liked it.”

I nodded, still doubting whether feeding swans on fudge cake had been a good idea but my repertoire of entertainment for small beings was rather limited.  Then he added with deceptive innocence:

I like cake.”

I nodded in agreement, the way he had polished off two slices of the stuff just an hour ago had rather confirmed this.  He looked expectantly at me and I looked back at him.  He sighed and added:

“Maybe I could have some cake.  I’m rather hungry you see.”

Ah, the penny clicked.  Well I might not know much about these small beings but I’m pretty sure that I’m not meant to feed them cake after bedtime.  Besides, there was plenty of things I was looking forward to watching on telly, I checked my watch.

“Uh-uh, bedtime for you mister!  Night.”

I clicked the light out quickly and rushed away downstairs, a small voice echoing behind me.

“Your story sucked!”

Word count: 524