Sunday, 28 July 2013

Beyond The Fence

I stole this one from part of one of Robyn's letters she sent this week (sorry, Robyn). We'd been talking about meditation and this part just cried out for a short story:

"… after swimming, when I relaxed … and focused on the sounds I could hear beyond the fence. I couldn't see any of the noisy things—the air conditioner, the chain saw, the highway."

I loved that phrase: "the noisy things …"

Anyhoo: 500 Words:

Beyond The Fence

The sky must have been blue, not that she could tell. She lifted her sunglasses and blinked up at it through half-closed lids. From where she lay it was so bright it seemed like all the colour had been burned out of the world. The sky above her had no colour, or at least no colour that she had a name for. Her daddy had once told her that the ancient Greeks possessed no word for blue; their sky was bronze. She felt she knew what they meant. A country that had so much sea and so much sky; so much blue; why bother with a name for something that was everywhere? Homer's sea wasn’t blue; it wasn’t any colour; he called it wine-dark. She liked that.
A slight breeze raised goosebumps where the pool water evaporated from her skin. The slap and gulp of the filter blended with the other sounds.
She couldn't see beyond the fence; the noisy things: the air conditioner, the mowers, the highway. Somewhere off a-ways somebody had a chainsaw going.
She inhaled and closed her eyes, watching the patterns form. Sounds of the highway.
The sun's heat rippled over her body. Breeze tingling.
The highway …
She watched the lights at night. Each set of lights a person or people. All going somewhere. She had no idea where or why or who but the lights had a fascination all their own. They spoke of escape, just as the sounds of the highway called to her now as they mingled in her ears with the sound of her own breathing.
Escape from what? Or probably more pertinently, TO what? Her life was nice enough; most folks would think her well off. Yet the highway called out to her and in the long dark watches of the night something deep inside her howled like a wounded wolf. For what? For the road?
The journey or the destination? She decided it must be for the journey; she had no interest in the destination. Wherever it led she would still be herself. Still carry these thoughts. This place; that place. It didn't matter.
Sounds of the highway.
The chainsaw had stopped. A distant plane roared. Vapour trails, white against white. Pool filter: slap, gulp, slap. Her skin hot now. The fence white against white. The black asphalt on the highway would be shimmering; sticky. Three o'clock. Mid-summer. You could fry and egg on it or so folk said. She drove on it most days. There and back. There and back. Never just 'there'.
Never just 'there'.
One day …
One day she might just take off and not come back. As long as she never settled on a final destination she'd be fine. She'd be free.
White on white.
She closed her eyes again.
Watched the patterns.
She listened to the noisy things: the air conditioner, the mowers, the highway.
The pool filter: slap, gulp, slap.
Somewhere a kid yelling.
One day …
Not today, though.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Breakfast On The Day That It Happened.

The current assignment was to write precisely 500 words based on the photograph below.

Breakfast On The Day That It Happened.

Deux crèmes et deux croissants, s'il vous plait.
Breakfast of champions.
I sit.
Here's the tray. Smiles. Merci.
A deep breath, inhaling coffee and letting it out in a long, shuddering sigh.
Watching Clothilde at work is always a pleasure. Her smile infectious and unbreakable, even faced with the dismal onslaught of old JD.
JD's the butcher from across the street. That's him, sitting glumly in his usual seat, keeping a baleful eye on his premises before opening time. As if someone's going to break the shutters down and steal a pig's head.
Of course, being christened Jacques Derrida never helped with his mood. I remember his scowl the day I leaned across his counter and asked him "Jacques, must not structure have a genesis, and must not the origin, the point of genesis, be already structured, in order to be the genesis of something?" I'd been hoping for a torrent of creative profanity but all I got for my trouble was "What of it?"
I shrugged and bought some boar sausages. Maybe Jacques Derrida hasn't died but has assumed a new identity as an elderly deconstructivist butcher.
Who knows?
JD sits glaring, staring over his coffee, inscrutable as a whelk.
I check my watch. Check the street. Shrug.
Breaking the end off my croissant reminds me of shelling prawns; that lovely fat crescent, crispy at the tail, as soft and warm as a woman within. Clothilde's croissants are invariably perfect.
I eat.
Whelks, prawns, I must buy fish before the best of the day's catch is gone from the market.
Black, blue, grey. Parisians at work. An occasional bright colour. The flash of a scarf.
She's late.
As always.
I frown.
Not because she’s late but because the radio behind the bar starts playing an old song: Scritti Politti’s “I’m in Love with Jacques Derrida.” Embarrassed that I’ve got that on vinyl somewhere, I look at Jacques. He’s out on the street tables so he can’t hear the lyrics. Probably just as well.
First coffee of the day. All’s right with the world.
Except that she’s late.
Thierry is stacking pomegranates in le Palais des Fruits.
The Clash. That’s better. Rock the Casbah. In England I listened to French talk radio; here Clothilde plays old British music.
I finish my coffee and start on hers.
Scrape of chair legs on cobbles. Jacques grunts, stretches, rolls his neck around until it cracks, nods in his desultory way toward Clothilde, lurches across the street to unlock his shutters.
Clothilde cleans his table and pockets his tip.
I check my watch, shrug, slip her croissant into my bag. The butter makes a see-through patch on the front of le Parisien.
Counting coins onto my saucer. I call to Clothilde on my way out. Merci, au revoir.
Crossing the street I buy three pomegranates from Thierry.
Here she comes at last. Breathless. Kisses. Couldn’t you wait?
I’m sorry, I drank your coffee.
I offer her the croissant.
And then it happens.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


The current assignment was to write precisely 500 words based on either the photograph in the previous post or alternatively on a quotation from a Jorge Luis Borges' short story, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius."
The quotation is "Some limited and waning memory of Herbert Ashe, an engineer for the Southern Railway Line, still lingers in the hotel at Androgué, among the effusive honeysuckle vines and in the illusory depths of the mirrors."


Some limited and waning memory of Herbert Ashe, an engineer for the Southern Railway Line, still lingers in the hotel at Androgué, among the effusive honeysuckle vines and in the illusory depths of the mirrors. The hotel itself, like the station and the houses surrounding it, was imported wholesale from England during the boom of the late nineteenth century; the bathroom fittings and doorknobs, the mirrors and the honeysuckle, indeed the very bricks themselves, shipped the length of the Atlantic as the Great Empire turned its eye southward.

With them came Engineer Herbert Ashe, tasked with linking Buenos Aires to the vast and fertile cattle country of La Pampa and Rio Negro, and eventually to Rio Gallegos via La Trochita, the narrow gauge steam railway that a century hence was to achieve fame as The Old Patagonian Express.

Unlike the Scots and Irish labourers shipped over with them - who, on completion of the railway would become ranchers and leave a trail of Celtic names scattered across the pampas - the English engineers never intended to stay, least of all Engineer Herbert Ashe, whose limpid fiancée Daphne pined 'neath Lympne's bailey awaiting her consummation.

Engineer Herbert Ashe, however, would never return to the twin bosoms of Daphne and England. The telegram his distraught fiancée received informed her of his tragic death in a blasting accident on a Patagonian mountainside but delicately avoided the truth.

For Engineer Herbert Ashe had found himself one morning gazing into the illusory depths of those hotel mirrors, gratefully inhaling that effusive honeysuckle’s fragrance, when darting betwixt reflected vines he glimpsed a flash of eyes, a tremble of lace as black as the heart of darkness and was himself ensnared.
Unable, indeed unwilling to escape the mirror’s pull he stepped forward and found soft fingers stroking his own, enticing him deeper into lush foliage and heady aromas; on through verdant gardens she led him, ever on until at last the vibrant colours swirling around him resolved themselves into the streets of La Boca, the beating heart of Buenos Aires. La Boca: the Forbidden Quarter; rank with Criollo bordellos, replete with opium dens and, more seductive still, the sinuous rhythms of the Tango.

The authorities were never able satisfactorily to explain the presence of Engineer Herbert Ashe in a blood-filled bathtub on an upper floor of a dockside whorehouse in La Boca district, entwined as he was with the body of a beautiful Criollo prostitute, both of them naked and shot through the heart with the pistol that dangled still from the Englishman’s hand.
How could they know the pull of that rhythm, the allure of those kohl-rimmed eyes, the flashing scarlet of her lips, the whirlwind of lace as her hips ground against his to the breathless, frenzied strumming of guitars? How could they ever understand the intoxication of her perfume, the passion of her kisses, the wild ecstasy of endless nights in her arms?
How, in all honesty could he, Engineer Herbert Ashe, ever go back?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

With Gods On My Side

This month's assignment was to write precisely 500 words based on either the following photograph or alternatively on a quotation from a Jorge Luis Borges' short story, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius."
The quotation is "Some limited and waning memory of Herbert Ashe, an engineer for the Southern Railway Line, still lingers in the hotel at Androgué, among the effusive honeysuckle vines and in the illusory depths of the mirrors."

For this story I chose the photograph rather than the quotation.

With Gods On My Side

So what happened to the old Norse gods? Whither the Greek and Roman pantheon, the myriad local pagan deities of wood and water, starlight and love, upon the terrible rise of monotheism?

As belief waned, so did their power, and yet the gods being immortal have not died, but simply faded.
Many, embittered, are reduced to hiding car keys or making underwear ride up. The more malevolent deities have naturally gravitated toward bureaucracy and government.
Yet not all have fallen so low, for as I have discovered there live still the gods of joyous Misrule.

Hearken, dear reader.
The twin naiads, Capucine and Clothilde, have in recent years chosen to dwell in the window of a bookshop on the Quai de Valmy in Paris, overlooking the canal that joins the Bassin de Vilette to the Seine.
Their self-assigned rôle is to pluck a single thought from the mind of each passer-by, simultaneously replacing it with one from another person. Whether gift or curse depends upon their whim, one twin being good, the other evil.

I discovered their existence quite by chance when one evening I found myself in sudden and unaccountable possession of a passable facility with conversational Turkish. Retracing my steps toward the point of this revelation I observed the following: as people walked past a certain window their expressions changed, some to delight, others consternation, but most to momentary bafflement before they walked on.
The window merely displayed a selection of volumes on twentieth century art. From a certain angle, however, and fleetingly as if viewed through a blind spot, an image appeared of two girls in sylvan parkland, elegantly attired, masked and beautiful.

I was still reeling from this apparent trick of the light when a woman passed the window and to my horror, the twin apparitions appeared to reach inside her head.
It was only for an instant. The woman paused momentarily, her expression one of confusion as if losing her thread of thought, before regaining her composure and walking on as if nothing had happened.

From my vantage point on the canal path I stood transfixed, observing a dozen passers-by endure the same strange ritual. At last I could withstand the mystery no longer and crossed the street, determined to pass the window myself, to pause at that very spot and divine the truth.

I have since passed that window at every conceivable opportunity.
Their strength returning with my growing belief, the goddesses have favoured me, ridding my mind of clutter and junk, of painful or unwanted memories and redistributing them among a baffled population, replacing them in return with snippets and snatches of other people’s minds; their experiences, abilities, memories and emotions, their most intimate delights and desires.

I hereby bequeath my soul to the goddesses Capucine and Clothilde in the hope that upon my death all that is me; every last scintilla of my conscious and unconscious mind will be gifted, thought by thought, to the collective consciousness of Paris.
Heaven indeed.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

An Englishman In Paris

This month's assignment was to write precisely 500 words based on the following photograph:

An Englishman In Paris

Smythe paced.
She was late, but he had always believed that to be a woman's prerogative. "Fashionably late" she would call it when eventually she arrived, high heels awkward on the ubiquitous kitty-litter with which all Parisian parks are inexplicably paved, a breathless kiss rouging his cheek.

"Meet me in the Tuileries, by Rodin's ROFL" she had whispered.
His expression of helpless bafflement was sufficiently eloquent for her to add, "Look at the statues and figure it out for yourself, silly. God, you are so square it's adorable."
And then she was gone.

Smythe paused in his pacing, glancing down at his shoes. Immaculate only minutes before, the shiny black leather was now sueded grey with dust. The godawful muck might well be kinder to horse's hooves than cobbles or asphalt but this was twenty-bloody-eleven and he shuddered to think what chaos might ensue were he to ride a horse to the Tuileries through Parisian lunchtime traffic. It must be a conspiracy by Paris cobblers and boot-polish manufacturers. He was grateful the stuff was dry; on rainy days he had to chisel his shoes clean.
For a moment he considered standing on the grass but this was not allowed by park ordnances and Smythe would never dream of transgressing such authority. The grass was for the statues to roll about on; mere humans were forced to trail through the cat-litter.

An Englishman in Paris, he mused, was always a fish out of water. He had lived here for most of his life but would never be Parisian. It was much the same for the English in America. There were Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, even a few Native-Americans, but never – ever – English-Americans. He would always be “an Englishman in America” just as he was “an Englishman in Paris:” a small and misunderstood island of quiet desperation with a slight air of Dickensian fustiness, a constant twenty years behind his immediate surroundings.

He checked his watch: almost half an hour late. That was well within the bounds of prerogative and he was happy to wait. Scattered throughout the park, casual groups of empty green chairs held mysterious conclave but he was loath to sit in one. Some part of him knew that it would be inelegant to be caught seated when she arrived. It must appear as if he had just got here himself. The Englishman again. A Parisian would have been sprawled in a chair for ages by now; indeed would probably have charmed a passing girl and disappeared, reeking of Gauloises and stale coffee.

He waited, feigning nonchalance as he scanned the paths for her, determined not to wave like a gauche American but to pretend he had not seen her until she startled him with her presence.

The statue caught his eye. What had she called it? “Rodin’s ROFL.” The phrase drifted through his mind and he tried to picture what kind of person might really talk like that …

She arrived, fashionably late, but Smythe had fled.