By The Editor
Association: The line ‘If I bought her flowers, maybe we’d go skinny dipping in the hot tub like we used to. I’d pick leaves out of her hair when they fell from the apple tree.’ From Room 669.
A leaf falls from the tree and settles on her hair. It’s dry and crisp, curled into an odd shape on her head. I lean forwards and take it from her, my arm drips with water from the hot tub. She giggles. I crunch the leaf in my hand and break it into tiny pieces, then blow it back at her as though its fairy dust.
‘For you’ I say, as if it’s a gift I have just bought and wrapped. ‘I’m sorry I forgot.’
This story is less than 100 words in celebration of National Flash-Fiction Day, which takes place on the 12th May 2012. See their competitions page for details of how to submit stories of no more than 100 words.
A Coloured Room
By George Alabaster
Association: Room 669
The maid comes every morning to change my sheets and spruce up my pillows. Today I feel crisp and clean when she leaves. I’m waiting for my next visitors, wondering who they will be. Yesterday was a solitary man who came late and left early. His body barely made an impression, a cold sack of skin lying rigid and alone. Those are the worst kind of guests.
The door opens and two people come in. A man and a woman. The woman puts a heavy rucksack on me; the man throws his on my brother. They sit and talk with tired voices about where they’ve been and where they’re going. I listen. When I’m alone I construct narratives from these snatches of conversation, spinning complex tales to pass the hours.
The man takes a shower and the woman sits flicking through a guidebook. They leave as soon as the man has finished. I’m alone again. From what I heard they’ve been travelling for some time, a few days here, a few days there. I decide both have left their jobs, choosing to see the world together. He intends to go back to office work but she wants to start again, carving out a new life. A painter, perhaps.
For the rest of the day I imagine the kind of things she will paint. Maybe it will be landscapes, swirled in amber mist, or portraits of old and important men.
They come back late and drunk. Fingers fumble for the switch and sharp light is thrown over the room. He goes into the bathroom, then I feel her painter’s hands on me. I am being pushed closer to my brother. She only moves me an inch before lying down, but we are nearer now.
Her body is warm and soft. There are no sharp angles to it andher curves swim across my surface, just like the mist will shimmer over the peak she paints. The man comes out of the bathroom but doesn’t notice the change. The light is switched off and we drift away.
Over the days that follow she moves me closer and closer to my brother. I feel the ridges and furrows of her hands, fingers engaged in a slow waltz to a lonely tune. The man either doesn’t notice or says nothing. Then one night they stumble in drunk again and suddenly it’s happening. I am slammed against my brother. Their bodies fall on me together, twisting and turning like the fog she will one day capture. I see the colours of it all, a deep red and a sleepy gold, dying in the sun.
They stay for another week. Every morning and every night they paint the scene again, their bodies like brushes sweeping across a canvas. But then something changes. I don’t know what happened, but I know something has. For one night I am still against my brother, but they do not touch, lying stiff like the man before them. The next night I am back where I was before, and the day afterwards they are gone.
George Alabaster is a philosophy student at Manchester University.
By Fran Slater
Association: The line ‘fist-sized holes in the plaster’ in Budget Family Room.
The holes in the wall get me thinking. They look as if they were made in a rage, fists so fast they didn’t feel the blood until it was pouring.
I phoned her from the lobby like it said to on the card. She said to take the stairs because of the cameras in the lifts. Six flights of green metal, my hands on the banisters. Already sweating when I reached the top.
She was very specific. Room 669, the seventh floor, walk past the table with the cacti and take a right. Don’t even look at what is happening in room 660. They always leave the door open, and the sight can’t be washed from your eyes. Not without something way stronger than soap anyway.
But the girl isn’t here and the room smells like the last couple just left. Armpits and market stall perfume. If I’m paying, why’s she the boss?
A squeal down the hall could be death or pleasure. I came for the latter but now wish I hadn’t. Wish I’d gone home, seen Mary, sat and watched the television without a word until the one with the least willpower got up and said goodnight. If I bought her flowers, maybe we’d go skinny dipping in the hot tub like we used to. I’d pick leaves out of her hair when they fell from the apple tree.
The room seems lived in. Stains on the carpet. A paper on the table. Postcards tacked to the walls from cities I’ve never seen. Cities Mary and me always said we’d go to. Cities I’ve seen in my dreams. I wonder if someone comes here at night, after fifteen or twenty men have had their fun in the bed, and slips under the cover, cuddles their pillow and sleeps.
If the girl turned up now, there’d be no way I could do what I came here for.
I check in my wallet and see four twenties and two tens. I stand to go. On the headboard I notice a circular blob of dried blood, with dots of the same deep red around it.
My wife doesn’t talk to me or fuck me but she makes a wicked lasagne. I could be home now, eating meat and melted cheese.
The door was unlocked when I came in. Now, when I try to push the silver handle down it won’t budge. I shake it twat it bend it, but it’s stuck still.
My face is sweating, my glasses slipping from my nose. Ten deep breaths and a walk to the window. Seven floors up. I couldn’t escape even if the window wasn’t stuck shut with masking tape from the outside.
I hear a giggle near the door and I run and smack my knuckles on the wood. Knocking on a door to be let out. A new one on me. The giggle fades into the distance.
Sitting on the bed. Deep breaths aren’t working. Hands are shaking. Counting. One two three. One two three. One two three. I won’t look at the blood on the bed.
A knock at the door. The girl must be here. My pulse slows as the door handle squeaks and the bottom of the door makes a scraping noise on the carpet. I stand up to meet her, clammy palm outstretched for a shake. But she isn’t a beautiful young lady; she’s a six foot man with bright green eyes and a pair of pliers in his left hand.
Fran Slater is a Manchester Creative Writing student, just finding his way into the weird and wonderful world of literature in Manchester.
Words We Used. Things We Know.
By Emma Lannie
Association: I was picking out lines from Budget Family Room, one of which was, “morning sun into slices of light”. At the same time, I happened to be listening to a playlist a friend of a friend had made, and the last track was Kerouac reading October In The Railroad Earth. The line, “old Frisco, with end-of-land sadness,” jumped out.
The beach in all its hot brightness kept us anchored there. We watched as strangers ran down to the water, jumped waves, went crashing into the depths. We didn’t move. The conversation had left us spent and reeling, unsure of where to go next. The words still clung to all parts of our bodies and tried to creep themselves under our skin, but I think we resisted. I’m certain we resisted.
The towels we sat on were being overtaken by sand, a grain or twenty at a time. And all we could do was breathe in and breathe out again, hoping that we wouldn’t end up Sphinx-like, buried underneath a desert for thousands of years.
Some children playing frisbee; the screams of victory and near-misses.
A gentle breeze.
His hand an inch away from my leg. And that just-above-the-knee part of me wanting to feel his hand there again, under the sun’s full glare, if only once. If only for a second.
The afternoon empty of words. Us emptied of words. And our bodies doing that thing that bodies do, confessing a craving in small frenzied ways. The wetting of lips, the hand moving ever closer, all alert, ears listening for a yes or for something that might end up as a yes, when the silence is finally broken.
We should have never let it happen. Words We Used. Friendships rarely survive these things. We sat there together knowing something had ended. We sat at the edge of the land mass and knew that we couldn’t go back, not to undo things or to make them right. And still the tide came in, came closer.
And even if his hand could have rested against my skin then, it would never have been forever. It would only ever have been a last-chance idea we convinced ourselves was for the taking. Sometimes it’s not good to trust your body with the truth of things. Because without words, and away from the rules of the everyday, the things bodies do mean exactly what you think they do. If something is wanted, you know about it. But in the world you have to refrain from that. And it’s no surprise that the saddest part of any song is the refrain. All the holding-back, the un-allowing yourself to do what it is you most want to do. Until it happens anyway.
Things We Know: the sun will burn hotter; the breeze will trick us into thinking we are okay. And we’ll smile and really try to believe that it doesn’t matter, that whatever happened between us doesn’t change who we are to one another. Only sometimes, not often, one of us will wake in the night with the memory of it and the burning hot of what we wanted then, and what we took. And even when new skin has grown over the old, the damage will still be visible underneath.
Our bodies will always know that this happened.
Emma J Lannie grew up in Manchester, lives and writes in Derby, and blogs here: (http://garglingwithvimto.blogspot.com).
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