Recently, independent publisher of European novellas Peirene Press ran a 900 word short story competition.
Not only was I over 2 weeks late in realising, (and this was after I’d already written the following piece on a train journey to Sheffield) I also wasn’t aware that there was a specific brief to which I subsequently did not adhere!
Yes, I’m terrible with deadlines and guidelines.
But I thought I’d share it anyhow.
900 words (to tell you that I love you)
We’ve just met and already it feels like an Epic. Yet time is short. Thin, voluptuous lips etch words in the space between us. I cling to them like a shipwrecked sailor to driftwood. I feel myself leaning toward you, into the abyss between my awkward grin and your twinkling eyes. You’ve finished your piece and, as per the laws of conversation, it’s my turn to say something: Of course! I blurt unknowingly. In a conspicuous plea for support I turn to the gentleman to my left. But he just smiles – a tacit acknowledgment that he too has found himself lost in your eyes.
In this silence I whisk you away to the set of my fantasy – not a beach on a remote tropical island, or a moonlit balcony overlooking twilight Paris – we are on the platform of a train station in an unnamed and featureless place. It is cold, dark, and quiet. You rummage frantically in your handbag, its contents spewing on to the concrete platform. Tears stain lilywhite cheeks beneath tired eyes. The conductor’s whistle sounds its farewell and, with one foot crossing the platform-train threshold, I pause to observe you give in to the weight of misfortune. From over your shoulder I try to speak without shattering you into a million pieces. You are still; the only sign of life I can determine is the condensation of your breath against the crisp winter air. You’ve lost your purse. You’ve lost your ticket. And you’re about to lose your father.
The gentleman to the left is speaking now. I’m not paying attention but his subject sounds vaguely political. You indulge him politely, occasionally taking delicate sips from the glass of wine that appears happy in your supple grip. For a moment I wish I am the glass – and then the wine. I take a moment to check myself: I haven’t shifted my weight, drained my glass or blinked for a few minutes. Through a series of choreographed moves I switch drinking hands, replant my left foot, sip my beer and blink as I swallow. You notice and flick a glance in my direction: I’m still here. The gentleman appears to be eloping with his opinions and indignation.
Our eyes meet briefly and you manage a frail smile that turns forlorn in another moment. I busy myself rounding up the strewn contents of your bag, allowing you a moment to collect yourself. Romantic lines bursting through my head, I resist to a fault and offer my credit card and a paper timetable. The emotional is replaced with the material; the cold reminds us of her presence.
Mr Obnoxious is reaching the climax of his complaint about everything but the right to an opinion. Your sips are becoming more frequent; your glances also. I don’t have long it appears: 428 words.
Two coffees steam atop the table between us. You stare out the window, fully occupied to the point of serenity; I stare at you, waiting patiently for your confidence. Your fingers roll anxiously around each other. I attempt my best clichéd Such is life comforter, but get as far as Sometimes before your eye lids gently close and the image of a million fragments dissuades me.
In the hospital I gaze at your back from outside the window. Your hands embrace your father’s with the same gentle grip that the glass of wine enjoys. Each peak on the monitor sends a shiver down my spine. I fear for its influence and contemplate how it would be possible to send the signal from my own to pick yours up and carry it, once set adrift, independent, alone. It is a matter of minutes now. The coffees are lead weights in my hands and I try to remain still and silent so as to not disturb the moments left that you may share. The gap between electronic peaks lengthens. The rhythm struggles to remain a rhythm. It is sporadic now; but not erratic. The struggle is peaceful, dignified.
The gentleman’s story reaches its peak; he gestures wildly to indicate the room or the city, an ideology or an idea. With his scowl the story flatlines.
The monitor sleeps. Your father sleeps. Your hands return to your lap. I cannot hear your heart, and I’m convinced I should be able to.
Mr Obnoxious feigns indifference to our lack of response to his epic tale of…something.
You exit the hospital room, the same tracks of tears staining cheeks that seem to be flushing ever so slightly. You take the cups of coffee from my hands, place them on the table, and fold inwardly into the cavity of my chest.
You drain the glass of wine; a single tear flows from the rim back to the bottom of the glass and for a second I think the glass might be crying.
I can feel your heart thumping powerfully in the wake of despair; renewed and full of life. Our rhythms synchronize.
My glass is empty. Mr Obnoxious has spied other prey. You step through the abyss and take my hand, interlacing your warm fingers with mine. The fantasy world begins to fade, giving way to a deluge of forgotten thoughts, feelings, and memories. Let’s go home you say, placing your light kiss on my grateful cheek. And I realise, to my delight, that it doesn’t take 900 words to tell you that I –