Tag: short stories

Another Adult Fairy Tale

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Once upon a time, high in the locked tower of a castle on a hill, there existed a young man who believed himself to have once been called Alexander. His days could hardly be called living since he had been imprisoned within the confines of his locked landing and suite of rooms for the previous seven years.

Each meal arrived through a hatch in a locked door. His few brief conversations arrived through the whispers of the wind, the scurries of the rats, and the occasional overheard chatter of kitchen lads and lasses who would run through the courtyards shrieking on the way to their errands. He’d reply, but was never heard.

Alexander had been locked away, not owing to some terrible crime, nor to the curse of a spurned witch. No. Alexander believed he had been imprisoned for protection against a world that was not yet ready for his peculiarity. Though he felt it would not last forever, it mattered not, for he knew not when it would end.

Every day, he prayed for release, and on no day had release yet come.
The young boy had grown to be a young man, and, following years of acceptance, he suddenly knew that he must leave his prison, come what may. He had passed 15 summers and his heart was breaking with what he suspected was loneliness. He’d read of it within his room’s library, just as he had read of valour, of love, of friendship, of work and of the ideas of great thinkers since printing began.

But book knowledge, though important, did not equip him with the skills to remove himself from the only existence he remembered. Even had he discovered a physical method of escape, he knew he would struggle with life on the outside, it being a place that was full to the brim with confident souls accustomed to the outside’s vagaries, and that that would not accept hi for all he was.

Books assisted in passing the time, but only his dreams brought true relief from the tedium. They provided faint memories of the life he’d had before this place, and of walking in the forest when, from a gap in the bracken, a woodland creature had emerged, with head cocked. The creature had been curious at Alexander’s approach, and he had greeted the young boy with a nod of his head and a lifting of his leafy green hat. He held out his hand to Alexander, and being a well brought up boy, Alexander extended his own to meet it.

But, once their skin touched, Alexander regretted all friendliness, as half his boy-ness disappeared into the creature, and half the creature-ness seeped into him. The young man and woodland creature were both transformed, two into two, and each half of the other, and Alexander’s mother, with whom he’d been strolling, fell into a dead faint at the vision of her creature-son.

Both were discovered by an elderly gentleman riding within a carriage, who bundled the creature-boy and his mother into the carriage. Then, the elderly gentleman’s coach had carried the unfortunate pair to the man’s manor house, where the man had locked the boy into his secret hidden bedroom, having told the boy’s mother that he died from his transforming. He had soon married her as she had become weak and vulnerable through her grief.

So, what remained for the young man? Only two people knew of his existence – the elderly gentleman and the butler who brought all his meals, though the boy had never espied the butler.

Still, the boy had matured to a strong young man whose brain was full of thoughts arrived through his enormous supply of books, and somehow or other, he believed fervently that he would discover the means to escape. Only then would he know for certain how the world viewed his creatureness.

The sooner came earlier than he’d expected, and later than he’d hoped, when one fine and warm morning, a bell tolled in the courtyard. It rang once then, following a count of ten, would ring once more. Alexander watched as flags were erected – three black cloths on three tall flagposts. Black. He knew well enough that it signified a death of importance within the house. As the day went by, Alexander heard enough to know for certain that a wasting disease had taken the old man, and his successor had been fully primed of all his duties within the manor.

That was all very well, but would Alexander’s life continue as it had? Would he be remembered? Would his meals arrive as they had? And what had become of his mother?

All was quiet in the rooms of Alexander for one day, two days, three days. And, towards the end of the third, the young man, requiring much sustenance for his growing, had made the decision that his only way to live was to break out of his confines that very moment.

Though no knives were provided on his food trays – he ate only food he could hold, and chopped food using a spoon – on one occasion he’d mistakenly been provided with a tiny, rounded end palette knife. He’d stashed it, of course, and now was the time to use it.

Hunger dictated the urgency.

He knew that there were wooden barriers over his window, and that they had been attached by means of what he believed were screws. The tops of the screws were some straight and some crossed, and he set to work to turn these. His learning was all through books, so it took a few efforts to make even the smallest amount of loosening, but once the first screw fell to the floor of his room, he was energised enough to continue.

Unscrewing took the whole rest of the day, until the light ended and he was forced to sleep.

He woke early and immediately walked to the window. How marvelous the view was. How vibrant and colourful. How cheery were the people.

And next to his bed was a bunch of flowers in a small jar.

And a sheet of paper. It read ‘My Darling Son, I too have been locked up all these years, though free on the outside, the old man kept me in such torment of my own grief at having lost you. Yesterday I discovered from the person who brings you meals, that you were still alive. He led me here as you slept. I saw the wooden bars you’d removed from the windows. I will be preparing our belongings for leaving this place. So, when you wake, come to me’.

The young man lay back on his bed. Relief. Escape! It was all going to happen. He was to return to his mother, and perhaps even to the rest of his family. And he would get healed.

He smelled the flowers next to him and noticed a small round item – silver and shiny and looking so fragile and delicate that he didn’t like to touch. But, as he brought it up to his face, Alexander remembered. The item was a mirror. He hadn’t seen himself for so long and his heart beat with speed and excitement as he held it in front of his face. He was no longer the boy he had been before the imprisonment. He was no longer the creature that he’d seen in the bracken. He was a young and handsome man, with long dark hair, skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood.

He was the image of the mother he remembered, and he could no longer stop his feet from carrying him to her.

‘Mother,’ he shouted as he opened the always-locked door, and left the hated and loved prison and shelter for the final time.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #adultfairytale #lockedinatower

Collecting the Detectives

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One day I tried to write ten short stories inspired by fictionalised detectives and solvers of crime. You see, crime has always been my preferred television genre –

I adored the relentless surliness of Morse, Tom Barnaby the family man, the astonishing prim Miss Marple, and Hercules Poirot with his neat squares of breakfast toast.

I sat at my computer and began to type – but, despite all my interest in the genre, I couldn’t make it work.

Perhaps I was getting hung up on technicalities and legalities: all the problems of copyright and the like. But I couldn’t help but wonder.

How would one go about creating the perfect character?

Perhaps the detective would be Bergerac-like, though less smooth.

Perhaps he would now be retired and back in Jersey, ready to meet up with an old flame – a retired ex-jewel thief?

Or perhaps my hero might be more like ex-police detective, Henry Crabbe, now running his own restaurant, who would be found cooking up something amazing when Tony Hill, criminal profiler and psychologist arrives for a meal. Crabbe and Hill might discuss whodunnits and Tommy Cooper, and over the course of the meal and a couple of after-dinner drinks, the crime would be solved. Or perhaps my detective would be more like Inspector Rebus – a rough-around-the-edges Scot, set apart from society, but who eats, drinks and sleeps crime.

But my plans didn’t turn out. I realised that all I was doing was listing and exaggerating. I was collecting the detectives.

Being an aficionado of televised crime fiction (with Columbo being a personal favourite) I accidentally began writing a short story about the rain-coated, cigar smoking wonder. It led to some experimentation and has been interesting to say the least.

My composite detective is dysfunctional, non-family oriented, and his tale began as ‘The Flag, the Arm and the Chestnut Brown Hair’. Inspector Derek Jones (or Cal Durham, or Vern Smith) scratches his fingers against his chin’s stubble.

Four days now without the flick of the razor, and people were beginning to notice, and to comment. His latest work mission, to infiltrate an unusual outwardly pagan group with links to organised person trafficking, was a total nightmare. The people he met in the group were great and he found it extremely hard to mistrust, dislike or even retain any scepticism about them. They were simply decent people. Sometimes his work was a pain.

The Flag was scruffy and dated bar, and the Inspector fitted in pretty well with the old and dated clientele.

One woman in particular he had his eye on, not for the usual reasons – though he wouldn’t have said no. Her hair was chestnut brown and as wavy as his had been as a child. It shone like the outside of a newly polished conker.

It was simply the most beautiful hair he’d ever seen. His own, once wiry and wayward, was now almost gone.

That which clung on for dear life was shaved to a millimetre’s length and usually hidden under one of a collection of flat caps.

 On this particular mission he had chosen to wear a bandana. God, he felt a prat. In fact, he couldn’t believe his ‘mates’ hadn’t seen through his plain clothes policeman disguise. What a fraud he was.

The woman turned slightly to look towards the doorway, and he realised with a shock to his system that he knew her. He hadn’t nicked her, and he hadn’t slept with her… but he had sat beside her on an evening course.

You know the kind of thing. It was Predictable with a capital P.

That’s what happened on the day I tried to piece together a composite detective.

I failed.

I finished.

It isn’t as easy as you might think.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #crimefiction

Room That Smells of Sawdust

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Even from the double doorway, its clear that the room that smells of sawdust and electrical current, or perhaps ancient floor polish combined with brand new dust. Just the aroma was enough to release a weight into the pit of my stomach, and its name was social anxiety. Social fear, to be precise. Or to be even more precise, the dislike of leaving the house after dark and the even stranger dislike of attending school meetings without a child in tow.

I enter the school hall and find myself a chair at the side, half way back. As I sit I realise that turquoise spray paint decorates each brown chair’s rear. Presumably intended as a blob of identification, the paint has dripped and dropped like the liquid plastic it is.

With aching stomach and creaking back, I watch as the Amazonian in front of me sweats profusely. She wiggles her feet with skin yellow-dry and scaly, and for a second I’m sure that she’s an entirely different form of creature than human. Still, she seems very nice – smiley, chatty and sociable – so she’s better than I am.

As the hall fills with the white noise of other peoples’ unintelligible chatter, I feel as though I’m the only person alone. The only person resentful at this time imposition, and this weird return to high school education that all parents must tolerate. But, I’m not tolerating.

A man gesticulates in front of the projector screen. His black jacket with red arms makes him look like a superhero. I realise I’ve forgotten my glasses and know I’ll need a superhero to see the PowerPoint’s text. It isn’t just the blindness that makes me feel out of it. I’m just lost. Dazed. Unseeing. Unhearing. I want to go home.

A beautiful tattooed woman takes the seat next to me and I am temporarily distracted by her punky purple hair and multitude of silver rings. The youngest child of two snuggles contently on her lap and I hear him telling his mummy that he loves her.

My eyes blur as I look at the school’s handout. None of the words make sense.

I look again at the Amazonian as she presses her feet onto her soles, and for the first time I notice her ankle tattoo – a lizard climbing. I’m grateful when a latecomer takes the seat next to her as it enables me to concentrate instead on the smoothness of the young lad’s fuzzy scalp. He’s a little lad, but big too – on the verge of adolescence or perhaps just past it. He rests his head on her shoulder and she kisses the top of his head.

My heart melts and the school presentation begins.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #schooldays

Just One More Thing

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As soon as he’d seen that scruffy mackintosh displayed in the charity shop window, the beginnings of a plan began whirling around his head. The mac was crumpled and had seen better days, but its possibilities were endless. He’d laughed out loud – and it had been a very long time since he’d laughed.

Yes, Matthew was inspired. He was also late, which was not good as Irena was a stickler for good office timekeeping. Half his age and half his size, she could still floor him with her disapproving stares. The fact that he was her boss mattered not at all. He’d better get a move on.

All through the afternoon, Matthew was in excellent spirits. How he hoped the mac would still be there when he finished at work and wondered if he should leave early to make sure. Even while asking himself that question, Matthew realised the ridiculousness of his daydreams. But just this once he was determined to act out of character.

“Is anything wrong, Matthew?” Irena asked, hovering by the side of his desk.

He decided on the truth – she was his assistant after all – if she couldn’t appreciate his flashes of wisdom and imagination, then there was no hope for him.

“I have to leave early, Irena. There’s something I need to do urgently. To do with Sarah. We’ll come in early tomorrow and work on the Jamieson contract together, shall we?”

Irena’s face changed and softened.

“Of course, Mr Hanson,” she said, “Do whatever you need to do. I’ll see you tomorrow”.

Matthew then left the office early for the first time in as long as he could remember.

Increasing his pace as he made his way down the stairs to the front door, he almost tripped in his excitement. It was a ten-minute walk to the charity shop, and he ran the distance in just short of three minutes. Today was indeed a day of firsts – laughing, leaving work and running! Something was changing in him. That slightly stained and character-filled mackintosh was working some magic.

He arrived at the shop just as it was closing.

“Please…” he shouted through the glass. “Please, I need to buy something. I’ll only be a minute.”

The matronly manager must have decided he looked harmless enough (if a little eccentric) as she let him in.

“What did you want, lovie?”

He pointed out the mac, and she giggled a little too. Something about that mac brightened people’s days.

“Sorry lovie,” she said, with what sounded like real regret. “The boss says that if it’s in the window, we can’t get it out for another three days. I’ll reserve it for you. Four pounds it is… can you manage that?” 

Matthew smiled, graciously – “I think I can manage that, yes. I’ll call in on Friday then, OK?”

She attached a small pink piece of paper to the lapel with a pin. The slip read ‘Sold. Collect Friday’. Matthew left her to the cashing up, disappointed but able to tolerate the wait. It would give him time to relish the planning. Sarah would be laughing all the way down to her cold little toes when she saw what he’d been up to.

Friday was a very long time coming, but as soon as the charity shop opened, Matthew was there, waiting.

“Gosh, you’re keen,” said the manager as she unfastened the coat and readied the mannequin for its replacement – a flashy 1980s style shirt. As she handed him the mac, her face fell a little.

“I’m not sure it is the right size for you. It looks quite big. And the arms are an odd shape.”

Even better, he thought.

All the way to work, Matthew kept checking inside the bag and chuckling to himself. Irena glanced at him continually once he was seated.

“Is everything alright, Matthew?” she asked.  “I never thought I’d see you smile again.”

“Yep, me neither. Everything is good, Reen.”

His smile lasted a few moments, and Irena told him she liked him better when he was smiling. Matthew was enjoying the rediscovered spring in his step.

Once home that night, he changed out of his suit, with relief. In its place, he put on some old-fashioned slacks, a faded shirt and a cheap tie, all especially bought for the occasion. He looked at himself in the mirror. It was quite a transformation. All he needed was a little more stubble and a slightly more tousled hairstyle. Matthew had been preparing by watching one DVD after another copied from Sarah’s collection. He was almost ready.

It was Friday. ‘Their’ night. They would eat and drink, and he would tell her stories or read the newspaper. Maybe play a board game. Sometimes they would enjoy the companionship of each other: pure pleasure and pure love.

He was ready. Costume prepared. Stubble unshaven. Heart lifting by the second as he imagined Sarah’s face. He took a deep breath and walked into her room. There was no way she could have guessed what he’d been planning.

“Hello there, my angel. I’ve missed you.”

Her head lifted slowly to look at him, and she smiled back in greeting.

“Would you like me to put a DVD on? One of your favourites?”

She pointed out a title from her collection. Matthew smiled to himself – two films on one disc: Uneasy Lies the Crown and Murder in Malibu.

This was going to be fun, he thought, and hopefully would be fun for his beloved Sarah too.

Matthew set the disk whirring in her machine, selected Uneasy Lies the Crown and took hold of Sarah’s hand. They looked at each other, and he stroked her hair. They sat in silence, waiting for the film to begin.

Partway through Matthew got up.

“I won’t be a minute,” he said, “You carry on watching”. 

Sarah lay with the faintest trace of a smile about her lips as he left the room. In the bathroom, Matthew hurriedly put on the crumpled clothes, the threadbare tie and the raincoat that was variously too big and too small in the places that mattered. He messed his hair up, adjusted his facial expression and lit a large, curiously perfumed cigar. He was ready.

“Just wait till I tell Mrs Columbo about this…” he mimicked as he opened the door.

Sarah stared at him with the biggest grin ever. He scratched his head.

“You know, madam, there are some things I just don’t understand about this case. Like why was the car in neutral? Why did a perfectly healthy man have a heart attack and plunge to his death? And why you can’t speak to me anymore? Please speak to me.”

His plea was heartfelt. Sarah grinned weakly, obviously trying to articulate words which wouldn’t come.

He took a deep puff of his cigar, and the smoke filled the room as he scratched his head in much the same way as Lieutenant Columbo. Sarah couldn’t take her eyes off him. Their eyes locked and he walked over to her, beaming.

“Did you like it, my angel? I saw the coat and couldn’t resist it.”

They hugged tightly and happily. Again, Sarah opened her mouth to talk, but the door burst open as she struggled.

“Mr Hanson! A cigar? In here? Put it out immediately. You are more than aware of the rules. You could be doing serious damage to the health of our patients, not to mention your own. This is disgraceful behaviour and I…”.

The nurse’s voice trailed off.

“You’ve been coming here for six years. Surely…What on earth are you doing?… Oh, Sarah, it is Columbo! Matthew is being Columbo for you! Still …Still, the cigar gets put out and the window opens. I don’t know what you were thinking of”. She wiped the small tear dripping down her cheek.

Matthew ignored her fussing and her mock-strictness. His eyes were firmly on Sarah, his step-mother from the age of two – the only mother he could remember, the only person who had ever given him what he needed: shared confidences, shared memories and shared joy.

The years had not been kind. For the past six years, the only joys in Sarah’s life were her fifty-something stepson Matthew, and an American-Italian detective called Lieutenant Columbo. She loved his scruffy beige raincoat, his cigar and his formulaic stock phrases that they both knew by heart.

Sarah had given him more than anyone else had. She’d supported him through the far-too-early loss of their beloved husband and father, through university, his wedding, his devastating divorce and the birth of his children – Sarah’s adored grandchildren. And this lady, this wonderful lady was now opening her mouth to speak. She hadn’t spoken in months, other than muttered unclear phrases in her more lucid moments. Her health was deteriorating rapidly, and so was her ability to communicate.

The nurse took the cigar from Matthew and began to extinguish it in the corner sink.

“No”, came a frail, elderly voice from amongst the pillows, “Here. Bring it here”.

“Sarah!” Matthew almost shouted. “Hello, my angel. You spoke. Oh my God, you spoke! Give her the cigar nurse, please, just this once.”

The nurse dripped a little tap water over the glowing end which sizzled then blackened, and she took it over to Sarah shivering under the pristine white sheets.

“No dropping ash now, nurse,” said Matthew.

Sarah reached out with her bony right hand and took the cigar, lifting it to her face and smelling the familiar scent.

“Your dad…” she said, her voice weak.

His father had smoked exactly that brand: one on a Friday night and one on a Saturday. That was why Matthew had chosen it in the unfamiliar atmosphere of the tobacconist.

Both nurse and Matthew sat by Sarah’s bedside, each holding one of Sarah’s hands expectantly.  Warming the frail hands of this determined but very ill 96-year-old woman who had spent a lifetime in caring, loving and sacrifice.

She was struggling to move her lips, and Matthew held a glass of water and a straw to her mouth.

“What is it, Sarah?” asked Matthew with love.

Sarah carefully placed the cigar in her mouth with a wicked smile not seen for many years. That was when Sarah whispered her final, carefully-chosen words while the tears fell from Matthew’s eyes onto her paper-thin skin.

She spoke clearly.

“Just one more thing, sir,” she croaked with delight… as her eyes closed and the cigar fell onto the crisp, white sheet.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #columbo #raincoat

The Saddened Girl: An Adult Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in this land that we, dear readers, call home, there dwelt a saddened girl.  We say she dwelt.  We do not say she lived, for her lifeforce (the truest part of anyone’s living) was taken from her by a bad, bad man, and she was left without… 

He was no burly monster, no green and slimed ogre, no friend of dragons, nor even an omnipotent king or unpleasant stepfather. He was the man she had relied on from her baby years, to work for, to trust… to live alongside, and in the care and hurt of—her daddy; her father; her papa.

But this man was not a good man.  Dear reader, you already have been told that he was a bad, bad man.

And this he was.

So, let me tell you a tale of this saddened girl.  And the un-good man.

One day, when the wind and rain battered the trees and hillsides around their mountaintop village, the saddened girl called her papa over, clearly in distress. 

“Papa”, she sobbed.  “Why does my heart beat so?  Why do I cry?  Why does my belly swell and my ankles tire? I do not understand.  Am I sickened?”.

And her father looked into the eyes of the saddened girl. Then, with the bluntness of his oldest rustiest axe, he told her, without pretence, without guilt, without love and without shame that she was not sickened, but that she was with child.  The child to whom he would be grandfather.

And sadly, also the child to whom he would be the father.

The saddened girl saddened further, for she knew he spoke the truth, this bad, bad man who made her a mother even before she had finished being a child. 

“And what must I do, father?”, she asked.  “About the being with child?  What must I do?”

“You must continue. That is the way of it”, he said, “And when your belly fattens further, you must stay within the cottage until the day the child is born in blood and pain.  And then you must leave the unwanted and badly begotten child in the stream until it dies.  Such happens for all our female folk. Some few are chosen to live. Some many more are chosen to die”.

The saddened girl looked back into the frosted eyes of her bad, bad father and knew that this was true and unchanging—their law of death and life.

The old and rusty axe hung on a hook by the door. It hung there, glinting.

Her eyes moved between the bad, bad man’s frosted eyes and his old and rusty axe. 

Her sisters.  Her mother.  Many, many babies… All victims of that trusty, rusty axe. 

All victims of that bad, bad man.

She stood up as he began to fill his pipe and, grabbing the axe, she swung it at the bad, bad man’s head.  He was soon dead.  She knew. It had been the same when she’d seen him axe the others.  A quick swing of the axe and the bad-bad man had despatched them all.  It was a family tradition which she continued needfully.  But she was now the last of the lost.

“Dead as a doornail”, she laughed to herself.

“Dead as the doornail that hangs up the axe”, she laughed a bit more—her little joke.

The now lifeless body of the bad-bad man lay where it had fallen, and where it would remain for many years to come.  She wouldn’t smell it or see it. The bad-bad man was of no matter now.

The disappointed, hurt, confused, unstable, saddened girl rocked alone as she stared at the body, remembering bad, bad things.

The girl whose belly swelled with a fatherless, grandfatherless child.

A child who now may not be despatched as had been its kin.

The saddened girl replaced the axe on its hook and went away forever.  The blood of the bad-bad man dripped to the stone floor, pooled and clotted, adding to the once-sticky stains there before it.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #adultfairytale

‘Light Reading Stories vol 1’ (by Peter McGeehan)

This is the first of Peter’s short story books published under the title of ‘Light Reading’ – but is the second I have read. How typical of me to do everything in the incorrect order.

As per Peter’s second volume, this book is chock-full of stories – some thought-provoking, and others amusing. And it is the humour that comes through everything in this very varied collection. I particularly liked the bravery of the school children who began a campaign against corporal punishment, achieving a happy conclusion.  This story is one of the longer pieces in the book, but the shorter pieces are good too – some 100-word stories, and other tales of post-military life, post-séance hallucinatory experiences (with very real and disturbing results), thoughts of hats, the weirdness of an overheard conversation, the tale of a weekend away, missionaries coming to earth, and some recollections of unexpected and charming travels.
Peter’s character emerges effortlessly within his writing, especially in his piece about the council meeting with the attendees’ silly names. Both Peter and I know from experience the accuracy of his imaginings, though Peter’s street names are much sillier and his character names more Dickensian than those I personally experienced.
Peter also includes a traditional ghost story about a journalist visiting a haunted house (with a twist ending) and other stories that are far less traditional – such as the one about the the srenum niarb, microscopic organisms who invade the brain of every new born.
But it’s the pathos of these pieces that sticks with me – the reluctant retirement of an enthusiastic boxer, the life-journey of a car, the morning ritual of a surprising old man, and, very touchingly, the sad story of story of Pompeii.
I love how Peter shares with his readers and trusts us to take care of his inner thoughts.
Well done, Peter, and keep writing.

‘Book of Longing’ by Leonard Cohen

This attractive book of Leonard Cohen’s poetry, prose-poems and artwork, was taken from content that first appeared on http://www.leonardcohenfiles.com.  Some became song lyrics, and many in their current form, do have that feel.  Indeed, it is these shorter and more lyrical pieces of writing that speak to me the most.  Consider stanza 7 from the poem, ‘Better’.
better than darkness
is darkless
which is inkier, vaster
more profound
and eerily refrigerated
filled with caves
and blinding tunnels
in which appear
beckoning dead relatives
and other religious
Some of the poetry is bewildering and clever, and I become overly aware of how many references I don’t understand.  This is nobody’s fault but mine. The poem, ‘Fun’ is about believing in God.
It is so much fun
to believe in G-d
You must try it sometime
Try it now
and find out whether
or not
G-d wants you
to believe in Him.
And another short poem is called ‘Thousands’. It simply reads:
Out of the thousands
who are known,
or who want to be known
as poets,
maybe one or two
are genuine
and the rest are fakes,
hanging around the sacred precincts
trying to look like the real thing.
Needless to say
I am one of the fakes,
and this is my story.
Shorter still is ‘Sorrows of the Elderly’.
The old are kind.
The young are hot.
Love may be blind.
Desire is not.
The shorter and snappier poems appeal more to those of us who aren’t poets and aren’t that well informed either.  However, I intend to pick up this book on future occasions and attempt to understand more of what I haven’t already picked up! 

#leonard cohen #prose #review #short story #short stories

Thoughts on Short Stories

Sometimes wonderful writing creeps up on you by stealth.  It may seem simplistic, perhaps overly so, or even naïve – or primitive.  But then something changes, perhaps in the reader’s perception of what the writer is trying to say, or perhaps in their understanding of the text, but something definitely changes.

This experience has happened to me on a great number of occasions.  One of the first times I remember, when I was a young teenager, was while reading a Pan Book of Horror Stories.  One story, now almost universally panned by critics, was massively fascinating to me.  It was called ‘The Speciality of the House’ by Stanley Ellin. One online critic says ‘Rather a lengthy short story for such a thin concept. The twist ending can be seen miles away as we follow 2 characters who frequent a very little known restaurant where they serve up such amazing food that all the patrons become addicted to it. All the customers are regulars and now and again one of them disappears. You can guess why. Really dull story.’ 

I understand what the critic is saying, I really do.  However, I can’t help thinking that it’s all horses for courses.  I was a young reader and did not know for sure that the shock ending speciality of the house would be human flesh.  I had an inkling, of course, but I didn’t care.  I liked the writing, I liked the suspense and there was something about the whole story that really stuck with me over the years.  And I feel defensive of it.  I don’t understand why something has to be shocking or surprising in order to be a satisfying read.  I don’t believe for one moment that it does.  I am a realist!

I no longer own a copy of the ‘2nd Book of Pan Horror Stories’, but I know that the story was only a few short pages in length – perhaps 20 at most.  I also know the writing was not poetic, metaphoric, challenging or in any way outstanding, literary or brilliant.  Nevertheless, I loved it because it gave me a feeling of anything being possible behind closed doors.  I remember a few years later on, I met a friend for lunch in Manchester.  It was the first time I’d been to a restaurant without the safety of an accompanying adult.  I remember thinking of this Stanley Ellin story and wondering what I was eating in the mild, spicy Indian sauce.  I watched the kitchen doors, intrigued and horrified by the prospect of what might be – in equal measure. 

The short story, by a successful mystery writer, was adapted into an Alfred Hitchcock Presents… TV programme.  It was changed massively, and didn’t have the same appeal as the original story did. Perhaps it just got me.  Right place. Right time. 

The writing in this story is not special, and it isn’t a story I would recommend to squeamish readers or those who demand a happy ending in their fiction, but for an adolescent with a bit of an odd need to be delighted by the macabre, it worked. More than anything, of all the books I read as a youngster, this one stayed with me.

There’s another book that’s stayed with me (Fay Weldon’s ‘Polaris & Other Stories’) and both these books together prove how unashamedly downmarket my reading tastes can be.  Another book of short stories, Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Illustrated Man’ stayed with me too.  Fay Weldon’s ‘Polaris’ however, was discovered by me when I was politically active in the anti-nuclear movement, and the cover story was interesting for that reason alone.  I’m just going to say a few words about another one of the stories in this short story compilation.  It is called ‘The Bottom Line and the Sharp End’.  Two characters, Avril the seedy and brassy blonde nightclub singer, and Helen the classy hairdresser are its only characters.  Avril has been visiting Helen’s salon sporadically for many years.  This time, an ageing Avril again wants Helen to bleach her hair. The first bleaching doesn’t take properly and  Avril insists on Helen trying again using a stronger solution.  Helen does, and goes into shock when Avril’s hair falls out.  This leads to the women sharing a couple of home truths and then to Helen visiting Avril at a new club – Mayfair now, rather than Soho.  She sings very well with a ‘coarse and melancholy’ voice.  Her new bald look was the making of her.  It did not make her look glamorous.  However, it made her look “important, as if her sufferings and her experience might be of considerable interest to others, and the customers certainly paid attention, were silent when she sang, and clapped when she’d finished”.

After the set, Avril speaks to Helen.  She says “Remember what I told you about the bottom line and the sharp end?  Nothing lasts, so you’d better have as much as you can, while you can.  And in the end, there’s only you and only them, and not what they think of you, but what you think of them”.  The most interesting thing about this is that it isn’t quite comprehensible to me.  I have no idea of what Avril is trying to say.  Success from adversity.  Making the best of one’s lot. Belief in oneself.  I don’t know.  And that’s why I find it so intriguing.

I love short stories.  They can do so much in such a condensed form!