I hate to go

I’m still in shock. Fuck, fuck, fuck. But swearing out loud or on paper doesn’t give me any sense of relief. Not this time. Feelings of angst, anger and sadness are nibbling away at me like maggots in a food recycling bin. It’s sadness that caught me by surprise. I was watching the coverage on the referendum, comforted by our cat lying on my lap, and suddenly I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks. Immediately I felt silly and semi-aggressively wiped my cheeks dry.

For a few hours I watched people talk about this historic and depressing result in a daze. I, only just, resisted jamming my fist through the TV when Farage or Gove appeared. I had a day of writing planned, but my recent new-found motivation to work on my novel had been shattered. What’s the point? I asked myself and the cat. We’re all doomed. It was my partner, Ross, who suggested writing about how I felt.  It made sense. I absolutely love writing; it’s the reason I get up early in the morning before going to work.

So here I am reflecting on my inner turmoil as the word LEAVE, which is now dripping with unwelcoming connotations of alienation, is unwilling to exit my brain. Suddenly this word has got a negative vibe. I was never offended by John Denver’s song LEAVING on a Jet Plane. This may seem like a lazy reference but it’s one that immediately sprung to mind. I’ve just been listening to the song a couple of times and even sang it out loud. I hope that, for their sake, our neighbours were out. I don’t possess the soothing vocal cords of John Denver. Maybe a tad sentimental but I’ve declared this song my soundtrack of today. It might be Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song tomorrow but I’ll stick with Mr Denver for now.

In 2002 I left the Netherlands to come and live in Edinburgh. Not because I hated my home country, but because I wanted to explore. That’s the great thing about being part of the EU. Well, it was until the early hours of this morning. Will I have to leave this country that I’ve called home for almost fourteen years? Apparently it’s going to take two years of negotiations before it might come to that, but still. There’s not been a knock on the door yet telling me to leave. NOW!  Today, I don’t even want to leave the house. I want to hold onto feeling safe and comfortable at least in our own home. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ll be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and chucked in a taxi to the airport, but I just don’t want to face the unknown. Not yet, maybe tomorrow. It’s this sense of unease and uncertainty that is almost paralysing.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be leaving on a jet plane and as the engines roar I’ll shout: ‘Don’t know when I’ll be back again.’ But I don’t want to leave. Edinburgh is my home. I fell in love with Scotland’s capital and almost thirteen years ago I met and fell in love with my amazing soulmate at Edinburgh Castle.

In the words of John Denver: hold me like you’ll never let me go.

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Reflection

Since I posted the last Random Words Flash Fiction story, No More Baltazars, regular content on my blog has stagnated. After months of hibernation throughout spring, summer and autumn, it’s time to shake it awake. It being too cold outside is no excuse as I can sit inside behind my laptop with a mug of hot chocolate. Although I’ve neglected my blog, I’ve not stopped writing; 2014 was a pretty good year with two entries to writing competitions being accepted.

Once I posted Random Words Flash Fiction #21 in April 2014 and wrote a final blog about it, I focussed on new writing projects and entering a few competitions. One of my projects, which I started in 2014 and hope to finish (at least a first draft) this year, is writing a novel where all the stories are connected in a particular way. In the next few weeks I’ll post a blog about it with more details. I’ve ditched my initial idea to publish a story every month on my blog. Instead of taking a plane, I’m taking the long, scenic route by car and maybe even by boat.

This was also the year when, for the first time in four years, I decided not to cover the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) for a Dutch film website. Writing film reviews is not my forte and I have never been particularly proud of my reviews. I felt that I should use the time to concentrate on writing things I love; use my imagination and create stories that I, eventually, want people to read. I still enjoyed watching a modest amount of films at EIFF but this time as a punter. Those last two weeks in June turned out to be the warmest two of the summer. I loved my daily excursions to the park behind our flat, write for hours, expose my pasty skin to some Scottish sunlight and cool down in the cinema at night.

2014 has taught me to be selective in entering writing competitions. They can take up a lot of time and distract from focussing on works in progress. Although they can be a great motivational tool and it does sometimes help to have a deadline. At the start of the year I was keen to edit and redraft the novel I wrote during NANOWRIMO in 2012. I saw a first novel competition and I rushed to get the first 5000 words ready. I have not reread the synopsis I wrote for it since and I’m tempted to transfer it to my desktop Recycle Bin to avoid blushing behind my laptop. Working on my novel felt like visiting an auntie who I hadn’t seen for years but we only had an hour to tell each other everything about our lives. The competition did motivate me to start working on the novel again but I was overwhelmed by the editing process and abandoned it. This does bring me to the start of 2015; Myriad Editions Publishers were running a first draft competition and I used the month of January to work on the novel again, but this time I’ve continued working on it even after submission.

With submissions comes rejections and although those suck and often make me question my writing ability, the ones that do get accepted make it worthwhile and provide a welcome confidence boost. The first positive reply came from the Scottish Mental Health Films and Arts Festival. I entered their writing competition and my submission, a letter to my mum, was selected and I’m proud to say that I also received a highly commended award for it. I‘d made the conscious decision not to write fiction but to make it a personal piece. As I was writing the letter I saw a tweet from Stephen Fry who said that writing a personal letter is one on the hardest things to write and he was right. It was an emotional process but by no means a negative one. The next step is to translate the letter and send it to the person it’s addressed to.

The next writing competition involved twelve Christmas crackers each one filled with a flash fiction story on the theme of Krampus: a Germanic, devilish looking creature who punishes badly behaved children during the Christmas period. When I saw this competition (organised by Tiny Owl Workshop for Australia and by Vicky Pointing for the UK) mentioned on Twitter only days before the deadline, I was immediately inspired.  For once it didn’t faze me that I only had a few days to write something. I was delighted when my story, Until Next Christmas, was selected as one of the twelve. It was great meeting most of the other writers at the launch event in Leeds; hear the other stories and, after overcoming my nerves, read out mine. The crackers were distributed around several bars and cafes in Leeds.

At the moment my head is full of things I would love to achieve this year: finish my NANOWRIMO novel, edit and self-publish my Random Words Flash Fiction stories, complete the first draft of my new novel, start creating my own dictionary like Nick Cave did when he was young, read more, write some new flash fiction and update my blog more regularly. This is the first time I have transferred these things from my mind onto my computer screen. It does seem a tad ambitious and I might not manage to fulfil all of them but there are still 296 days of the year left. I better shut up and get on with it!

Random Words Flash Fiction #21: Plinth, Cinnamon, Integer

No More Baltazars

Graham leans against an old oak tree fat enough not to expose his presence to the mourners. He can hear the loud sobs of Frieda as she gasps for air between blowing her nose and wiping the tears off her cheeks. The funeral is a no-go zone for Graham.

As the small group disperses across the cemetery, Graham carefully moves around the tree in an attempt not to get noticed. If Frieda sees him she will not hesitate to punch him hard on the fresh scar that marks the place where, up to three weeks ago, his appendix still served a bodily function.

He taps his fingers against the bark and waits until everyone is gone. He wants to say a few final words. It was not his fault although Frieda doesn’t believe him. He and Baltazar were enjoying their usual Sunday morning hill walk. He places a square plinth opposite the gravestone. The last two letters of Baltazar’s name are chiselled much smaller to make it fit. He steps onto his makeshift altar, takes a piece of paper out of his breast pocket and starts to read out loud.

“Dear Baltazar,

First of all, I’m so sorry. I can still see you running up the hill before you disappeared into the fog. I didn’t know the weather was going to be that bad and I forgot about your cataracts. Frieda thinks I’m a murderer but you know that’s not true. She never blamed me for the accident with your brother. He loved those berries. At first I thought he had passed out because he’d eaten so many; the shrub was almost bare. I now use it as an example in my maths class. The children think it’s funny that a dog ate twenty three out of thirty berries and quite happily work out the integer. I’ll never tell them that he didn’t survive this maths exercise.”

Graham lifts his mirrored aviator sunglasses and wipes away the tears with his knuckles.

“I’ve still got your collar. Well, it was your brother’s. It was the first thing I bought for him. I want to let you know that I won’t be replacing you. No more Baltazars.”

Graham takes a sandwich bag from his pocket and tears up a cinnamon bun, scattering the pieces across the top of the small cane coffin.

“Your favourite,” Graham whispers as he drapes the lead around his neck. As he bends his head to say his final goodbye he hears shouting from the other side of the graveyard. Frieda is running towards him and is waving a shovel like an angry protester.

“I’ll miss you, buddy,” he says as lays Baltazar’s collar amidst the chunks of cinnamon bun.

 

This story was inspired by the words plinth, cinnamon, integer, suggested by Oliver Barrow on May 29, 2013

 

The End of #randomwordsflash

I kicked off 2013 with a new writing challenge, Random Words Flash Fiction. The stories have one thing in common: they all started with three random words given to me by people on Twitter. My initial aim to produce a story a week proved to be too ambitious as I also wanted to continue with other writing projects.

The twenty-first, No More Baltazars, will be the last one. I would have liked to have written at least another four but unfortunately the ‘random words’ have dried up. You will notice that I was given the words for this last story back in May 2013. At the time I got three replies and kept plinth, integer and cinnamon on the reserve bench. When my requests on Twitter got no response after a few attempts, I decided that those three words should not be wasted. There was at least one more story to be written.

To be honest the lack of replies towards the end is probably to do with my presence, or rather lack of, on Twitter. I do realise that it’s bad etiquette to mainly appear on everyone’s timeline when I either need something or to promote my blog. It’s called social media for a reason and I admit that I neglect the social aspect, but I often wonder if what I have to say is interesting or funny enough and usually decide not to tweet anything at all.

It has been great fun and inspiring to come up with a story using three words chosen by somebody else. I would like to thank everyone that has participated and challenged me to write stories featuring words such as knickerbocker, calypso, onomatopoeic, cornucopia, integer and areola. Words such as eyebrows, puppy, mist, cigarettes, space and broom also encouraged me to come up with original stories from everyday words. It was also a great opportunity to experiment with different genres such as science fiction and write ones without my usual dark and twisted undertones.

Over twenty-one stories I have been given sixty-three random words. I have only mentioned a few but that does not mean that the others are less important, only that a list with all sixty-three words might be boring. After a quick tally, food items were the most popular with a total of eleven, followed by animals with five. Every word helped me to build a story and if you are curious to see what some of the other brilliant random words were, you can always check them out on my blog.

I would like to self-publish a book with all twenty-one flash fiction stories hopefully with a handful of illustrations by some of my very talented friends. Some I have yet to ask but if I demonstrate my drawing skills which are limited to stick figures for every character and objects and animals that could only be described as abstract, they will hopefully agree that I should never touch a pencil again.

It’s four months into 2014 and the novelty of a new year has certainly worn off. Although it’s never too late to start a new writing challenge, please look out for a new blog in the next couple of weeks where I will reveal all.

Random Words Flash Fiction #20: Areola, Shuttlecock, Gloom

Rick from the Badminton Club

Tick… Tick… Tick… Tick…

The tea towel presses against my eye lashes. My vision is temporarily obstructed by artificial gloom. Jasmine, the cloth smells of jasmine. I feel naked. I am naked.

Tick… Tick… Tick… Tick…

I tap my fingers against my thigh to the rhythm of the metronome. He said to wait. I cross my feet and press my legs close together. Only a few hours ago we stood, fully clothed, opposite each other in the gym hall around the corner from his place. Every Tuesday night we desperately try to prevent a shuttlecock from hitting the floor. That is only thing we know we have in common.

Tick…Tick…Tick…Tick…

When I arrived, tubes of finger paint, brushes and crayons were already laid out on the table like surgical tools. “Do you like paintings?” was all he asked before gently placing the blindfold over my eyes. When he squeezed some paint onto my breast and spread it in small circular movements around my areola, I realised he was not going show me a rare work of art by Matisse or Van Gogh.

Tick… Tick… Tick… Tick…

The floorboards creak as he enters the room. I don’t even know his surname. He rewinds the metronome. The beats are now faster than before. I have never had sex to the rhythm of a metronome or whilst looking like an experimental art project.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Finally. He moves closer. Our toes touch. I take the tea towel off and place it over his eyes. We kiss. I glance at my breasts. Two eyes stare out in front of me. My nipples have metamorphosed into small black pupils in the centre of painted green irises. A Rolling Stones tongue covers the area between my rib cage and stops just above my pube line.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

I look at my eye-breasts, the draped tongue and the blank skin canvas opposite me. Stick figures and rainbows are all I can draw.

This story was inspired by the words areola, shuttlecock, gloom, suggested by John B. Gibb on September 18, 2013

Random Words Flash Fiction #19: Eggs, Meadowbank, Vintage

Time Jump

Lola checks the contents of her rucksack again. “Orange juice, wine glasses, egg sandwiches and a torch,” she whispers as she visually ticks off the list in her head. A cool bag would have been better as the egg sandwiches have already started to imitate the smell of drains. They never used before a cool bag before. She tucks a Donald Duck beach towel underneath her armpit. Her mum keeps it in a vacuum-sealed bag along with the other emergency towels in case the washing machine breaks down or unexpected visitors turn up.

She should have put more effort into checking the security measures at Meadowbank Stadium but she gave up after Google declined to give her an answer. The last time it was easy as they just climbed over the fence like a couple of child burglars. It wasn’t police sirens that alarmed them but familiar voices shouting out their names in turn. It was the day before Joey was moving to Canada to live with his dad. Mrs Forder thought her son had run away and phoned Lola’s mum who also discovered an empty bed and open bedroom window.

It was his mum that opened the door earlier this evening and Lola felt ten years old again. She almost asked if Joey could come out and play. When Joey grabbed his jacket she said to meet her at exactly eleven o’clock that night. She almost expected Joey to ask his mum for permission.

Lola throws the towel over the fence and watches Donald Duck billow past on the other side. She straightens her rucksack, takes a few steps back and tucks her dress between her legs. Not the smartest move to wear a dress, but she bought it especially for this occasion. It’s in the three colours of a rocket ice lolly and the puff sleeves are a style she would now avoid but the dress is almost identical to the one she wore eighteen years ago. She frightened the girl in the vintage shop when she hugged her in reply to whether the dress fitted.

Ten minutes left to set up. The putrid smell of the sandwiches permeates through the canvas of her rucksack. The eggs were not completely cold when she mixed in dollops of mayonnaise.

She is interrupted by the noise of an enunciated cough behind her. Lola tightens her grip around the metal bars.

“I’ll let you in through the gate,” the security guard says as he spins his keys around his index finger. “Lola.”

How does he know my name? Lola thinks as she follows him, expecting a policeman to be on the other side of the gate ready to recite her rights.

“Joey is already here. Just lock the gate on your way out,” the security guard says as he hands her the padlock.

She screws her eyelids together. A torch light signals back at her. She takes her own torch out of her bag and flicks the on/off switch as if she’s playing an instrument in tune with the beat of drums. After all these years she still remembers the code. From across the football field they perform their song in silence.

This story was inspired by the words eggs, Meadowbank, vintage, suggested by James T Harding on August 19, 2013

Random Words Flash Fiction #18: Spanner, Puppy, Custard

Lost and Found

I only looked away for a second.

I was standing on a set of stepladders when Sami got taken. I threw a spanner at the guy who was wearing one of those flimsy rain ponchos. My only available weapon clunked off a lamppost and didn’t even come close to the target. I’ve never been good a throwing. My PE teacher told me that I had a weak arm.

This morning I was ready to get the shop in order. I wanted to make a good impression on my first day looking after it on my own. That’s why I tried to fix the sign. It needs the ‘P’, otherwise people won’t know what we are. Not that there are many pets left to sell. I brought some stuffed toys and was even going to clean all the empty cages. At two o’clock this morning I was still writing little notes to put on them.

If you donate some money, there will be a real animal in this cage by next month. I wrote quite a few of those using different coloured pens.

I look like Andreas, but I’m not him. Andreas died of loneliness. Please donate and don’t let this happen to my brother. A fat red arrow points to Ramses’s cage. The hamsters weren’t really brothers but it gives the message more weight.

I even decorated a bucket for donations, but the balloons attached to the handle are just resting on the counter; a direct result of the lack of helium in my breath.

Poor Sami. He looked at me over the shoulder of Mr Poncho-Arsehole.

It was only after he’d disappeared round the corner that I recognised him. I saw him in the supermarket last week trying to calm his daughter by offering her popping candy. He hadn’t even paid for it yet. As he pushed their trolley, water dripped from his poncho leaving a trail down every aisle. The girl handed the cashier a pile of what looked like home-made posters. Her fingers were stained with ink as she tried to dry the top ones with her hands. If only I had paid more attention.  

I place my first toy dog, Fred, next to our family picture on the shelf behind the counter. In the picture I’m chewing on Fred’s ears and have Ted the turtle sitting on my lap. There are only a few real animals left in the shop and Ted is one of them. Although we would never sell him as he was the last animal Dad bought.

Then there’s Harry, a ten year old hairless Siamese cat. Unlike Sami he seems to put customers off, especially children. A beagle puppy versus a bald, wrinkly cat is hardly a fair competition for people’s affection. I removed Harry’s ‘I’m not for sale’ sign from his collar years ago. It’s Mum’s fault that Harry is spoilt. He won’t shut up until he’s had a bowl of custard after his tin of jellied meat cubes. Mum felt sorry for this orphaned, bald kitten left in a box outside the shop.

I look up as the bell above the door makes a faint sound.

“Sami!”

I nearly trip over Harry’s custard as I run towards the door.

Nobody there.

“Sami!”

I notice the bit of paper sticking out from underneath the doormat. The word Lost is scored out and replaced by Found scrawled in biro. There’s a picture of Sami with the girl from the supermarket holding him. Their noses are touching. But his name is not Sami.

This story was inspired by the words spanner, puppy, custard, suggested by Emma Thrower on 30 July, 2013