Category Archives: short stories

Her mother’s daughter

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Option A:

I look around at my colleagues with envy.

“Are you ok,?” Shirley asks, stopping her filing for a moment and looking straight at me.

I nod my head. Blink a tear away. Force a smile. Shirley starts filing again. How can I tell her? How can I find the words to say how I really feel?

I suddenly feel irritated. She would be unlikely to believe me anyway. Her life is so simple. Nothing like this could never happen to clean Shirley, with her squeeky clean Christian parents, her clean shaven, clean living fiance and her sickeningly clean life.

Then there’s Kazza, sitting at the desk which she apologetically insisted upon pushing up against the wall on her first day here, because she thought she was taking up too much space. She’s such a mouse, always trying to make herself invisible, stooping slightly because she’s so embarrassed about her height, constantly apologising for her existence. She should try living with my problems for a while.

I hear Kazza’s chair scrape as she stands, her whispering footsteps, and now she is behind me, a hand on my shoulder, lips close to my ear as she bends her tall, willowy frame. I can feel kindly concern emanating from her in waves, and I guiltily curse myself for having such uncharitable thoughts. What is happening to me?

“You’re finding it tough, aren’t you Sophie? You know you can talk to me any time. It’ll take a while for you to come to terms with what’s happened, but I’ll be here for you if you need me.”

Kazza knows all about my mum. It happened just over a month ago. She launched a viscious physical attack on another inmate at the prison. The woman had somehow managed to fashion a sharp knife, which she drove into my mother’s jugular vein. They told me that my mum died quickly. At first my only feeling was one of relief that it was finally over. She had her retribution.

The following day was Friday, and I went to work as usual. I was able to start making telephoned  arrangements for the funeral; after all, it wasn’t as if I had any interest  in selecting a quality coffin or sitting in the undertakers office discussing special arrangements while tearfully dabbing at my eyes with a wad of soggy tissues.

I explained to Kazza and Shirley that my estranged mother had died, so they wouldn’t wonder what was behind the unusual phone calls. At lunchtime Kazza and I went to the little kitchen where we eat our lunch. Shirley didn’t join us because she was leaving early to travel to a family wedding somewhere in Scotland. Kazza had suggested that although I didn’t realise it, I may be in shock.

I was looking out of the window, feeling strangely blank and distanced from reality, as she told me about how she switched off when she heard about the death of her abusive father, and the grief and shame she felt when it hit her. She was apologising for him; explaining that he hadn’t always been that way – it was only when she hit puberty. He couldn’t help the way he felt and maybe her skirts had been too short, maybe she did inadvertently egg him on…

As she was talking, I saw Shirley walk past the window with her parents. They had come to pick her up in their car, so that they could all travel together. Mr. Clean, the boyfriend, was with her. I suppose what triggered my reaction was a combination of what Kazza was saying and the sight of that carefree family knot outside; suddenly all of the grief and pain and anger and horrible, horrible childhood fear and loneliness exploded through my eyes, nose and mouth.

Through tears and bubbling snot I ranted and screamed. Spittle was flying from my lips, but I didn’t care.

“You can forgive your bastard father if you wish, but I will never forgive my mother. I was there when she raised the butcher’s knife in her left hand. I saw my father’s look of terror as his arms jerked in an effort to protect himself.” I shouted. “I saw the blade sink into my father’s bare chest and the blood that escaped from the hole it left when she pulled it out to stab again. I saw the blood and heard that last gurgle as his life leaked into the carpet. I heard her gleeful laugh as I ran for the door and escaped.”

And now I lay my hand over hers. I lean towards her. I tell her the half-truth that she expects.

“Yes, it has been a shock. I thought my mother could never hurt me again, but she has, and it doesn’t go away.”

I don’t tell her about the phantom night-time visits from my mother when I am trying to sleep, or the way she conjures up the spectre of my gentle father for her grisly theatre. He’s bare chested as he was on that hot summer day, accidentally knocking over a vase of plastic flowers on the table, apologising, apologising, apologising – even though no harm was done, nothing was broken, dirtied or damaged – inciting the rage that caused her to stab him to death. I don’t tell her how I have to hear him apologising over and over, and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop the thing that happens next.

I also omit to mention the blind rages that fly up from nowhere, or of coming out of them in a different place than I was when I became angry. Each time it happens I seem to be gone for longer. I tend to take walks late at night, to put off the time when I must go to bed. Although my mother’s ghost doesn’t visit me every night, there’s no knowing when it will happen, and I dread it. I was out after midnight last night. The streets were empty apart from a drunk, who was lurching along. When he got alongside me he staggered and stumbled against me. He immediately started slurring his apologies, trying to brush my coat down, and saying “There, see? No harm done,” before saying sorry again. I became angry at his constant repetition. Everything else is a blank until the moment when I found myself standing in my bathroom with both taps running, rinsing something off my cuff. I was distressed to discover, later, that I had somehow lost my coat.

I sit in that small room with Kazza. I cut up an apple with a sharp kitchen knife as I talk instead about my memories of my mother during those times when she was well.

Our lunch-hour is over. I pick up the dirty plates and the kitchen knife, and take them to the sink to wash them up. Kazza brings her cup over. She didn’t drink all of her tea, and it’s gone cold. There’s something slippery on the floor, and it causes her to lose her balance for a moment. The liquid flies across the room, splashing my closed handbag. It’s plastic, so it won’t stain. She grabs a cloth, and starts wiping at it, repeatedly telling me how sorry she is, how clumsy. There’s nothing to apologise about, and yet she’s apologising again. I’m beginning to feel angry. It’s all just pointless, maddening noise.

It feels just like that time way back, before they locked me up, when my irritating husband wouldn’t shut up. He just kept on and on about those stupid plastic flowers, while he tried to arrange them properly in the vase, and apologising because he couldn’t make them look the way they did before. I had to kill him. It was the only way to get some peace.

I feel young and rejuvinated. The strength has returned to my fingers. I switch the knife to my left hand, and grip it tighter, and turn towards the tall babbling woman who is wiping at a spotless bag on the floor. It’s good to be back. It will be better still once I’ve silenced her.

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This is my response to this weeks challenge from Esther Newton.

Esther says:

This week I’m going to give you two choices:

Option A: I’ll give you a story opening and the challenge is to continue the story from that point.

Option B: For this choice, I have a story ending for you and your challenge is to write story up to the ending. 

Here is your opening and your ending:

Option A:

I look around at my colleagues with envy.

“Are you ok,?” Shirley asks, stopping her filing for a moment and looking straight at me.

I nod my head. Blink a tear away. Force a smile. Shirley starts filing again. How can I tell her? How can I find the words to say how I really feel?

Option B:

I was wrong. I thought finding a ghost would be exciting and fun. At the very least I thought it would be scary. But it was more than that. So much more.

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I was inspired by Option B, so I used the idea, but I started the story with Option A.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

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Hook, Line and Sinker

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image adapted from: http://annagrl530.deviantart.com/art/Slow-Dancing-in-a-Burning-Room-150697762

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The first time I set eyes on you…. eyes that roamed up and down your body – resting on the tongue of blonde hair as it flopped onto your brow – sliding to your own pale blue, intoxicating, intoxicated eyes – slipping quickly from the bridge of your nose to those quizzical lips – descending your neck – strolling across your shoulders – silently caressing your chest and the hollow in your stomach until they reached your belt ….as you looked up at the monument in the town centre, and accepted your companion’s dare, I was lost.

In your inebriated godliness, you weren’t aware of the assault, having been carried out from a distance of at least twelve feet. You didn’t even look my way. You didn’t see the stranger in the shadows

But how could you not have noticed me? I had swallowed your features, bite by bite, and I carried them home with me. They were the last thing I saw when I went to sleep that night, and the first thing when I awoke the following morning.

The next weekend I went to a club. I was on the dance floor when I looked up and saw you. Exactly as if you had a radar, you were walking towards me, your eyes looking straight into mine, My vision tunnelled. There was just you, and nothing else but a blur around the edges. Maybe people stepped back to let you past. I felt as if they had. You were a few feet away from me when you stopped and gave me that smile; apologetic, questioning and knowing all at once, as you threw back your shoulders and opened your arms, palms turned outwards towards me. ”I’m yours, do what you will with me,” your body implied.

We danced slowly around each other, not touching for a few minutes, and then I was in your arms, with my head against your chest, and we swayed in time, like twining vines in a soft breeze.

I felt complete, as if there was nobody else in the world, and I had need for nobody but you.

I went home, to think of you…. to re-live every sensation – to feel the cradle of your strong arms around my body – to shiver with head-tingling delight at the memory of the breeze of your breath against my hair – to feel the beat of my heart echoing yours – always – every moment I was away from you… knowing that I had found my heart’s companion, and nothing would ever tear us apart.

Except your wife. I admit, we didn’t talk a lot, being caught up in the moment as we were, but it would have been helpful for you to have mentioned her, at least in passing.

I had puzzled over the apologetic aspect of your smile. Now I understood.

© Jane Paterson Basil

Promises

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Image adapted from: photo by Peter Drier

(An everyday tale of love and marriage)

”Be mine.” he whispered, ”You are my chocolate coated limousine, my deepest bungee jump, my highest school yard leap-frog, my cool breath in a heated discussion, my hot water bottle at the frozen peak of mount Everest, my favourite cheese grater, my mix of perfect concrete.

”Stand on me, and crush my brain with the power of your sub-atomic love bomb; your over-exposed throat; your agile knife sharpener; your ready whittling and all of those things that you hide beneath the tittle-tattle of a thousand silences.

”And I will teach you to ride on the back of a butterfly as it flits from flower to flower; to scale the heights of fishes underground; to extract kettle fluff from the painting of the Mona Lisa; to build an atom from an elephant; to ignite the stars using a broken toothpick and an excerpt from Handel’s Water Music; to do all of the things that I have learnt from centuries of studying rotting carrot heads and the birth of synthetic fabrics.

”Come, share my bent nail and take the lonely word-processor from my empty heart. Be my new baked bread, my ocean of sky, my everything reduced for one day only, again and again, for ever and ever ’til death do us part amen. I’m begging you in B minor. Express a quiet acceptance of fate. Let me love you.”

(He wanted to win me,)

”I don’t like your tone!” I cried. ”Do not try to possess me, or I will extract your teeth with a sledge-hammer. I will destroy your father’s estate. I will make the tax office refuse your rebate. I will tear down your house. I will drive your Mercedes into a wall. I will kill your computer with a rash of vicious viruses. I will burn your books. I will break your bed with my passion. I will trifle with your affections and leave you raw and heartbroken. I will undo you.”

(I told him that I liked things the way they were.)

”But we could be a perfect match, like Morecambe and pistachio nuts, like strawberries and the little plastic blocks that you screw on to hold modern kitchen units together when you buy them from places like B&Q, like bread and hair remover, like a hammer and a list of things that pair up nicely.

”We could tie the tangle, dance the fandango, slide into sheets of satin on a brave raft of reality. We could build a barn and raise the roof, and fill it with glass and china and soft furnishings and small sharp metal objects. We could make tiny things with ten little fingers and ten little toes, that grow and go. We could wave them goodbye and turn to each other and say ‘It’s just us now,’ and ‘You go and sit down in front of the telly, while I make us a nice cup of tea.’ We could relax. We could retire and grow old together. And when the moment was right, we could die in each others arms.”

(He was just an ordinary bloke really,)

”Oh, I see,” I said. ”That puts a completely different slant on it. It sounds very nice. We’ll get a sensible semi-detached property in the suburbs. We could have quiet nights in, playing tiddly winks and tic-tac-toe. You’ll have to take your shoes off as soon as you come home from the office, because I don’t want you getting the carpets all dirty. When the babies come along, my mother can come and stay, to help me out until I get on my feet again. I expect I’ll need a nanny. They’re so useful, don’t you think? When we retire, we can move to a cottage in the country, and grow roses around the door. You could take up vegetable gardening, and I could join a bridge club. Yes, I’ll marry you.”

(I was seduced by his offer of security,)

When I accepted his soft, downy proposal, I thought to drown my passion beneath it. I thought it could save me from my nature.

He expeditiously discarded the word-smithery with which he had won me, and replaced it with practicality and rationalism. He lay carpets and furniture at my feet. In my hands he placed cooking implements and cleaning products. He tucked yet more gifts in hidden places: rank, balled-up socks under the bed, twisted tubes of toothpaste and bad smells in the bathroom, crumbs of toast and smears of marmalade in the butter dish. In the morning, his loud laughter and readings from the newspaper tangled my thoughts. In the evening the noise from the television killed my creativity. At night the heat from his body chased sleep away.

(However, he soon irritated me.)

After a while, I extracted his teeth with a sledge-hammer. I destroyed his father’s estate. I caused the tax office to refuse his rebate. I tore down his house. I drove his Mercedes into a wall. I killed his computer with a rash of vicious viruses. I burned his books. I broke his bed. I trifled with his affections and left him raw and heartbroken. I undid him.’

(We parted company.)

These days, in winter, I keep myself warm with many layers of thin clothing, and thick blankets, and I sleep through the long hours of the night. In summer, I wake up each morning with the dawn. I am eased into a calm consciousness by the daylight, as it soaks through the thin skin of my tent. Overhanging trees dapple a caramel silhouette onto the cream canvas wall that protects me.

My passion is consumed.

(I prefer being alone.)

© Jane Paterson Basil

My Story Got Shortlisted!

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I’m so excited!

I recently stepped a little further outside my comfort zone, and submitted a short story to a competition run 4 times a year by Mash Stories. If you haven’t heard of them I suggest that you check them out. They are a friendly bunch of people, and their flash fiction competitions attract quality stories.

The rules are simple: there is a 3 word prompt, and all three words must be used, and the story must not contain more than 500 words.

Stories are assessed as they are submitted, and submissions for this competition are being accepted until April 15th, so if anyone wants to have a go, there is plenty of time. Each story which is shortlisted goes onto the site as soon as possible.

My story got shortlisted!

Just a moment; I would like to say that again!

My story got shortlisted!

In order to qualify for the final, the amount of votes received by a story is taken into consideration. I would be really grateful if you could go over to the website and read my story, and if you like it, vote for it.

Here is the link:

http://mashstories.com/shortlist/noble-survivors

A big thank you to all my readers who have sent supportive comments about my work. Although stories like this aren’t necessarily what I am about, you have given me the confidence to risk rejection, and it has paid off, as I was not rejected!

BURNING AMBITION

Dancer

“Sweet Jesus! I can’t stand it any longer!” said Cleo.

“You can do this. Soubressaut.” I could almost see the images of reflected glory as they shimmered in my sister’s head.

“We only have three days left… Allegro! Allegro! What is the matter with you?”

“It really hurts mum, and the painkillers aren’t working.”

It was awful for Eva when all those years ago, our mother wouldn’t allow her to have ballet lessons, but this was inexcusable. Cleo had no interest in dancing.

As I crept away, the poor girl was still complaining of the pain in her tooth.

© Jane Paterson Basil

LIVING THE DREAM

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I am the most beautiful woman you have ever seen.

You all gaze at me with envy in your piggy little eyes. I know you all long to be as lovely as me, and as successful. You assume I have done nothing to earn my place.

Do you really think I was born like this?

I dispise your ignorance.

My voyage to perfection cost me a lot of pain and expense. I itch where scars lie hidden. Even my ears have been re-modelled.

I have to be careful what I eat, which means that I can’t have anything that I enjoy, but live on vegetables and fruit juice instead.

I had to leave my friends behind, because they didn’t fit in with the image I was trying to create.

I want to be loved, but no man can match my beauty.

Now you know the secrets of my success you may think you can try to replace me on my pedestal, but I warn you not to try. My nails are sharp, and my teeth are like daggers.

Before my transformation, I sat naked in cold classrooms while students sniggered and sketched my undercooked folds. But now, glossy magazines testify to my physical allure, as my eyes slant sexily towards you from the newsagent’s rack.

I sat in grubby pubs drinking cut-price lager, but now I put my lips to champagne in glasses which I never drain.

I went home to a scruffy flat which I had worked hard to make cosy. Now I have three homes; they are all light and airy, and full of extravagent emptiness.

I rummaged around charity shops and car boot sales, enjoying the bargains I picked up. Now I shop in exclusive boutiques, and yet nothing has the value that it did when I was poor.

My friends used to rush up and hug me. Now the people I lunch with air-kiss me.

I used to be happy. Now I’m cool.

I get lonely.

But I can’t find my way back.

© Jane Paterson Basil

THE GOOD MOTHER

We mustn’t talk too loudly, because Dolly’s asleep in her cot over there. She’s teething, and I’ve only just managed to get her off.

They said I shouldn’t have a baby. They that said if I did it would be taken away by social services because I’m mental. At least that’s what the neighbours said. The official people just said that it would be too hard for me to cope, and I wouldn’t understand what to do.

They think I’m stupid.

I know they were trying to be nice, but it’s not fair to say I couldn’t look after a baby. I mean it’s natural, isn’t it, having babies. Anyone can learn to feed a baby, and change its nappy and keep it warm and safe.

I take her out every day in the buggy, because grandma said babies need fresh air. I never leave her behind in the supermarket like they thought I would. I talk to her and play with her, and she’s learning really fast. I bath her and always make sure her clothes are clean and dry. She’s never had a day’s illness because I look after her so well. I love her more than anything, and she’s easy to love anyway, because she’s so pretty and good, and she hardly ever cries.

And love is what really matters, isn’t it? Just because I’ve got what they call special educational needs, it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to love people, especially my own child. Loving is easier than learning.

Anyway, I proved them wrong. They never even check up on her, because I’m doing such a good job. They said so.

I called her Dolly after my grandma, because she was clever and kind and she always said nice things to me, and I want my little girl to be like her when she grows up.

I wouldn’t want her to be like me, because people make fun of me and I don’t think they like me very much. I don’t know why, because I’m always polite and friendly, like the teachers taught me to be.

The father? She hasn’t got a father. I don’t know how it happened, it just did. Well, I suppose she must have a father somewhere, but we don’t need him. He must have been someone I stood beside at the bus stop when my carer took me out one time. When I was in school my friend Lena said that can happen sometimes. She knew lots of grown-up things, but some of them didn’t sound very nice, and I don’t believe people would do them.

Oh! Dolly’s waking up. Would you like to hold her?

Don’t say that! Why does everyone keep saying that? She’s not a doll, she’s my baby, and I’d like you to leave now. Go on. Go away and leave us alone.

© Jane Paterson Basil