Friday 31 August 2012

Flash Fiction: Buttons

Pint in one hand. Clasped. Wouldn't want it to go to waste. Key card in the other. Got it ready. Mustn't look drunk.

Marjorie waited, swaying gently, no breeze but the air-conditioning.

Was the lift slow? Or was it just relative to the evening's rapid flow of drinks? Gerry, the MD, had wrapped up the sales-and-management awayday hours earlier. It was straight into the G-and-Ts, followed by the margaritas, followed by the nameless alcopops, followed by beer, wine and more beer. Food? She remembered peanuts.

Leaving the bar had been a good call. She'd had a few too many. If she didn't get back to her room she was worried the next one would be a co-worker not a drink. She'd sensed she was overflirting, practically groping her male colleagues, undressing them with her throaty laugh. Their beer goggles filling with expectation, slowly restoring her to youth. They were looking at her — to her — not just at the pretty young things — the bitches — from reception and purchasing.

Fuck. She'd dropped her key card. Bending over — more revealing than she'd meant to be, but not as easy as it used to be — she saw two buttons undone on her blouse. Did that happen earlier or just now? More revealing than she'd meant to be.

Ting. The lift door closed in front of her as she stood up. Fuck. She hadn't heard it arrive. She pressed the button. Too late. More waiting. At least she had a drink and yet another reason to have it.

Affairs as short as they were doomed. Drunken one-nighters with younger men whose regret she saw across the pillow in the morning. Or older men who couldn't believe their luck but couldn't get it up. At least tonight she'd be taking only the drink to her room.

Her marriage had limped across the finishing line twenty years after a false start. A husband whose long-running deceit had fooled her and three other women, an extended family she never knew she had. A son who drifted everywhere and committed to nothing, from his iPod shuffle to his carousel of girlfriends. A daughter whose prudishness seemed a studied response to her family, distancing herself by more than a reasonable airfare.

All gone. All done. Alone.

"Mar-jo-rie!" Jack sang her name across the foyer. "Looking good. How's it going?" He walked towards her, tie loose, shirt untucked, top two buttons undone, beer bottle in hand and a confident swagger that steered clear of a straight line. But a smile all for her.

Ting. She caught the door. They got in.

"Floor?" Jack's hands waved in front of the panel, nimble, conjuring, charming, drunken.

"Top floor, Jack." Smile. "All the way."

He pressed all the buttons, all the right buttons. The lift was slow. Jack was quick. But, at least tonight, she'd be taking only the drink to her room.

"Buttons" was published in Jawbreakers, the 2012 National Flash-Fiction Day anthology. More background here and here.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Loves and Words

Next month and the month after I'll be reading out some flash fiction at a couple of spoken word events.

First up, on Saturday 1st September, is another Liminal event, this time part of the Weston Fringe Festival, offering an evening of flash, poetry, food and music — which is, of course the food of love, and love is what it's about and Loves is where it's at. I'm planning to read "Buttons" and a couple of shorter unpublished pieces.

Second, on Thursday 4th October, is the Flash Slam! at Warwick Words, a festival of literature and the spoken word. Dan Holloway, the voice and brains behind the first Flash Slam! in Oxford this year, will be the MC and this time, by virtue of winning the Oxford slam, I will be panellist rather than competitor.

Both events should be a lot of fun, so if you can be around either Weston or Warwick at the right time, come along!

Friday 24 August 2012

Prose Poem: Cleansed

At last they took away the only thing we had left. They reduced our numbers. It was almost merciful.

Before that they took away our clothes, our hair, our children, our names, saying it was for our own good. They reduced us to numbers.

Before that they said we must take you away, keep you apart. We said we are in work, communities, schools, homes. They said to line up, to board now.

Before that they said we must do something, you are different. We said we are the same, the same hair, eyes, skin, shops. They said no, you are different. We said like you we have hearts, homes, hopes, children. They said silence, there is no discussion.

But the first thing they did was to look and say there is us and there is you.

"Cleansed" was selected for inclusion in the 2011 Slingink Shorts Anthology (which, at the time of writing, appears to have been shelved) and was contributed to and included in the the24project. More background here.

Friday 10 August 2012

Short Story: Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs

'Tis the night before Easter, when all through the house not a creature is stirring, not even a–

No, wait a moment, there is movement.

Barely there, a small figure floats through the house. There is a suggestion of wings — hard to say for sure... look too hard and perhaps not... but look away and there is a shimmer, a suggestion. What is obviously supposed to be a wand is not obviously a wand. The figure's frou-frou dress projects a prettiness that belies beauty, a deep and timeless beauty. The sparkling tiara cheapens her necklace, all filigree and finery. It looks out of place above the strong lines of her face.

Her hair is practical, coiled into a bun, tied and pent-up. Subdued but ill at ease with its sensibility. In her eyes there is weariness and something lost. But look closer... there is wisdom, command, passion.

She flutters up the stairs, pausing on the landing to caress and converse with the cat. The cat purrs and nuzzles in return before descending the stairs in search of a night out, shedding domestic pretence with every step, heading out to reclaim an untamed heritage — hunting, fighting, mating and more. Primal and necessary.

To work. She floats across the landing and through the sticker-covered door. She was here two full moons past, little has changed. The floor is action figures, toy cars and scattered books. Posters, cards and calendars paper the walls. Nursery wallpaper is visible in the gaps — a little too young for the boy asleep in the bed. He is outgrowing the room his parents prepared for his arrival seven winters before. Soon he will outgrow the beliefs they provided for him.

She is distracted back to work by the hiss and wail of the cat outside. She checks beneath the boy's pillow. He still believes. But the hourglass of that belief has almost run its course. Only a few more visits. She completes her exchange and leaves.

She pauses on the landing.

Something else stirs. Neither mouse nor cat. Something other. Something older. Something like her.

A figure steps out from the shadows. Tailcoat, shirt, cravat and breeches cover fur. A worn leather satchel is slung over one shoulder. His yellow eyes are narrowed. His ears are tall, upright and alert. His face is crossed by a fresh scratch, his buck teeth stained by blood. Cat blood.

"It has been a long time, Easter Bunny." He would dislike that name.

"Tooth Fairy." She is used to it. "I was in the garden doing my rounds. I sensed a presence indoors.... It has been a long time."

"Not long enough. You should have remained outside."

His whiskers twitch. He looks her up and down. "Nice wand."

"Staff. You have seen it before."

"I remember it being... bigger."

"What does the bag hold? Fabled eggs? Or stolen goods? What have you taken? Oh yes... the life of that poor cat. What a great and worthy garden warrior you must be! What tales of daring can those witness ears recount? Mighty foes felled, magnificent feasts, treasures found? Cats and chocolates and children's playthings."

"Silence! Do not mistake me for the part I play in this fairy-tale masque."

"And yet, Bunny, even that is more than I see before me."

"Fairy, I am the March Hare and more." He draws himself up, shadows and light falling around him. "I am Alde Hara! I am Bringer of Spring, Master of the Hunt, Lord of the Dance, Convenor of Night, Herald of the Moon!"

"And servant of Freya! Or did that memory somehow become lost and rotten in the addled larders of your mind? You betrayed me, Hara. You stole what was mine.

"All were trapped. We were weak and afeared. Belief was dying all around us and you fled. You slew my handmaidens, destroyed my hearth and halls. My brethren, my beloved cats, my chariot... all in flames. Kith and kin, kindle and tinder, you felled and razed them all to escape with my syncretic right. Fertility was mine to rule, mine to become. It was my path from one pantheon to another. My right. You took it and fled."

"I saw a chance for survival. I took it. I regret–"

"Do not insult me with unfelt apology! You come forth but once a year — or when it suits you. You deliver eggs and trinkets — if you feel like it. You do what you bloody well please and still you endure! I sought refuge amongst the Fae. I was tolerated without welcome. They took pleasure in seeing the queen of the Valkyrie diminished, humbled and hiding in the forests like a common fairy."

"Life was but one of your domains. Death another."

"And what has that become? Dead teeth. I once commanded the souls of fallen warriors, guiding them from the fields of their death to the halls of their valiant kings and proud fathers. Now? Now I buy children's fallen teeth. I work every night, every bloody night! Barely have I time to think, let alone curse you in all your names."

"That is maybe for the best."

"Enough! I will not be mocked by a delivery boy, a thieving knave, a miserable old hare in rabbit's guise."

The satchel of eggs and toys falls open to the floor. He throws down his jacket. Pretence cast aside, he leaps. She steps forward, swinging her staff, catching his stomach, tumbling him across the landing. He springs up, teeth bared, laughing, dancing from foot to foot.

"Yes, Freya, birds and cats are no sport. This is what makes us alive."

He bounds across the floor, spinning a high kick at her head, connecting. A crack. She falls back, staff flying.

Shaking her hair, she rises, fragments of tiara fall to the floor. Her hair unfurls — golden, flowing, elemental. She straightens to a fuller height, shoulders back, arms to her side, smile wicked and sharp. Light and shadow shift across revealed wings, feathered and full. Her eyes on him, she reaches down for her staff.

"Bunny, you are history."

They circle and fight, their moves becoming bolder, their clothes more torn, their cries and calls ever more base. Their eyes wilder with every taunt and blow, the trappings of their masquerade shed and spill across the floor.

They are not so real that their fight wakes those asleep in the house. But they are not so unreal that time does not weary them to deliver a fall.

He goes down, she is on him.

"Enough?" She pins his arms.

He smiles up at her, panting. "Do you expect me to yield, Freya?"

"I am victory. I am life and love. I give and take these as I please." Laughing, elated, released, she throws back her hair. "You may no longer be in my service, Hara, but just now you are mine. What do I expect of you? I expect you to do my bidding, to yield to my yearning. When we fight there is passion. I will have my satisfaction. That is my right!"

"And who am I to deny a goddess of love?"

"Denied...." She sighs. "It has been a long time."

Fighting and rutting. Primal and necessary. Barely distinguishable.

'Tis the small hours of Easter, when all through the house much is being stirred as these two are aroused.

The landing is a shimmering field of ripped garments, shattered toys, scattered teeth and small change. Two myths lie side by side.

"Tell me, Freya, what of the others? I know of only a few who made it."

"Alas, a few is all that made it. When the beliefs changed most were stranded. Without belief the old realms began to fade, taking with them all those who remained behind. The paths out became narrow or lost or led to other fading realms rather than new ones or the realm of Man. Some who made it took new roles. By right or by graft or by theft." She looks at him and then away. "Others lingered for a while, but faded as they passed from the minds of folk into the halls of memory, forgotten into folklore or less."

He hesitates. "Your brother?"

"Frey... Frey did not make it. He crossed to this world, but found no harbour of belief or place to make his own. Worlds' end and Frey's doom had been foretold, but not like this. There was no great war of reckoning, only slipping from being... without conflict, without valour, without prophecy. His loss was to have been to the sword, not to evanescence."

"I am sorry. There is barely enough belief to sustain those of us who, in one way or another, survived. We are fewer, less than we used to be. Time trickles ever down the hourglass neck. Few grains separate us from the sands that rest your brother and the others."

"Hara? Silence. Your mood has grown dark; I am caught in its shadow. We have enough light and belief for now. It is only slight, and perhaps only brief, but the hourglass tilts in our favour."

Their eyes meet. He nods and looks down. They stand and gather together the tatters of their things.

"Be seeing you, Tooth Fairy."

"Farewell, Easter Bunny."

'Tis the morning of Easter and the work of the night is far from done.

Many children will awake to disappointment, perhaps believing a little less when teeth are found and eggs are not.

But the restored belief in the self and the renewed belief in the other is currency enough to trade for more than a sunrise, enough to stay their fall through the coming seasons and their sunsets. For now, at least, these myths endure.

"Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs" was first published with The Liminal. More background here.

Friday 3 August 2012

Dribbles and Drabbles and Hemispheres

I had a couple of micro-fictions published in June and July: "Measures", a dribble-and-a-half at Paragraph Planet, and "College Fund", a drabble-and-a-half at The Pygmy Giant. It was New Zealand's National Flash Fiction Day on 22nd June. A write-in on the day sought flash from both hemispheres, to which I contributed "To Catch a Falling Leaf".

And in other writerly happenings, last week I managed to attend the Bristol Blackwell's launch of Pangea, an anthology of short stories from authors around the world. One of its editors and authors, Rebecca Lloyd, is based in Bristol, as is another of the authors and key PR person of the book, Sarah Hilary. With excellent readings from Vanessa Gebbie and Tom Remer Williams, I managed to get a thoroughly signed copy of the book. The wine and nibbles then flowed into an evening meal next door, with a number of authors — what's the collective noun for authors? an anthology? — including locally based Tania Hershman and Jonathan Pinnock.

Shifting to performance art, I ended the evening by meeting up with Sam Aaron and other members of Live Notation Unit for a drink. As it coincided with the Olympic opening ceremony, I wasn't able to catch all of the live coding performances at the Arnolfini the following night, but some of what I saw was ingenious and inspiring, and makes me want to see more.