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30 Day i-Pod Challenge

This blog is initially my response to the wonderful Sally Quilford’s 30 day i-Pod Challenge.

Image under Creative Commons Licence by Dan Diemer http://www.flickr.com/photos/diemer/

Creative Commons Licence by Dan Diemer http://www.flickr.com/photos/diemer/

The idea is to set your MP3 player to shuffle, and take the first song to play on the first day as a prompt for a short story.

On the second day you take the second, and so forth.

I am planning to post my pieces here, and I promise to take the songs precisely as they come up, but I can’t promise to post every single day.

At least it will hopefully get my muse off her ever-widening backside!  I hope that when the 30 day challenge is over, I shall be sufficiently trained to continue writing flashes, on different prompts.

We shall see …

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Day 6 – Prompted by Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones

Apostrophe

Sympathy for the Devill

Proofed

 

You’re driving through town on a brittle Saturday morning, following a dirty white van which surprisingly doesn’t have “clean me” wittily etched in the grime.  There’s a sticker on the bumper: “Hows my Driving?”  Your jaw aches.

A greengrocer is making the final adjustments to his display.  The air is warm.  It will be a fine day.  Handwritten notices perkily declaim the costermonger’s wares in chalk on black boards.  “Potato’s”, “Cauli’s”, “£1 for too kilo’s”.

You stop your car at the kerb, lock up carefully and stroll over to the smiling shopkeeper.

“Mornin’ Sir!” he beams “What can I get for you?” he gestures towards the heaping piles of carrot’s, peaches’ and bananana’s.

After a frenzied attack, which leaves the pavement and the produce liberally punctuated with slick semi-colons and commas of dark blood, you walk away, satisfied that grammar rules.

 

Link:  Greengrocer’s Apostrophe

 

Day 5 – Prompted by The Wheel Inside the Wheel by Mary Gauthier

The Wheel Inside the Wheel by Mary Gauthier

The Wheel Inside the Wheel

Courtesy of Philip Koch Paintings

The room was bare and shabby and was next to the bathroom, but the window looked out onto the street where the fiesta would pass.  No air moved despite the noisy fan gazing blindly back and forth.

The woman ran water into a glass and drank it.  The man picked up his pants and searched for his cigarettes, then for matches.

“You want one?” he said, pulling on his pants

“Sure”

He threw her the packet.

The thrum of music outside grew louder.  She lit the cigarette and leaned out the window. People were gathering down below and the sounds of their conversations drifted up.

“We all have things in our lives we regret, Fi” he said and she shrugged without turning.  “You wouldn’t regret it, though.”

“Wouldn’t I?” her voice was muffled by the increasing noise below.

“It’s a small thing.”

“And then everything is back to how it was?”

“Of course. Why not”

She turned to look briefly back into the room, but his face was hidden by the shirt he was pulling on over his head. Outside, Elvis moved between the revellers selling cigarettes from a tray around his neck.  A seven foot clown leaned down to smile at a baby wearing little white shoes.  Fire eaters juggled flames. A mariachi band strolled past.

“Maybe it’s better to just leave things as they are …?”

“But you can make things straight. Don’t you want things straight again?”

The room grew still, and she knew he was watching her.  She shrugged again.

“I thought we were straight.”

A woman’s laughter floated up followed by a child’s red balloon trailing its cord.  Higher and higher until no-one could catch it.  A huge white elephant loomed on a trolley pulled by four bare-chested men.

“Can we get a drink?” she asked.

“OK, if that’s what you want.”  He came and stood behind her putting his hands around her waist.  She didn’t know if it was what she wanted.

Not Good Enough for the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology – What Do You Think of It?

This one was longlisted for the @NFFD Anthology 2012, but weeded out before the final cut.  I like it a lot, but what do YOU think?

Tattoo

Image Courtesy of Jemal on Flickr

Tattoo

The red heart pulses under the sweat-wilted creases of his rolled-up sleeves.  Greenish-white fluorescent light flashes off the stained metal of the blade, dances in the eyes after you look away.

“Two pounds of steak, please.”

Chop.  The blade singing through the flesh; edge sharp as scalpels.  The vine-coiled heart pumping with the movement of his boiled-ham bicep. 

Coracobrachialis. Brachialis. Biceps and Triceps. The muscles of the upper arm.

They wait in line, making small talk until their turn.  The butcher has a word for each of them.  Deep, dark words, filled with secret meaning.  Pulsing, humid innuendo that sends them, flushed, out into the cutting November wind.

His mother waits, shopping bag over her arm, to take the tightly-wrapped parcel of meat, transport it home before the blood oozes through the creamy paper.  Why doesn’t she have the money ready?  She knows the price – “One pound Two and six, to you, Doris.  Nice bit of breast?” A frisson passes through the ladies in the queue while her fingers fumble with the catch on her purse.

Bones of the hand: the carpus, metacarpus, distal, middle and proximal phalanges.

She’s not here, of course.  That was years ago, before.

He has come back to this place to discover what can be remembered.  Because there is a space in his life; a hole in his consciousness that he has never been able to fill.

Leaving the high street, he takes the route past the park that he took on that day.  He probes the space inside his brain where the memory should be; takes the flashes of recognition as he walks around and tries them for fit in the emptiness.

There are pieces he has collected already; ragged impressions.  Memories, yes, but so removed from linear narrative as to be meaningless.  The pulsing red heart tattoo.  That is one fragment.  And something less defined, darker and deeper: the burning, shameful sting of those leering words, whispered in a hot rush of foul, carnivorous breath.

The day is dark, remembrance wreaths fading on the Memorial.  He enters the park beneath sticky lime trees.

Don’t do that!  Stop!

At the pond he halts.  A drake moves lazily on the slate water, its yellow eye and bottle-green head the only colour in the grey scene.  He remembers many things.  He can enumerate the physiology of the human body.  The precise enunciation of the classic syllables relax him, give him focus.

Straight home from school!  Mustn’t go near the park.  Beware of strangers!

Six hours missing, and found wandering in the park.  His mother frantic, cross and smothering.  The policeman with his endless questions.  And the only certainty that pulsing, red, guilty void.

With no obvious evidence, no reliable witness; the police soon lost interest.  His mother permitted no further mention of that day.  They bought their meat from the Co-op.

He glances at his watch, and steps off the path.  Nearly time for the children to come out of school.

Day 4 – Prompted by Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones

Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones

You Can Get Almost Anything on the Internet

Remote Controller Button

Photo Courtesy of chrisinplymouth at Flickr.com

“Start me up, baby,” he says without moving his eyes from the TV.

Fucking hilarious.  Droning racing cars make lap after meaningless lap, as the spring sunshine struggles to penetrate the drawn curtains.  His T-shirt reads Love Machine.

Debbie brings him a beer from the kitchen, trying not to notice the motorcycle in pieces by the back door.  He’s suckling on the bottle as she heads out to the shed.

There’s every kind of tool here (except for the one in the lounge, Debbie jokes to herself)  She cannot name them all.  It doesn’t matter, she opens her laptop and begins to search.

It takes a few hours until she’s got the basics, a couple of days til the parts she’s ordered are delivered, but by the evening of the third day, everything’s in place.  It isn’t hard to get him to come to the shed.  She says she needs help.  And she giggles.

Light burns in the shed til dawn, when she steps out, removing her welding mask and gloves.  She takes a small black box with three red buttons from her pocket.  She turns to the open door and presses the middle button.

With the faintest electronic whirr he follows her through the door.

“Start me up, baby,” he says without moving his lips.

Day 3 – Prompted by Happiness by Kasabian

Happiness by Kasabian

Achieving Nirvana

He holds a small, plaster angel, with shabby gilt wings.  A simple knick-knack, of no intrinsic value, which his fingers rotate constantly, turning and touching, touching and turning. This talisman is his last remaining tether to the indifferent misery of life.

She was young and so was he, and this was both cause and effect in their relationship.  In the bright, endless days they roamed and laughed, each fitting the other with such perfection the entire evolution of the universe could have been designed to culminate in their being together.

Moments sleeping seemed moments wasted so they lay entwined and cheated Morpheus by dreaming only of each other. When work or studies forced them apart, each partner assumed a divided mind, feeling the virtual presence of the other, so that every small task was performed to an internal dialogue in which the other’s responses were so easily intuited, it was as though they were never apart at all.

She was his angel, keeping him safe.  He bought the cheap plaster knick-knack as a joke to do the same for her.

Friends at first teased them for the exclusivity of their devotion.  Then, growing tired of unanswered messages, called less and less, then not at all.  He cared not one bit, his world complete, she maybe cared more, he had no idea.

The flame that burns brightly burns fast, and the turning of the seasons brought the first threat of rain.  Her growing emotional distance became fact with graduation and an internship abroad.

He kept their apartment, but destroyed all the photographs. The plaster angel wept on a high shelf.

That he was still young was a blessing. Throwing himself into work, this time without the preposterous distractions of another, he rose and flourished.  There were women, but none who lasted beyond the changing of the sheets.

Despite soft ripples of discontent that spread through the depths of his mind, in good time partnership was offered and accepted.  His doubts were easily calmed by the drink and pills that helped him feel what he should at any given time. His contemporaries showed him how to match the demands of the day and the silence of the long night.  There were substances for every need; he could appear almost normal.

And every shot, every hit, every upper, downer and straightener-out brings a little more warm emptiness and a little less doubt. But that virtual presence in the divided mind is indomitably persistent.

One morning, he wakes in his chair with a stain on his clothes that he hopes is spilled whiskey. He takes a decision with his pills and looks her up.  Her name and photograph on the first page of results punches the breath from him.  Every contour and shadow of her pulls like fish-hooks in his heart.

Dialling her number takes the best part of a week.  Hanging up when she answers takes his last remaining strength.

When he refuses to see the shrinks they line up for him, they offer a generous package, and he agrees he should spend more time “relaxing’’.  No longer having to work, means no longer having to think. He likes that.

He gets ripped off by the dealers, he is sure they steal his clothes, but his thoughts trouble him less and less.  He almost never thinks of her at all, now.

He holds a small, plaster angel, with shabby gilt wings.  A simple knick-knack, of no intrinsic value, which his fingers rotate constantly, turning and touching, touching and turning. This talisman is his last remaining earthly obstacle to achieving Nirvana.

 

Day 2 – Prompted by El Farol by Santana

El Farol by Santana on YouTube

El Farol = The Lantern (according to Google! Let’s hope tomorrow’s song is in English!)

Alligator and Me

Child in Van

Photo courtesy of http://www.adeleuddo.com

The gang had chased me through the Saturday morning shoppers and had me cornered by the library when Alligator saved my life – he appeared out of the bushes waving this big tomahawk thing and screaming like a looney.  They scattered and for two hot summer weeks we became friends.

Alligator was about two years older than me and he lived with his mother in an old bus painted flaky red with symbols all over it.  “CND” they said.  “Filthy layabout scroungers!” my dad said.

The bus was one of a bunch of coaches and caravans on a piece of waste ground near the old soft drinks factory.  They were part of a peace convoy Alligator said.

Our neighbours called them names too.  There were meetings in the Town Hall.  I think my parents went.  I stayed home with Mrs Hendy’s Bridget and watched the police on the TV news dragging people, vans and busses like Alligator’s out of fields near Glastonbury.

We ducked school a couple of times.  He may have been new to the area but he knew the best places.  We made a den in the garden of this big empty house and nicked bottles of milk off doorsteps.  We stopped doing that when we didn’t go to the den for a couple of days; the milk had turned into this lumpy cheese stuff and stank the place out!

I went to his bus once.  It was dark inside and smelled funny, kind of earthy and spicy.  Alligator’s mum was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.  She had red hair – not ginger  – but proper red with these purple beads woven into it.  She had silver rings on every finger, even her thumb.  The bus was messy but she didn’t even seem to mind.

She was making a meal and she asked me what I liked to eat.  I said sausages and she smiled; Alligator told me they were vegetarian.  They were having this sloppy bean casserole.  In the end I had just bread and jam for tea.  It was brilliant.

On the way home I found an old lantern in a skip.  It just needed a new bulb and a battery and some tape on the handle.  I took it for Alligator.  There was no electricity in his bus.

When I got home I could hear mum and dad from the kitchen

“ … place is a tip.  Those old vans and not one of them with a tax disc!  Honest people subsidise these dole-scrounging weirdoes sitting about smoking goodness knows what.”

“But you know what Councillor Morgan said…”

Dad made a noise through his nose.  “The Council are bunch of wet liberals.  No, if we want this sorted there’s only one way to go about it.  Jim Richards has the right idea.  A few of us are meeting up at the Red Lion tonight.”

The kitchen door opened as mum came into the hall; I scurried up the stairs into my bedroom.

I heard my dad come in very late after I’d gone to bed.  I couldn’t hear what they said this time but my mum’s voice sounded worried.  Next morning he had scratches on his hands like he’d been gardening and a bruise over his eye.

After breakfast I ran to the waste ground to give Alligator the lantern I’d mended, but when I got there it was empty.  There was just this junk lying around and a black sooty mark where Alligator’s bus had been.

That was years ago.  My parents never mentioned that night.  I think they forgot all about it.  But I’ve still got the lantern.

Wikipedia: Battle of the Bean Field 1st June 1985

Day 1 – Prompted by Je Crois Entendre Encore by Alison Moyet

Amoureuse

From my childhood we were two sides to the same coin.  Flesh of my flesh, that slender body that made mine, that mind that shared my deepest secrets and desires; those shrewd eyes that saw everything and could not be deceived.

My bedtime stories were tales of her student days in Paris living with a penniless artist, who later became a world-renowned film-maker.  But that was before the student riots when a young photographer captured her soul and became my father, until she cast him aside for a scandalous liaison with a night club chanteuse.

She was a bright star, shining with passion for culture and ideas.  She held parties where impossibly intellectual people drank gin and smoked until dawn, and I sat at their feet to devour the crumbs of their conversation and worshipped with the others at the altar of her beauty.  She had no time for housekeeping and once moved the whole family into an hotel while a team of cleaners made our house habitable again; only to decide on our return that she couldn’t bear the tidiness and we spent a happy day “distressing” the place to her satisfaction.

We discussed everything in front of the blazing 3-bar electric fire (she had to be warm).  Impossible, circular, metaphysical ponderings.  She had studied under Derrida.  What is existence? How should we define a life well lived?  And we shared our hopes for the future and our fears.  After a life of defiant hedonism, of always being sure, never questioning, the thing she dreaded most was a loss of control.  It was the thing which caused her smile to falter, caused her to pause and turn inward.   When our conversations came to this, which they did more and more frequently, she would snatch up the gin bottle and light each new cigarette from the stub of the last and insist that I accompany her whilst she sang Jacques Brel chansons in her beautiful, melancholy contralto.

I first realised there was something amiss when she called me by my sister’s name.  Small enough a slip to be of no consequence, but obscenely revelatory from her.

She retreated from me. The inconsequential details and bit-part players of her life stole the spotlight of her mind’s focus away.  Things that happened at the Sorbonne became folded neatly into contemporary events.  In the quantum chaos of her mind each of us shared the stage with equal billing; her lovers, her children, her tutors, De Gaulle.

At first, it was I who was unhappy.  I tried to tell myself she was suffering, losing herself.  But then I had to admit that she was not.  Whatever internal theatre she followed whilst I sat with her in the sterile sanatorium captivated her.  I no longer had a rôle in her life.

Gradually, though, she came back to me.  More and more often, she would suddenly focus upon the real, mundane world where we sat among formal English gardens or returned through corridors stinking of cabbage and piss.  Confusion would crease her features until I stopped and took her hand.  She looked at me then with absolute clarity – and absolute terror.

And so we walk, though the sun is below the horizon and the evening is brisk with the promise of an early frost.  She, borne along like a lady, a pink summer shawl covering her nightdress, hair loose and lifted by the motion of the wheelchair, I striding briskly, singing loud enough for both of us.

            « J’arrive, j’arrive!

Mais qu’est-ce que j’aurais bien aimé

Encore une fois prendre un amour

Comme on prend le train pour plus être seul

Pour être ailleurs, pour être bien. »

                                  

I am coming, I am coming!

But I would have liked

Once more to take a lover.

We take the train to be more alone

To be elsewhere, to be well.

–   Jacques Brel, J’Arrive