Monday Morning

This is a story that was published in the “Just Met 2013” writing anthology by London Metropolitan University and also won a prize for best fiction. Judge & Poet Catherine Smith: “The twist at the end is heart wrenching. A really well-realised story, perfectly framed.”

 

Monday Morning

By Sean Cleaver

It’s a damp, muggy Monday morning. You just missed your train by seconds. Already you are irritated. The day has hardly begun and you’ve successfully pissed yourself off. The weekend ranked between a failure and a casual relaxing event. You stomp up the stairs to the platform and decide you want a coffee.

When you enter the little coffee bar, you see a girl who’s just packed her big flowery bag on the side table. She’s in your way. You start the process of hating her until you look up and realise that she is very pretty. Not only that but she is smiling at you. Not a smile that’s a general “sorry, I’m in your way” but more of a coy “I’m sorry, I really like you, you seem different. But it’s Monday morning and I look like shit, so don’t take it personally. I hope I see you again soon or I might curse myself for missing this chance.” You reply with a smile that says “it’s ok, I understand” and walk to the counter.

You order your cappuccino and take stock of your situation. The pretty girl has moved down the platform now, so it’s safe to evaluate things. She had straight, very light ginger hair, red trousers, pretty grey eyes and a Cath Kidston pink flowery bag. She was shorter than you, about shoulder height, and slim. Not athletic but nice. She’s exactly your type. You look to see you are the only person wearing jeans in a sea of suits and in spite of your messy receding hair and unkempt stubble, you do look younger than most people on the platform. You are the epitome of casual in your jeans, leather jacket and Star Wars t-shirt with the Millennium Falcon on it. You are cool? The question is too big a concept to consider and you quickly discard the t-shirt as being a deciding factor of coolness as your coffee is ready. The person serving you is griping to her colleague about the “crap” on the radio. Some cover of a decade old pop song, sung by a girl on a piano, is playing that you recognise from a television advert. “How many times is this guy going somewhere for her to go? It’s too bloody long if you ask me.” You laugh in appreciation at the effort of the person serving you, even though you don’t really care about her opinion at all and you make a mental note to search the internet for the song when you get home.

You get on the train and open your book, Bright Lights, Big City. There’s nowhere to sit so you stand in an awkward position beside someone’s fold-up bicycle and obstructing the First Class doors. The compartment is almost empty and inviting. You notice that a man is asleep in there and wonder if he’s paid extra for that privilege. Adopting the most uncomfortable position you can, you lower your head try to read as the train departs. You quickly lose all conviction to read as soon as you finish the first few lines. After fraudulently turning a few pages, you look up and see the girl again. She is right next to you. The train moves a little too violently and knocks the unprepared girl into you.

You both smile at each other and have a little laugh with yourself. “Sorry,” she says.

“It’s ok,” you reply, “it’s a big bag! Cath Kidston, yeah?” This is the first time you’ve spoken to a girl like this in two years and there’s a very good reason why you don’t do it. You’re fucking terrible at it.
“Yeah it is,” she looks pleasantly surprised and a tiny bit suspicious. “How d’you know?”
Stop. The next answer could end the conversation and your chance to impress this girl. You are either one of three things: Into fashion (which is unlikely as your t-shirt proves); Gay; A well-researched present giver. You go with a joke and hope for the best. “I’m not gay, if that’s what you’re thinking.” You both laugh.

Stop. You realise that you may have got away with that one but it’s only temporary, and you now have to explain how you know this. The truth is that an ex girlfriend liked it and you brought presents for her. Answering this truthfully, specifically the word “ex” will end this straight away. You compromise. “I used to know someone who liked it.”

You quickly change the subject. “What do you do?” Well done, you sarcastically tell yourself in your head.

“I work in accounts, you know, boring stuff.” Her reply is wistful like she knows she can do better and her eyes open a little wider. You wonder what she is thinking. “How about you?”

“Oh, this and that.” You say with a smile so it sounds rather more mysterious than it is. “At the moment I’m studying but I do a few odd jobs here and there.”

She begins to look down slightly and you hope she doesn’t ask the most cliché over-asked question you always get asked and are bored of replying to.

“What are you studying?”

She’s asked the most cliché over-asked question.

“I’m studying books, writing, that kind of thing.” You hope this sounds more interesting than giving a straight answer and she looks back up again. You appear to have survived negative judgement for the moment.

You both exchange some small talk about how busy the train is, what books you like and even talk a bit about Star Wars, including making the Wookie noise you’re good at doing. You make each other laugh with little quips and are getting on very well. The conductor announces that you’re nearly at your destination. “Well,” you croak slightly losing the confidence your voice had. “Would you like to meet later? I mean here at the station. You know…” She is laughing a little at your stumbling and smiling. You have succeeded in being the correct kind of cute. “We could get the train back together, or maybe a tea?” In your mind you are like a Hollywood movie star appearing tall, gallant and oozing sex appeal. In the reflection of the glass in the train door, you see that you look on the verge of a panic attack.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” she replies.

You agree to meet and swap numbers. As you do, you realise you haven’t asked her name. As you go to ask, the train moves violently again, throwing you in her direction. You crash into the bicycle and look around to hide any embarrassment from the other passengers. The girl isn’t there. You’ve day dreamed through your entire journey after losing interest in the page you were pretending to read. You feel a small bit of pressure underneath your ribcage and consider yourself a complete fool for imagining yourself being cool and not looking like a complete bum.

As you get off the train, you look ahead to see a way through the crowd disembarking and you notice the girl and her bag. You wonder if you can go up to her and be the man you imagined you could be, but you decide not to embarrass yourself further. After all it is Monday and you look like shit, so you don’t take it too personally.

The Record Player (Short Story)

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He sat down with no one except the spectre of what used to be. Surrounding him was a record player, the kind of one you find in the shopping sections in the back of Readers Digest magazines, a pair of headphones, an old vinyl of Hotel California and half a bottle of Jack Daniels next to a glass filled with some ice. Some might call it a ritual, but for him this was a retraction, or an expulsion, of what was stuck in his head.

Memories have a strange way of making the past recur in the present when it really shouldn’t belong. Much like listening to a band like the Manic Street Preachers or Smashing Pumpkins now when you used to listen to them in the 90s. Are you listening to them now because you like it, or because you’re living in the memory of when they were at their peak of musical creation? All those bands that you hear a new song from on the radio, or you get on CD as a birthday or christmas present because someone remembered you used to like them and it just seems like the right thing to have; they all get old. They all change. They all remove themselves from what they were because there comes a time when you simply cannot live there anymore.

He poured the first measure of his whiskey. It was a little stingy so he added some more. A bit too much. I can savour this one, he thought. He dropped the needle before quickly realising it needed a bit of a blow, to shake off the dusty collection of fluff. Then he dropped it again and the opening bars of Hotel California rang in his ears like an old friend that had come to stay and chat about old flames, lined up in perfect chronological recollection, like pretty maids all in a row. He ran through them all: the first, the other first, the one that should have been first, the one that came after, the one that stayed, the one that left, the one he left, the one they both walked away from, the one that hurt and the one that stung. Those were the memories that needed to leave.

The problem, his old friend sagely advised, was that there was no new kid in town. There was no way to stop that memory creeping in. The present wonderfully suppresses the past like the bourbon suppresses the clouded thinking for truth. It wasn’t the last resort to invite the friend in but it was needed, that clarity. The memory is like that old band, it hangs around waiting for the appreciation it feels its earned but all it does is outstay its welcome and give you heartburn. Acidic stinging making him drop his shoulders more than he comfortably should be and keeping him rearranging his pillow at night before his body is too worn out or just too drunk to stay awake.

“All of this time with the memory is wasted time,” the friend said. “You’re sitting here for what? A chance? A slice of that past? Well it doesn’t work. You don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or any of that fluffy pop crap. You think you’re sitting here pretending to be a victim of love, but you’re only the victim of your own ego.”

He sat and pondered this as he realised he needed to top up his drink and would need to flip the record over too. Ego, he questioned to himself? How can he have an ego if he wasn’t good enough to stay with, if he wasn’t good enough to move himself along? Surely that isn’t his fault? He’s no rich kid, or devil may care punk living life in the fast lane way beyond his years. He was distrustful of love by now. It kept bringing all these memories and old records and empty bottles of whiskey.

“Why do you distrust love?” the friend asked in the quiet moment where he flipped the record over to side B. “If you distrust something then it needs to be alive, an animal or something. The only animal in love is the one looking at you in the mirror when you stare too long after a shower and think your hair can do whatever you want it to. Love isn’t alive, love is a choice. It didn’t choose you and your ego took the hit.”

The memory rose to the closest point his mind has with his eyelids as he closed them and replayed a self-edited montage of what he wanted to believe. He took a sip from his glass and realised the memory was over very quickly, as quickly as the sip from his glass, but it just repeated and repeated like a CD that was skipping. “You see this?” The friend made him look at the vinyl. “This is pure. This has no cracks or blemishes that weren’t designed to be there. This isn’t skipping over same things over and over again. Take another look.”

He looked and the memory went a bit further. It looked at moments of silence, of being sat next to a phone or having social media show him everything he never wanted to see. “You chose this,” the friend reminded him. “Now you just need to realise that this is a choice, try and love again, and see what else is out there. The bands were great, but now they’re old. Not forgotten but hanging on before people chose to not to remember them anymore.” He poured his last generous glass and swirled around what little was left of the melted ice cubes. They had degraded to such a point that they almost weren’t even there, but the outline was hanging on to remind you they were.

He contemplated the choice as the last song played its way in to his headphones. It is a choice, he said. I choose… He pondered. He took the remaining bits of ice out of the glass and leaned back on the floor, his shoulders straightening and bringing relief like a massage. It felt like he was melting in to the floor enough for it to mould around him and capture him perfectly. He lifted his head up slightly and drank the last of the bourbon as the record spun around to the end and he closed his eyes. The memory was gone. The edited one, the full one, all of it. “See you next time,” the friend said, “but remember you chose to be here. Don’t choose to go somewhere you can never leave.”

He opened his eyes and put his hand in the slightly damp puddle the melted ice had left. He closed the record player and took his headphones off. He put the bottle in the recycling bin and went to his bed. He spun himself over once and flipped his pillow to a colder side. Then it was morning and the radio woke him up with a new song by an old band. He switched it off, got up and left.

Great at starting, awful at finishing.

I have a lot of good starts as a writer. But it’s getting past those good starts that annoys me greatly. Where my enthusiasm for a story either dies or I find I’m writing it in the wrong medium. I have one great moment of ‘YES, THIS IS AWESOME!’ This is then followed by an ‘Ah, bugger.’ I’m sure we all have them but I seem to be a slave to them at present. Which, as you can imagine for a writer, is highly frustrating.

There’s a good first line I have for a story (which I will not post here yet). But I’ve just written (literally just written) the beginning of a ghost story. In my mind, this is the beginning of an audio drama, maybe just a ghost story, maybe something like a Doctor Who audio (Big Finish dramas are bloody awesome, check them out). But I get so far and just crunch to a halt. I have only just finished a novella and several essays, applied for jobs and started a book already so I should probably give myself a little break. Anyway. Here it is. Please tell me if you think I should carry on, because I’m not sure. I’m never sure. Maybe I’ll just bank it for future use. But yeah, let me know.

There were knocks on the door. Tap. Tap. Tap. She was silent, laid still in her bed, the light off and home alone. Enough time passed for the echoes to fade before the knocks started again. Tap. Tap. Tap. ‘Who’s there?’ She asked.

There was no answer.

‘Who is it?’

No answer.

‘Hello?’ She said. But in her mind she really said help.

There’s no one here, she told herself. It’s just in your mind, she lied.

Tap. Tap…

‘GO AWAY!’

… Tap.

Carrying Cathy – A Short Story

Here’s a really old story I thought I’d put up again for those who have never read it.

Carrying Cathy

(Inspired by the song “Carrying Cathy” by Ben Folds)

Cathy never dyed her hair. Not even once. It’s a realisation that has just come to me. Her hair was always the most brilliant shiny black. Never once was there a highlight, a colour. There were styles and there were cuts, although these were also few and far between. Her hair would almost always be shoulder-length, straight black hair, occasionally wavy. The fact that I have only really just noticed this characteristic trait goes to show how she would hide herself. In reality, it’s probably better explained by my self-absorbed nature. As a twenty-year-old man, I found that I was and would become the most important thing in my life. Before that it was Cathy. Before that, it was someone else. I don’t remember her name now. Something beginning with an ‘F’ probably. But thirteen years ago, for some reason or another, probably as a result of my actions, we split up unceremoniously. This led to me visiting an art gallery. Whatever possessed me to do that I don’t know. I hate art. Actually maybe hate is too strong a word. I disliked the stigma around art. The blue-blooded critics and collectors who would discuss the aesthetics of a piece over a fine garnish pretending to be a salad, served on a huge plate. Cognac would follow with cigars and stock markets and on and on. Possibly the want to find some sort of escapism that I had never experienced before was the catalyst for this particular outing. I looked obviously out of place. I felt obviously out of place. As soon as I got in there, I realised that I was undoubtedly in the wrong place for me. I looked at the art, stale paintings of English landscapes. The kinds you would find on the plates advertised in Sunday Newspaper magazines. The pictures got bigger and more “picturesque” as I went along, until I bumped into Cathy. Literally bumped. Not paying any attention to where I was going, I stumbled straight into her. She was looking at a tall painting, about the size of a window frame. It was of a bay window, which justified its size. It caught my eye as it was the only painting that showed something different. The window was divided into three different frames. One showing the normal landscapes that the other had shown. The middle had a mixture of colours and stokes which looked like it represented some kind of storm. You could almost see an outline of a mushroom cloud. The final frame showed a tale of horror. You could pick out several things that frightened and appalled you in the apocalyptic nightmare on display. As I followed this intently I bumbled straight into Cathy. She did not budge. Not an inch. I offered an apology that I can only assume was accepted as she tilted her head towards me and then back towards the picture. I then took this as my cue to leave the gallery as I had already made enough of a fool of myself in one day as I had cared to. I think back to that day and at the time I remember thinking that she was a bitch. Now, I know that I didn’t look at her. I didn’t even acknowledge her existence. I woke up several nights ago from a dream, which was a perfect memory recall of that moment. I realised, thirteen years later that she was crying. That’s why she didn’t give me an apology or say anything or even fully turn her head. She was masking the fact that she had tears running from her eyes. That was Cathy’s nature though. She would hide herself away from the world and herself. I never noticed at the time but I must have registered it then to remember it in later life. My arrogance would never allow such a glaring acknowledgement of someone else’s feelings, especially after the break up I had just gone through. Women, dating and most certainly falling in love were farthest from my mind. Let alone this black haired art snob that begrudged me even a bit of speech from my misdemeanour. But looking back on it now, I might have saved her that day.

Rain poured. Rain always seemed to pour then. Maybe it didn’t, but I only remember the rain. I also remember how late the bus was. Not content on being a fool earlier on I had gone to get the bus home, taken leave of my senses in a music shop and missed my bus. What made it more annoying is that was the last bus going in my direction. Meaning a lot of changing and waiting around. So just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, someone came running into the bus shelter with a newspaper on their head as a shield from the rain. When you felt this stupid, you really wanted to be left alone and far away from any human company. Until I realised that it was Cathy. First I made a “tut” sound in my head. I panicked that I might have said this aloud and immediately looked at her, expecting a rather unsympathetic glare. Instead I got something far worse. Something I was not prepared for. As I was glancing at her, she glanced at me, retracted the gaze and started at the floor with a little smile on her face. The kind of wry smile you get when someone compliments you and you don’t want to seem too happy about it. I knew she recognized me from the gallery. I could just tell. Embarrassment seeped from every pore and her red cheeks showed very openly. I am a sucker for a smile. I believe it brings out a lot of personality in a woman and some fantastic impressions of a person. If you believed in love at first sight or some kind of fate then this felt like it. I now noticed her eyes. They were a slightly strange green colour. Not quite hazel and not quite green but somewhere in between. Not huge but big enough to show you that she was open and accommodating. An awkward silence filled the air for the next minute. It was obvious that neither of us was going to talk and I didn’t see any point in it. I’d just got out of a relationship. I don’t have time for women, especially not this one. I just want to go out and be me for a change, see my friends and… “I’m really sorry for bumping into you earlier.”
I’d said it. Uncontrollably. There was no thought process that went into what I’d said or any brave encouragement from myself to put me up to it. It just happened. The words blurted out from my tongue like they were just meant to be there. Cathy turned to face me and replied “Oh no, that’s quite alright. Probably my fault too. I get a bit lost sometimes.” She giggled a little at the end of it. As if it was a private joke that only she would understand. Maybe an exaggeration or an understatement. But that’s how it started. We exchanged names and talked about the gallery while we waited for the bus to arrive. Cathy admitted that whilst she did appreciate good art that the exhibits on display were a fairly poor example of art. This led to much mockery from myself on what I had seen and a few laughs were had by both of us. The conversation lasted for another minute or so until the bus came. At which point I felt suitably comfortable with her being around me. Like I’d welcomed her into my life already. When she got up to get on the bus I noticed her in all her beauty. She was about five feet, 6 inches. She was wearing a flowery skirt with a white sleeveless top and a plastic yellow raincoat, which helped show her body finely. She had the kind of figure that was nice. Not too big, not too small but perfect, although she could probably quite happily fit into some kids clothing still. We both got on the bus and sat next to each other, looking out the window. I commented on how many takeaways and kebab shops littered the street whilst secretly feeling quite hungry and fancying some kind of kebab. Cathy then said that she didn’t eat any of that stuff apart from some occasional burgers or a pizza from one of her local restaurants. I immediately changed my diet in my head. Anything that would please or impress her enough during the short time we had together on this bus journey home. The bus had arrived at the stop that I needed to change at and I piped up a bit of courage asking her out to for a coffee. She obliged saying that she knew a place where we could have a coffee and she could show me some proper art. We exchanged numbers and I gave her a little kiss on the cheek to say goodnight. I of course asked her to send me a text message as soon as she got in as the chivalrous gentleman that I was, to make sure she was safe. Then I left the bus. It was almost as if I was on some kind of autopilot and the last thirty minutes had now become a total blur. I felt a little out of my depth and slightly ashamed that I had caved in to this woman. But sure enough, I got home, she messaged me and I smiled. That was that. I was sold to this beautiful fascinating woman that only moments before I thought was a total bitch. We met up for that coffee which overlooked a marketplace showing street artists. Mime, dance, juggling, fire breathing and sword swallowing to name a few things of this carnival of talents on display and all we could do was laugh. We had spotted this rather portly gentlemen that had to keep holding his comb over down on his balding head. Every time he applauded an act, the breeze picked up and his hair would rise to attention, much to his fretted anguish. This amused us for the entire duration of our meeting. We agreed to meet again for a spot of drinks but this time at night at a local trendy bar. I kissed her on the other cheek this time and we gave each other a little hug. We met again a few nights later and whether the alcohol or just our ease around each other had allowed this, we kissed outside the bar. It was a passionate kiss. I was a passionate kisser when I cared and I suddenly cared more than anything. Although a kiss is never a kiss unless it’s returned and Cathy was also a tender, but passionate kisser. After the most perfect moment, where we pulled away, I opened my eyes first so I could just see that she had hers closed for just a second longer, we both smiled and walked along to the bus stop where we kissed again and she left.

Four months later, we were an established couple. We were most certainly in that honeymoon-style bliss. I had met two of her friends and she had met most of mine. Some of whom she didn’t really like. All men have girls who are good friends with them. I had one that happened to be an ex-girlfriend as well, but one from when I was too young to really know or understand anything. But Cathy really didn’t like her. She complained about her being around me and was ultimately jealous of her. I tried my best to understand Cathy’s feelings and reasoning for this but I never really could. She really didn’t like one of my male friends because he had said under his breath that she was a bit weird and she had overheard this. She kept quiet about it until we were alone and then I got a big argument in my direction due to it. Her friends seemed fine to me. Although I didn’t really know them that well and I got the impression that Cathy didn’t either. They were more like acquaintances. It struck me that Cathy had not had a female best friend for a good many years, possibly since school. I later found out that this was the case due to a betrayal of trust and that she considered me to be her best friend. Things moved quickly even though it seemed like forever at the time. A little trip away here and there for a weekend, day trips out, staying over at each others houses for nights to weeks on end. Going out and meeting each other’s respective lives. Greeting friends, family members and the accidental bumps into ex partners. Before we knew it, eight months had passed and we had moved in together into a tenth-story flat of a fourteen-story building. The rent was cheap and the one-bedroom accommodation suited us and our simple needs. All we had was each other and we loved it. I had almost forgotten my friends, especially the ones she didn’t like, and committed myself fully to her. This seemed natural. I never even thought about it or the repercussions of doing this, financially or otherwise. I was nearly twenty one and had no grasp on the responsibilities before me. Cathy had got to a stage where she controlled my every move. About a month or so later, I woke up from a long sleep at about 2.30am. Cathy was awake and in her t-shirt and kinickers, staring out of the window. Tears were in her eyes. We lived in a flat and the bedroom window was a bay window. She said it reminded her of the picture when we met and how happy that memory made her. I gave her a hug and brought her back to bed feeling very happy with myself. A week later, it happened again. She was up, staring out of the window and crying. At first I pretended not to notice but eventually asked what was wrong. “Nothing’s wrong honey, go back to sleep.” Cathy replied, which I duly did.
On and off this happened for about two months. I gave up trying to find an explanation. I began to notice certain things about Cathy that I hadn’t before. We had sat in and watched a TV series that I had brought for her, on the DVD player that I had brought for her. I looked around and realised this pattern of things which “I had brought for her”. I didn’t mind spoiling her. I loved her and it seemed the right thing to do. She didn’t really ask for it. She said it would be nice and I obliged as a gift because of how strongly I felt for her. I noticed as well at this point that her friends had begun to change. New acquaintances had appeared. I got on as well with them as I did the others, but couldn’t shake off the feeling that these were interchangeable and as a result, so was I. A fear began to grip me that she was losing interest in me. A fear that I decided to confront her with. This was my first mistake. A horrendous argument ensued which ended up with her with a knife in her hand threatening to slit her wrists. I say that pretty casually but believe me it’s not. I went through many emotions the moment she picked up the knife: fear, panic, remorse, embarrassment, regret. You name it, it occupied every fibre of my being. Somehow I managed to convince her to put the knife away and I hugged her deeply. We sat holding each other on the kitchen floor until the exhaustion of the events meant we were too tired to stay there and went to bed. During the time we sat there, she explained to me that she had done this before. “I’m so sorry.” She said. “Look it’s not the first time I’ve done this. I used to suffer from some kind of depression when I was younger. The doctors could never diagnose it but I knew I had it so I was given happy pills. After a while I stopped taking them and I became very depressed and threatened to kill myself several times until I had therapy.”
At the time I took this revelation in its stride and was blissfully unaware of its implications. The next few weeks I had seen some friends who had said that they also did not like her and found her controlling and overbearing. I defended her of course, claiming that it was different when it was just her and me together and that she was a special person to me. I had also seen one of her previous friends who said that she was, in her words, stupid and psychotic. She wished me well and hoped that I was ok with her as Cathy obviously was not. I later asked Cathy what happened to her previous friends to which she replied, “We just stopped hanging out really.” Some work colleagues pointed out that this is what had happened to me with my friends as well. Ever distant, apart from the small selection that Cathy liked. Even then, it was a forced effort on her part which made our relationship appear more rocky and destructive than it was. Things had begun to sink in. I felt over my head and responsible for everything that happened or was going to happen. Before I knew it I wasn’t just in love with her, I was scared of her.

Another four months had gone by and I had one friend left who I spoke to on a semi-regular basis. I’d almost become a prisoner of my own making. The flat was now becoming littered with little things and possessions that I had brought Cathy to keep her happy. Trinkets of days out, stacks of DVD’s and CD’s little notes or pictures of us separately that she had stuck together. Even tickets from gigs we had been to. It was almost a shrine to our relationship, all of it hiding the sadness and anger with each other. Neither of us was happy. Neither of us would admit we were unhappy. Some kind of pride and fascination about the way we met and the connection we had seemed to keep us from the growing truth that we were two very different people and that I was not the person that Cathy needed to keep her in check. Save a few magical nights where we would go to a restaurant or we would drive out to some random lake and dip our toes in the water. One night we even stripped off and skinny dipped in one. It was almost like it was a perfect moment and everything we had experienced was preparing us for an ultimate happiness. This became a pipe dream though. We would talk less and less to each other whilst watching TV. Those little chats and jokes that you have curled up whilst on the sofa became forced silence and proper posture. We would engage each other less in general conversation. We would see our sex life stall. I even turned my phone off at times to be unreachable so I could see my friends. Having not seen them for so long and forgetting the freedom that I had before Cathy, I didn’t want her to spoil this moment with constant jealousy of everyone else around me. Such was the control Cathy wanted over my life and our relationship. I knew my flat battery story would only go so far however and convinced myself that this wasn’t working anymore. Especially seeing I now had to lie. I didn’t choose to lie. I had to lie to rescue my sanity from what little was left in the confines of our flat. I wondered though how I could broach this issue without incurring some sort of wrath or episode which was bound to happen. I even toyed with the idea of making her break up with me through whatever means. I got home one night and decided that it was the night I would confront her. Her friends, by now the fourth set of acquaintances had just left and we discussed going on a break. She seemed keen on the idea saying that she had also thought about it and her friends had come to the same conclusion when consulted. I felt a little aggrieved by this as if I had asked my friends and mentioned it to her she would have gone on the war path. But none the less, I volunteered to move out for a bit while we had a break. Cathy agreed and that was that. By the end of the week I had gone. Cathy had got closer to one of her new friends; much closer than the rest had ever got before. She was staying around, going places with her that we had gone and I slowly felt replaced. By the end of the month we had decided that we would finish totally. A week later I got a phone call from Cathy. Deeply upset and in fits of tears and hysterics, she apologised to me claiming it was all her fault and that she could change. I honestly believed her. I really did. But I couldn’t risk putting myself through it all again in case it didn’t pan out. I was open to her with this and she understood and in a slightly defeated upset tone, she hung up the phone. I felt free. For the first time in over a year I was back where I was before. Single, man of the world and ready to prowl. I had regained my pre occupied sense of well-being and realised that it was me that meant the most to me. I realised that I had heavily spent whilst with Cathy and as rage set in at what I had done, I blamed Cathy for my debt, my feelings of anger and most importantly all my shortcomings. Of course I now realise that these were my own actions and my own fault but at the time, Cathy was the focus of these energies. That was the end of me and Cathy. Some time went by and we lost touch. My friends welcomed me back, I binged, I fornicated, I did many things that I should probably have done some years previously. I understood that she had a boyfriend or two over the years but never kept up or really cared. That was until a letter came through my door. It was a plain white envelope with some fairly neat handwriting on it, which I immediately recognised as Cathy’s mothers. My initial reaction was that this was a wedding invite so I could see how happy she was in her new bliss and utopia she had found. I opened and pulled out a card. Simple and elegant it had white lilies which were Cathy’s favourite flowers on the front and small impersonal writing inside saying I was invited to… I paused and dropped the card in disbelief. When I mustered the courage to pick up the card and read it again to make sure I had got it right, I sunk into the wall and onto the floor. It was an invitation to a funeral.

Cathy was dead.

The funeral was in this Church where Cathy was baptised. I sat towards the back but not so far back that I was an outcast. I distanced myself from her family but went to offer my condolences and place a wreath of flowers down. Some of her old friends were there and some new ones as well that I didn’t recognise. It was then that I started thinking about the little things about her. Many of which I overlooked. The reason she cried at the window was not because of our first moment, but what the picture portrayed and how the window reminded her of it. In her eyes everything that had ever happened to her had gone from green hills to stormy weather to disaster. The picture almost had a meaning to it and she couldn’t shake off the terrible fear and pain that this is what her life was. In her mind she wanted to rip up the picture and cast it away and place a blank canvas in the window’s place. She had been taking more prescribed medication, which was believed to have made her hallucinate as well as describing the poignancy of the window to her therapist. Her destroying her inner demon in reality became her running up to the frame and crashing through the window of our old flat and falling. Whilst I had always known the window wasn’t just a moment of happiness for her, I never could have imagined it being such a vivid picture that she perceived. I thought back to her smile, her eyes and her hair. Cathy never died her hair. Not even once. The pallbearer walked past me and I caught the coffin slowly coming into view. As it passed and went to the altar, the man beside me tired to engage in conversation with me. “It’s sad.” He muttered is a disappointed tone, “It’s always been this way.” I turned from his gaze and looked at the coffin. Remember how people changed. Friends changed. Situations changed but Cathy never did. She was always just Cathy and I was at one time her rock. Her hope. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone and I knew that in all that time, she never did either. Although she couldn’t keep her problems to herself and ended up losing everyone around her, she was never alone. Someone was always there. I turned back to him and agreed with a sense of optimism in my voice by saying, “You’re right. There was always someone carrying Cathy.”

Jessie’s Father – A Short Story

This is my most recent story that was submitted as a university project. It’s now been processed so I can upload it all for you to see.

Jessie’s Father

Dishes were always a chore for Monica. In her opinion family life never suited her and she had no idea why she got married in the first place. She resented the chores of looking after a person, especially at such an early time in her life. Monica knew she had no one to blame but herself, but she still tried to blame everything else around her for being thirty two, divorced and dragging her seven-year-old daughter in tow. In fact she had never even had to look at herself when thinking who was at fault.
That was until today. Jessica walked up to the counter beside the sink, vaulted on top and plonked herself down, legs crossed, beside her mother.
‘Come on Jessie, I’ve told you not to do that.’ Monica reacted, without even looking at her.
‘Mummy?’ She asked in one of those tones best suited for questions such as ‘Why do trees grow?’ or ‘How come elephants have big ears?’. Jessie looked at the floor. ‘Why don’t I have a Daddy?’

Monica dropped the plate she was scrubbing the ketchup from onto the side of the sink and it made a loud crack. She managed to exhale a quick ‘Shit’ in retort as the plate hit. She picked it back up, realised it had chipped and started feeling the chip with her fingers. ‘Well… Umm. You do have a Daddy, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.’
‘I know that, but where is he? All of the other children at school have a Daddy. They aren’t married but they still know them. Why don’t I know mine?’ Jessie questioned.
‘Look, you know I’ve had a husband, but he left and that’s all you need to know until you’re older.’ Monica replied impatiently, as if Jessie had scraped her nails down a blackboard inside her head.
‘But I am older mummy, I need to know so that I know what to say to people when they ask me.’ Jessie pressed on.
Monica put the plate back in the sink and immediately felt the stinging on her fingertips as her hands hit the water. She raised them back up to see tiny cuts on the tips. ‘All right, all right.’ She relented. ‘But this is a long story.’

~•~

I met Dave eleven years or so ago. He was a friend of a friend and had pitched up with us at Reading Festival. He was from the same town as us, although most of us had never met him. It was a strange thing when you think you know a place so well, is so familiar, and yet something so new and unknown comes out to surprise you. Dave was that guy. He’d been away at university, got a Masters degree in some theoretical shit about existence or something and had worked for the university briefly afterwards. Everyone immediately took a shine to him and enjoyed his company. He was kind, certainly a bit better off than us, we could tell. He actively sought out the charity workers to help donate his money, like giving back was in his nature. He would share the beer he brought. Not the warm, canned kind from the shops around the complex, mind you, the good stuff. The outrageously expensive cold draught beer that you only brought twice before resorting to sneaking in the warm cans of cheap cider instead.

Who wouldn’t want Dave? Mysterious, clever, kind, he was a hit with the men as a friend (and sometimes a little more) and a definite hit with the ladies. On the Saturday of the festival, we were all a little drunk and he just looked so right. His face wasn’t beautiful, maybe rugged, a bit worn, but certainly charming and alluring. He was covered in a bin bag and had somehow acquired five or six bead bracelets that rattled as he danced around the campfire. Like a mating ritual from some exotic ancient tribe. He sat next to me and looked at me and at that moment, nothing was more perfect than to kiss him. I moved forward before a hand stopped me on my shoulder and said ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not intelligent enough for me.’

We stayed in touch after the festival for many years. We had a mutual group of friends and often went out to the pub. I saw him with many women. Some of them were absolutely gorgeous and some of them, not so much. All of these wouldn’t last more than a week, maybe three at best. Sometimes we would see the girls again in the pub and they would give him such a scornful look of hatred and contempt. What could such a nice man have done to deserve such a cold shoulder?

About five years after the drunken approach at the festival, we went out to a pub. I later found him crying in the beer garden. When I asked him what was wrong he replied, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’
I sat, shocked a little at the words I’d heard but not entirely surprised. Dave wasn’t happy.
‘I am an intelligent man. I know I’m not the most handsome or have that trendy sensibility everyone gawps at. But every woman I’ve met, just…’ He paused, the tears began to well up in his eyes but his frown was stopping them from escaping onto the surface.
‘No one understands me, no one can communicate with me, no one is anywhere near my level.’ I gave him a look that suggested a mirror might be his answer. But he didn’t pick up the hint.
‘Is it too much to ask that I can find a woman that’s read something other than a point horror book? Someone who can talk about the state of the world without pausing to drool over Hugh Grant or whoever’s in fashion? Can’t I just find some who’s… who’s…’ Dave stumbled searching for the word to use.
‘Intelligent?’ I asked. He nodded quickly, as if he didn’t have the courage to say it in case it seemed offensive.

I breathed in a deep breath as he turned to receive my wisdom, like a gracious pauper who was being handed a loaf of bread. ‘Dave, what do you want? Do you want love? Sex? Relationships? Family? Or do you want companionship. Validation. Challenges. You’re so clever and you’re attractive and you’re the kindest person I’ve ever met. But you don’t know how to get a lady because you don’t know what you want! If you want love then you need to take your goddesses, smash their statues in your mind and find the real you. Not the books or the politics or the deep thinking stuff. It’s too selfish, too stuck up, but the real you. The kind, caring man who makes everyone laugh and can create a party by just being there. Then, who knows?’

I sat next to Dave looking at him and he moved forward to kiss me before I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and said ‘I’m sorry, but I’m married.’

~•~
Jessie was sat bolt upright, completely captivated by the story but utterly confused as it hadn’t answered her question. Monica was now drying the dishes and beginning to put them away. ‘But…’ Jessie began ‘But what does Dave have to do with it?’
Monica looked at her reflection in the plate she had just cleaned and dried. The reflection of the fluorescent light tube shone off the surface, as did Monica’s face. For the first time in eight years, she wasn’t able to point fingers at anyone else, blame circumstance or throw the conversation in another direction for a distant time. It was just her words, her daughter and her reflection. She noticed the tear beginning to fall down her cheek. ‘Because Dave is your Dad, Jessie.’

‘But, Sam was your husband?’ Replied Jessie, now even more confused.
Monica couldn’t help but cry, she didn’t bellow out but she stammered as she breathed. ‘That night, I took Dave back into the club. We drank more and one thing led to another and we ended up at his with the birds and the bees.’ She paused to wipe the tears from her eyes. ‘I was 25, I was married young, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Sam was always working long hours and was away from home a lot. When Sam realised I was pregnant, he was always paranoid that you weren’t his as he was away for about a month during that time. He worked out the truth and left. Then Dave came and he stayed for a bit.’
Jessie began to smile. Now she knew who her Dad was. ‘So where is Daddy?’ She asked.
Monica looked at her daughter for the first time since she sat down by the sink and said ‘He did what he always did Jessie. He left.’
‘But why?’ Jessie asked.
‘Because,’ Monica replied, ‘I wasn’t intelligent enough for him.’

The Piano Man – A Short Story

… May became December
But, even in December, I remember
Her touch, her smile, and for a little while…

The pressure in his fingertips relaxed on the piano’s keys just as his voice began to ebb away. The lyric hit a spot in his body, somewhere he couldn’t place. Between his spine and his ribcage and just above his stomach, but it wasn’t quite there. He clenched his fist and imagined he could fit it right into the spot. “Are you going to finish playing that?” the voice called from behind him.
“How long have you been there?” He kept staring forward at the mahogany.
“Since you started. You’ve been stuck at that part for the past five minutes.”
He looked down and sighed before turning to face the voice. She stood in the archway of the room. All the chairs and stools were turned up on the tables and the brooms were resting against the bar. He had no idea how long he’d been alone in the bar. Even though the light was dim, he could still make out the heels and her dress, a reddish colour, with only one strap over her left shoulder. Her brunette hair was curled and fell to left side starting where the strap finished. “What do you want to hear,” he asked “a little San Francisco?”
He turned around and pushed his hands out, ready to play.
“I want to hear the end of that song,” she replied.
“How about some Moon River?”
“The end of that song.”
“Steppin’ Out?”
“That song.”

He let out a big breath. “I know. Some Lady is a Tramp.” He started playing the song. She walked over and just before he started to sing, she slammed her hand on the high notes. The discord made his hands recoil to his sides. “Why can’t you finish it?”
“I just can’t.”
“Why not?”
“You know what song it is. Don’t make me spell it out,” he became irritated.
“Why?” She became insistent.
He turned to look at her sharply. “Because it’s a lie,” he shouted. “It’s a fucking lie.”
She looked into his eyes and looked right through him. “You know it wasn’t how I wanted it to be.”
“And how did you want it to be?” he sarcastically asked, “Fields of flowers? Weekends away? Or just a quick feel in the back of the car?”
“I don’t know how I wanted it to be. Just not what we had.”
He turned back to the piano and blew out his cheeks, trying hard to vent the fist shaped spot in his body but it wouldn’t budge. “Look, I believe in the songs. That’s why I’m here all the time, playing this old thing. It’s my lot. I have to do it, no one else can.”
“I know,” she conceded, “I wouldn’t change you for the world. But do you really believe that the song is a lie?”
He looked down at the keys in silent admission. She lifted her hand and stroked his hair behind his ear. “Just play the end,” she whispered to him. A whisper that, no matter how hard he tried, he could never refuse. He put his hands back on the piano keys where they had stopped before. He breathed in and realised he couldn’t sing the higher notes and resigned himself to go with a lower register.

… She loves me.

He had to swallow after finishing the lyric. The fist-sized spot grew in intensity.

Once again it’s Paris
Paris on a Sunday
And the month is May.

He finished the song’s final flourish with little effort, relaxed his fingers once again by his sides and lowered his head. She reached over to his ear once again and whispered to him.
“Some lies are worth believing in.”
She gently kissed his cheek and began to walk away. He didn’t look, but he listened to hear how far away the sound of her heels were. They stopped briefly and he knew she was back at the archway. Finally the sound started again and faded into the distance. She had left. He heard a faint tap and looked at the piano keys. A single tear had escaped his eye and hit the middle C. The spot in his body had shrunk a little back to the original fist size. “So that’s how you leave,” he muttered, unsure if he was referring to her or to the spot. He put his hands back to the piano, began to quietly play and sung in his deepest, effortless voice.

… Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.

Wave To The Cars

Little explanation here. I had to use some given words twice and in different contexts. The words were: wave, exhaust, cream, surround, cement & pearl. This was for Portsmouth Uni, but I didn’t go there as the big smoke was too much of a lure. So here it is!

“Wave to the cars, Graham.” His mother said to him. “Don’t breathe in the exhaust fumes Graham, they’ll kill you.” “Don’t add so much cream, Graham.” He always grew distant in his hearing when she spoke in that tone, slowly fading her out and replacing her moaning with a song in his head. Usually the last thing he heard on the radio would surround his senses. He never understood that. How the song would cement itself in his head. Her mouth would move and the words would be silent. The pearl jewellery would jangle from her earlobes as her jaw moved more and more furiously as she realised he wasn’t listening. He would be sent to his room and there he would think of all the things he could do when he was older. Get a car, move out of the house and travel away. Just to escape the whining. Eventually he did of course. She would phone after he moved out and he could just imagine her face over the phone as he continued to ignore her, staring at the non-intrusive cream wallpaper he had decorated with. Feeling fulfilled with all the expensive things that money could buy. Surround sound system, widescreen television, lava lamp. He always wanted a lava lamp, but his mother would never let him have one. Now he had one in the cement covered inner-city building where he had decided to make his home. His mother would never come to visit of course. She hated trains. She was always disturbed by the wave upon wave of faceless people milling around aimlessly without any great purpose. Graham would try to make her visit but she would exhaust all the options until he gave in and went to see her. Then he would sit there whilst she whittled on about this and that. Who did what and why they did it. What was on the television that night. Nothing changed and he longed to be away from her again. It’s almost fitting, he thought to himself, that in the end he would be alone with her. Just the two of them with no one else. He drowned out all the sounds again. Except this time there were no songs. Nothing at all except silence. Horror of what he had taken for granted all this time. “Pearl Smith.” He said out loud. “Mother of one, lover of all.” He chose the words without any thought but seeing them in stone hit it home that she was the best thing that happened to him. With a little bit of shame and apprehension, he turned away from the gravestone and walked away and waved at the cars parked by the church. Just like she told him to.

Free Fall

He opened his eyes. Took a deep breath and prepared himself for the unknown. It was always like this. A moment’s silence and pause before the oncoming storm. Barely time to think but an eternity of nothing until the rush of air hit his face. As he exhaled, two men came from behind and grabbed him with each arm, hooking theirs under his and picking him up before dragging him towards the rush of air. “Come on, son.” Shouted one of the men above the noise of the rushing air. “Here’s what’s waiting for you” he screamed before tossing him into the wind.
The air grabbed him and thrust him into a light. He didn’t know how fast he was travelling but it felt like his cheeks were about to fly off his face, it was that fast. The light blended into a familiar light blue colour with white patches before he realised it was the sky. There was a realisation of fear that he had been thrown out of a plane with no parachute. The fear quickly subsided. It wasn’t the first time that he had no explanation for where he was, what had happened and why falling through the air was apparently in his diary for today. He snapped out of his flippant thoughts when another colour appeared in the light. A faint yellow dot appeared in the distance beneath him. He always had some sense of impending doom when something new came out of nowhere, and this was no different. The yellow dot grew in size and added other colours to itself. Orange began to appear and light reds began to appear with tinges of black. He tried to speak, to exclaim, but the air was rushing so fast the only sound that came out was a squeak. The colours became more focused and was formed a cloud of flame. It rushed towards him as fast as he was falling down. The heat began to climb and make him perspire. The water barely had a chance as it flew behind him. He tried to take a deep breath as the cloud of flames got closer and closer but the air kept his mouth shut. The fear now took hold of his senses and he realised that there was no way out of this. He tried to move, divert himself away but the cloud began to engulf everything he saw below. Covering the entire field of his vision. The heat was unbearable now and the clothes he wore felt like they were melting into his skin. The cloud was almost an arms length away. He closed his eyes, reached out and grabbed it.
The moment’s silence ended and he opened his eyes. His dreams always ended like this. He felt around his clothes and slowly peeled the melting fabric off his skin. Was the dream real, he asked himself?