Tag Archives: CAKE.shortandsweet

Writerly Wednesday

This week, my prompt words are taken from CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In #10, originally held in 2012.

paperback :: bounce :: crushing :: liquor :: root

Image: corbisimages.com

Image: corbisimages.com

Character Study

His sarcasm is crushing.

Really, dearest? You’re sure that’s the best course of action open to you – or, I beg your pardon, me – at that particular juncture?’

My leg starts to bounce, my ankle like a spring. I suppress it straight away. It’s a tell. He’ll know, and he’ll use it against me.

‘I really don’t think anyone, be they reader or critic, could possibly bring themselves to root for me if you force the issue like this,’ he continues, swirling the glass in his hand. It’s half-filled with some sort of golden liquor.

Wait.

Liquor? Where did he get that?

I frown. I focus on my fingers. Move, I tell them, but they don’t care.

‘If you want this to go to paperback,’ he snarls, his voice right in my ear, his hot breath trickling down my cheek and under the collar of my shirt, congealing in a pool beneath my sternum, ‘you’ll listen to me.’

I close my eyes. Slowly, his shadow lifts. He settles himself back in the easy chair, crossing his legs with a deft flick.

‘Begin.’ His voice is distant thunder.

I take a deep breath, and start to type.

Writerish Wednesday

Today’s words – two girls  ::  thick braid  ::  peel  ::  heavy traffic  ::  allergic reaction – are unashamedly borrowed from CAKE.shortandsweet‘s Wednesday Write-In #3 (originally held in September 2012). CAKE has been offline for the past few weeks, and I’ve missed it terribly. Let’s hope it comes back soon.

two girls :: thick braid :: peel :: heavy traffic :: allergic reaction

Image: lovethispic.com

Image: lovethispic.com

All The World’s a Mountain

She carried the thick braid with her everywhere she went. It lived in her pocket, wrapped up in a fine linen cloth, tightly bound around itself like a never-ending loop.

She didn’t look at it very often, but its weight was always there.

‘What is with this rush hour, huh?’ muttered her neighbour, a tall and heavy-set man with skin so dark it absorbed the day. His voice made her fingers tremble, and she realised she’d been clutching at her coat, squeezing the lump of hair within it like a totem. ‘You ever seen such heavy traffic?’ The bus they were riding in sat, honking, amid a sea of metal and glass. The windows were beginning to run with moisture, and the air was too heavy to breathe.
She did her best to smile at him, but he – already forgetting her – rose sharply to his feet.

‘Hey! Yo! Driver, man! What’s happenin’ up there?’ He squeezed his way past, his elbow slamming into her shoulder. He did not bother to apologise, and she felt something sharp at her heart. Another layer of her patience began to peel away.

She ignored the yelling that kicked off around the driver’s cabin as she smothered the fear, the growing anger, the rising rage.

Her hand found the braid again. Through the fabric of her coat it felt cold, and wet, and heavy. She squeezed it, clenching her eyes against the noise and the heat and the stench

No two girls could be more alike, mama had always said. Born the same day, each with hair like evening and eyes like the dawn. We were friends. Always friends. Our hands fitted together like they’d been carved as one, and we were so rarely at odds that the older folk smiled and said of us that we could read one another’s minds.

But what is sweet and lovely at five is not so at fifteen, and still less at twenty.

My friend’s mama took her away before she turned twenty-one and sold her to a man from the mountains. He became a husband more bear and hair and growl than human being. She called out to me, her words not formed by tongue and teeth; I heard her, but not with my ears. She was so far away. To say I missed her is to make a mockery of the words. An oozing void gaped within me where my heart had been.

And then, one day, her voice stopped.

I packed a bag and left, mid night, on feet grown so used to silence that mama never knew. She slept as I climbed out the window; she slept as I slid into the shadows. She slept as I made my way to the mountains.

I arrived as they pulled her from the lake. Her hair – my hair – dark with dark water, sodden with cold, swollen and dripping and dead, flopped around her neck like a serpent. Her braid was neat and perfect, but her eyes were sealed.

‘She had an allergic reaction,’ blustered her husband. ‘She ate some berry or other and ran into the tarn, out of her senses. Stupid townish woman.’

They commiserated and sympathised and filled him full of their sorrow, but I could see the laughter at the core of him. He’d had what he wanted, and he’d got what he wanted.

Before they buried her, I took her hair.

After they buried her, the mountain man vanished.

My bag has grown threadbare over the years. My clothes are clean but out of date. My name changes every time I am asked for it. I leave no trail.

And I look into the eyes of every man I see, waiting for the spark of recognition. When I find it, I will know what to do.

She sweeps to her feet and grabs her battered travelling case from the overhead rack. The braid drags down her coat on one side, making it swing. She strides up the aisle and asks to be let off the bus in a voice she doesn’t recognise, and before he knows what he’s doing the driver has pulled the lever, the door has hissed aside and she is off, striding between the rows of unmoving cars.

A man – shrunken now, and shaven, eyes hidden by a cap – watches her pass. Before the door can slide closed again he runs for it, squeezing through the narrowing gap and plunging out into the melting light of a city day. His own pocket is heavy, but not with a token of love.

He was born to the life of a tracker. All the world’s a mountain, if you need it to be.

 

Wednesday Write-In #91

outfox  ::  couture  ::  spell  ::  grate  ::  willow

Image: spartacus.wikia.com

Image: spartacus.wikia.com

Prey

I stop at the willow tree. Heart galloping. Fast – so fast! Breathe. Look. I can hear them – smell them. Not far. Hallooooing trumpets, their dogs in a frenzy.
I have nowhere to go.
They are coming.
I blink. Breath tears through me. Thirsty so thirsty so tired… Instinct takes over. The world looks strange as I run. Behind, not far enough, the howling starts again. They have my scent, and they are coming.

I had been cleaning out the grate when it happened. I froze as I heard the Ladies coming back into the Great Room; I’d been sure they’d left for the day, but I must have been mistaken.
Or, they’d changed their minds. It wasn’t unknown.
Their voices tinkled in the hallway, and I doubled my pace, fingers trembling, praying…
‘Ah! Look, sister. Our little soot-boy is still here.’
‘It cannot be!’
‘I assure you.’
‘But, whatever for?
‘I presume he has been lazy, and has left his tasks undone until the last moment. Wouldn’t you think so, sister dear?’
‘No other explanation presents itself, certainly.’
I stumbled to my feet, turning and bowing low. I hid my filthy hands from their cool, clean gazes; I shrank my plain, worn garments from their gowns, elaborate, couture, worth more than my life.
I knew.
‘My ladies, I -‘
‘Do not speak, boy,’ spat Lady Mary. ‘Have you been given permission to speak?’
‘Milady, no -‘
‘Again! He spoke again!’ crowed Lady Elizabeth. ‘Did you hear him, sister?’
Lady Mary did not answer. She crossed the room, her steps quick, her shoes click-click beneath the rustling of her skirts. She stood three feet from me, and I could hear her breathing. I crunched my eyes shut.
‘You. I tire of you, boy. Your insolence upsets me.’
I said nothing. My eyes burned.
‘A punishment, sister!’ called Lady Elizabeth, from the door.
‘I have just the thing,’ replied Lady Mary. The hissing of silks and two careful steps, and a giggle.
And then the pain.

I wake in her arms. Lady Mary’s. Her fingers cold. Cruel. Like metal. My breaths too quick. No voice. No hands. I kick. Her fingers dig in, deeper, like a claw. Like a trap.
‘Peace, soot-boy,’ she hisses. ‘The spell is yet to settle fully. If you disturb it now, it will be worse for you.’
I do not believe her. I try to cry out again, but nothing comes.
Striding toward the door. A hand reaches to unlatch it. Sunlight, air, a bright day.
Distant yapping makes my spine contract. I struggle. I try to bite.
‘You beast!’ screams Lady Mary.
She flings me from her and I fall. I miss my footing. No – I cannot find my feet, because they are not there. Before I can move, a savage pain bursts through me and I spin, splayed, out onto the lawn.
She has kicked me.
And then I see it. I am covered in fur.
The keening of dogs makes me heartsick. I know without knowing that they are coming for me.
‘Let’s see you outfox us now, little hare,’ I hear. Lady Mary. Lady Elizabeth stands beside her in the doorway, laughing. Her eyes dance.
‘Run, soot-boy!’ she calls, waving.
Once again, as I have always done, I obey.

The dogs are upon me. I can smell them. I can taste their hunger. No matter where I run, they are there.
Trumpets. Shouting. Howling. Heartache. Agony.
I taste my own blood on my tongue.
A flash of light draws my eye. Through a haze, I see. Sunlight. Sparkling on water.
The river!
A snarl to my right makes me veer left; a howl to my left makes me redouble my pace. I cannot breathe. These limbs, not my own, are numb.
Screaming from behind me. I cannot hear the words. I do not need to hear to understand.
I stretch, further than I think I can bear. Feel like I am being torn in two.
The dogs’ breath burns like an open flame.
Then the water, so shocking, so cold, so fast, so clear, and the pain, the pain, the thumping, deafening, whirlpooling agony, the popping and bursting, the groaning of muscles and sinew, the stretching and rending of bone…
I drag myself up on the far shore. My fingers run red. I am shivering, naked. I turn, blinking through my own eyes, through a film of exhaustion, at the hunters.
The water washed the spell away, along with my scent, but the dogs play at the shoreline, dancing with the water, waiting for the word. They don’t need to smell me to tear me to shreds.
A hunter raises her bow, and cocks it.
‘Wait!’ calls another, a slender girl, her skin flushed. ‘Not yet.’
‘But they will ask for his heart,’ replies the other. The bow does not tremble.
‘We can find another hare,’ says the slender girl, turning to me. Her dark eyes fill with fire. ‘Leave him for another day.’
‘But -‘
‘Just do as I ask,’ says the slender girl. She smiles, but it is not gentle. ‘He has given us the best chase in years. Would you destroy him?’
The bow is lowered.
‘And, as we well know,’ says the slender girl, ‘men make much easier prey than hares.’
She blows me a mocking kiss and pulls her horse around. The others follow, reluctantly, and soon I hear the howling start again.
They will know the heart is not mine.
I do not have long.

 

Wednesday Write-In #90

This week’s words are:

jungle, matchbox, sparrow, hog, mull

Image: mrssmithscottage.co.uk

Image: mrssmithscottage.co.uk

Wash Day

We wanted to play, Sid and me, but Mum was busy. She was always busy. We scattered as she hauled the tin bath, full to the brim with shirts and soapy water, out to the back door, nearly sliding on one of my Matchbox cars as she went.

‘Get out from under my feet!’ she yelled. ‘This place is a blimmin’ jungle, Rodney. Get those things cleared up, this minute!’

‘Sorry, Mum,’ I said, glad she had hold of the bath. That meant, with any luck, she couldn’t smack me one.

‘I’ll sorry you,’ she muttered, leaning the bath on the garden wall. I heard the gooosh as the wash-water poured away, and the squealing of Mr Johnson’s pig next door. Probably thought it were feeding time, poor bugger.

‘That disgusting hog,’ hissed Mum, kicking our back door closed. ‘Why he can’t just be turned into breakfast, I will never know.’ Sid looked up, puzzled, a line of drool down his chin.

‘Never you mind, Siddie boy,’ I said, wiping his mouth gently. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to ol’ Porky.’ Sid grinned at me and went back to playing, swooping his toy aeroplane around like it were a B-52, doing the ack-ack-ack under his breath. Dad had carved it for me, but I’d given it to our Sid last year. He’d never left it out of his hand since.

‘Get out to that pump, Rodney,’ said Mum, slapping the shirts onto the scrubbing board. ‘Bring your brother, if he’ll go. I need at least two buckets.’

‘Right, Mum,’ I said, hauling Sid up by his collar.

‘At least two, mind! And none of your half-full nonsense. I need these shirts sparklin’.’ She started scrubbing, her hands red and the shirts white as snow.

‘Yes, Mum,’ I said, bundling Sid into his old, too-small coat. He stood staring, thinking who knew what. Probably wondering, like me, where Dad had gone and why Mum kept washing his shirts, week after week, like she was expecting him home any minute.

Sid and me clattered out, a bucket each. The pump was at the end of the road, painted white and red. The women stood around it like a bunch of birds on a garden fence. Mrs Ellis from number 12 was a sparrow, small and bony; Mrs Jenkins from top of the road a crow, beak and all.

‘All right then, young Robsons,’ said one of them as we got close. I nodded and Sid grinned, showing all his teeth. ‘There’s a good boy,’ crooned another, but more of them turned away, their mouths tight. They carried on talking, but in low, far-away voices.

Sid held the bucket steady while I filled it. The pump handle creaked and banged as it went up and down, up and down, the water gushing out like magic. Sid giggled. I knew he wanted to stick his face in, and I hoped he wouldn’t.

I grabbed a full bucket in each hand. Sid scrambled up to follow me, wanting to take some of the burden, but I couldn’t let him carry it. He’d forget it, or spill it, or fall… We’d been too long already.

‘Come on, Sid,’ I said, half-gasping, getting a grip on the handles. ‘Don’t delay.’ We passed the post box and turned the corner, and our house stood at the very far end, looking like it were miles away.

‘Dad!’ burbled Sid, suddenly. ‘Daa-ad!’ He crowed, clapping his hands and pointing.

‘Don’t be silly, Sid,’ I muttered, trying not to let him knock me off-balance.

Look!’ he insisted, plucking at my sleeve.

I put the buckets down and squinted, doing my best to see. Our front door was open, and there was someone there, someone with his back to us. Someone tall and broad and wide…

I grabbed Sid’s hand and we ran, full-pelt. Sid yelled all the way, Dad! Dad! Dad-daaad!

And the man turned.

He wore a full moustache and a dark blue uniform with polished buttons on, and shiny boots. His hat was clutched to his chest, and his eyes were kind. Our mum stood in the doorway like she were nailed to the frame, grey and open-mouthed. Her nose was red. Her eyes flicked back and forth over the front step like she couldn’t figure out what it was.

‘All right, lads,’ said the man, bending slightly, smiling at us. ‘Your mum’s just had a bit of bad news. She’ll have lots to mull over in the next while. You be good lads, all right? You’ll be the men of the house, now.’ He nodded at us, slid his hat back on his head, and strode off.

I stood staring at Mum for ages. Eventually, Sid and me got a shoulder each under her arms and helped her to the kitchen. Sid went back for the buckets; one was gone, but he brought back nearly the full of the other.

I finished the washing, and hung it out.

Eventually, we grew into Dad’s shirts, Sid and me, and they were as starched and white the day we first put them on as the day they’d first been made.

 

**

Just a little note to say: this is my 500th blog post! Thank you all for sticking with me this far, and I hope we’ll have plenty more blogging adventures to come.

Wednesday Write-In #89

The prompt words this week were:

disown :: doldrums :: narrow :: curse :: assemble

Image: colourbox.com

Image: colourbox.com

The Prodigal’s Return

Aix-en-Provence, 23.III.34
Robinson,

Oppressive times here, old chum. Oppressive indeed. This morning’s post brought a missive from Pater regarding my apparent ‘profligacy,’ ‘throwing away the family coin on women and wine,’ &c., and threatening the dreaded cut-off if such damnable behaviour does not cease forthwith. Blithering old fool. What business is it of his how I conduct myself here, far from his maddening grasp? Curse him. What irks most is how on earth he’s aware. Of course, he doesn’t know the half of it, but the half he does know, he appears to understand with perfect clarity.

All I wish is to be left in peace to write. Once my novel is completed, and I am being fêted on the London literary scene, we’ll see who requires money from whom.

I say, you couldn’t assemble a small packet of necessities, could you? A razor, some soap, a little cologne if you can spare it, some ink and nibs? Would be most grateful, of course. Recompense at a later date, and all that.

Must dash –
Yours
Stroud

 

Aix-en-Provence, 05.IV.34
Robinson,

The doldrums continue apace, their sole lightening your letter, received yesterday with childlike gratitude. I thank you most sincerely for the ink and sundries you were good enough to send. When I came upon the inner package and found just how far your generosity had extended, I was quite moved, old boy. Assure yourself that I shall use it to pay for the roof above my head and the cuisine – victual as opposed to venereal, naturally – of which, perforce, I must partake.

Work continues well. I am all but finished the first draft. Not that Pater cares: along with your wonderful package came another ‘I Shall Thee Disown’ decree, filled with the most dreadful vitriol. It’s enough to make one dizzy.

Off for a walk in the Spring sunshine before returning to my narrow quarters, to sleep perchance to dream – perchance to write.

I can feel it, Robinson. The acclaim. Time, o Time, that blessed mistress; Time is all I need.

Yours in gratitude
Stroud

 

Bridgwater House, Taunton, 17.V.34
Robinson,

I hold no ill-will, old chap. I’m sure you felt your hand forced, your conscience pricked without cease, and all that. I saw his top hat, first of all (nobody in Aix wears such things – he stood out like blood on a wedding gown); I tried to run, but could not decide what to leave, and what to bring. I froze, like a fool. He came straight to my door; there was no other way he could have known. I hope he made it worth your while, at least.

He flung my work upon the flames. It is ash, as am I.

No matter. Chin up, eh? Summer is high. The family coffers are, once again, sealed. Rejoice, o Israel.

Remember me, won’t you? With affection, if you can?

Yours eternally, in comradeship most fond,
Stroud

Wednesday Write-In #88

plastic  ::  verdant  ::  gingham  ::  lighthouse  ::  bathe

 

Image: camperlands.co.uk

Image: camperlands.co.uk

The Sleeper

The wind rippled across the surface of the rain-sodden plastic, lifting it into sharp-edged waves. It crackled and snapped, spitting water up at me like it was angry. It was like an animal protecting its young.

‘Between me and you,’ said Brennan, ‘d’you think this is it?’ He didn’t look at me. He just stood on the far side of the sea of plastic like a lighthouse, passing his worried gaze back and forth over it with gentle sweeps of his head. The rain ran down the lenses of his glasses.

‘I hope so,’ I said. Brennan blinked and glanced over at me, frowning. ‘You know what I mean,’ I muttered, and he said nothing for a while. I shrugged deeper into the collar of my coat, feeling cold droplets bathe me right down to the bones. I wondered if I’d ever feel warm again.

‘I suppose it’d be a comfort for the family. What’s left of them,’ he said, eventually.

‘Exactly.’

The plastic reared again, and I caught the barest glimpse of faded, dirt-encrusted gingham embedded in the claggy, dark soil. It made the bile rise inside me, and an image flashed across my mind; a tiny, smiling face, straw-coloured hair in one long plait. The little checked sundress she’d worn that day in June when she’d vanished, disappeared from the verdant fields around her house, never to be seen again.

Never, until now.

‘Jesus,’ said Brennan. ‘Grab that rock, there, and weigh it down. We have to preserve the scene until Forensics gets here.’ I turned to do as I was told, and caught a glimpse of the farmer who’d found her, standing cap in hand behind a line of luminous tape. I could hear someone talking to him, asking him questions, but all he was doing was just staring, feet planted in the soil, eyes full of water, up at the makeshift grave that had been on his land for the better part of forty years. Maybe he’d raised his own family in sight of it.

I turned back to see Brennan struggling with the groundsheet, and hurried to help. We smoothed the plastic down over her like it was a blanket, tossed by a bad dream or a too-hot summer night. She settled into peaceful sleep once more.

I put my hand on the sodden plastic and I swear I felt it rise, like a little, contented breath had been taken beneath it, and finally released.

Wednesday Write-In #87

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

fly in the ointment  ::  suspect  ::  fairytale  ::  green  ::  shame

Image: coloringinthedark.wordpress.com

Image: coloringinthedark.wordpress.com

Prime Suspect

‘So. You’re paying us another little visit, are you?’ Sergeant Grehan lowered himself into his creaking chair with a sticky exhalation of breath, shifting a pile of shedding paperwork as he waved vaguely at the seat opposite. I took it with every show of gratitude.

‘Just keeping up with developments,’ I said. ‘You know yourself.’

Grehan raised a flabby eyebrow. ‘Hmm.’

‘So, about this new suspect,’- I reached into the pocket of my coat, where an envelope, stuffed fat, was sitting.

‘Now, now, let me just stop you there,’ said Grehan, holding up a moist palm. ‘You know as well as I do that whatever you have in that envelope could be prejudicial. It could be damaging. It could be a fairytale, for God’s sake!’ He slapped his hand off his desk, tutting loudly. ‘Just, listen to me for a minute. Will you get out of here and let us get on with our jobs. Will you do that?’

I licked my lips. ‘The only fly in the ointment with that,’ I said, slowly shoving the envelope back into its hiding place, ‘is that I might have information which you lot need. Did you never think of that?’

Grehan chuckled, his face wobbling. ‘Now, now. A high opinion of ourselves, haven’t we?’

‘I’m good at what I do,’ I said, my eyes flicking around the framed photographs and certificates on Grehan’s walls.

‘And what’s that, exactly?’ he sneered, drawing my gaze back to him. ‘Wasting police time? Poking around in cold cases? Destroying evidence, making mistakes that no officer – no matter how green – would make?’ He wiped his sweating face with one large hand. ‘Get out of my office, now, like a good man. Will you? I’m sick of pandering to your nonsense. Any more of this sort of carry-on, and I’ll see what I can do about having you brought in for questioning.’

I put my hands up. ‘Right, right. I’m only trying to help. In all honesty.’

‘In all honesty, Frank, you’re a pain in my rear end,’ said Grehan, hauling himself to his feet. He stuck out one warm, damp hand. ‘Will you give me your word, now, that you’ll leave this alone? I don’t want to see you in this office again. Let the poor girl rest in peace. There’s nothing you can do. Leave it to us, now.’

After a second’s frowning hesitation, I shook Grehan’s hand. I felt his sweat cooling on my skin as I stood. ‘Right, so. I’m sorry, Officer. I – look, I won’t be back. If ye hear anything,’-

‘God, Frank, of course we’ll let you know,’ said Grehan, blinking, lying to my face. ‘Straight away. Make sure you leave your contact number with the desk, there.’

‘I will. I’ll do that. And, Sergeant Grehan?’ He was already back in his chair, turning towards his ancient, clapped-out computer. He frowned at me before raising an eyebrow in polite, patient inquiry. ‘I just wanted to say thanks. For all you’ve done, I mean. Fair play to you, and all your lads.’

‘Grand, grand, Frank,’ he said, waving his hand again. ‘I hope I won’t be seeing you again for a long time. No offence to you, now.’

‘Oh, God, I think I can guarantee you that,’ I said, chuckling. I turned for the door.

‘Good luck, Frank,’ called Grehan as I stepped out into the corridor. I nodded, throwing him a quick grin.

I winked at the officer behind the desk as I left the station, ignoring the mocking light in her eyes, and I stepped out into the warmth of the bright spring day, putting my face to the sky and dragging in a few deep breaths. The thick envelope was making my jacket uncomfortable and so I dragged it out, wondering for a few seconds whether I should put it in the bin just outside the station door, or if that’d be hubris. Eventually, I strode off into the bustle of the town, the envelope held lightly between finger and thumb, like it was nothing.

I’d wanted to confess. God knows the truth of it. I’d had everything Grehan needed, right there. My confession was stapled to the front of the photographs I’d taken of Maisie’s body, signed and everything. I’d been ready.

What a shame, then – what an absolute crying disgrace – that he’d given me another chance.