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Thing

A short story

dressing up
Violet chewed the skin around her thumbnail, and studied the way Donna held her glass; how she sipped gently without disturbing her lip-gloss whilst simultaneously making conversation and politely declining a passing tray of nibbles. She was so sensuous, so feminine. Donna’s long, even, coloured nails curved and reflected the light – in perfect harmony with the glass of sparkling wine which she held with such poise.
Violet wanted to be like Donna. Why couldn’t Mum be more like Donna: elegant, shiny, doll-like and yet animated? Even Dad seemed to prefer Donna’s company and topped up her glass more than anyone else’s. Oh, it would be nice to be admired, to feel beautiful.
Violet straightened up, sucked in her tummy and thrust out her developing chest. She would stop biting her nails and start using coloured lip-gloss.

‘Vi!’ yelled Ruby from the hall, bashing her doll against the doorframe, so that its soft, light-reflecting, pearl blonde, nylon hair bounced like a head-banger at a heavy metal concert, and its vacant blue eyes stared helplessly into the room. ‘Vi-o-let!’
Violet flicked her eyes away from Donna’s body as party guests turned to look round at her.
‘Go on, Vi,’ Mum smiled. ‘You’ve spent enough time hanging out with us oldies. You can go and play now.’
Go and play”?! Violet wanted to yell at her mother, but instead she smiled awkwardly and ducked through the room, humiliated.
‘She’s developed into such a lovely young thing,’ noted Not-really-Uncle Marcus, as Violet swept past.
‘Oh, no. She’s just a girl, Marcus.’ Violet heard her Aunt retort. ‘You shouldn’t say things like that. You’ll embarrass her.’

I’m “lovely”, thought Violet, beaming, as she passed herself in the hall mirror, and Ruby stabbed her in the legs with sharp, plastic doll fingers.
‘Let’s dress up, Roobs,’ Violet breathed excitedly, dashing up the stairs to Mum and Dad’s room.

Through the carpeted upstairs floors, the adults’ party noises became a muffled cacophony of smooth Nat King Cole tones, waves of male and female laughter, and constant conversational murmur, as Violet and Ruby tugged clothes from Mum’s wardrobe and hurled shoes into the middle of the room.
Mum and Dad would be giggling later. They would forgive the crease and tumble of clothes mess and shoes across the floor, and the crumpled jump-dips on the bed.

Violet slid Mum’s sleeveless, wine-red, velvet special-occasion dress over her head and plonked her feet into the highest heels she could find. They’d done this for years, they’d always done this: pretended to be ladies, played make believe, chatted in hoity-toity voices, and giggled as they swaggered around admiring themselves in the mirror.
Little Ruby looked lost, daft, and hopelessly floppy and adorable: sleeves too long, shoes dangerously loose, and necklaces hanging to her naval. But Violet had grown a lot this year and Mum’s dresses were the right length on her now. The shoes fitted too.
If only someone could see her and tell her she was beautiful.
Violet opened Dad’s sock drawer and tugged out a pair of thick socks. She shoved them into her bra-style vest top and walked quietly back to the mirror. Ruby screamed with laughter.
‘Shut up, Ruby. It’s not funny.’ Violet stamped out of the room to the bathroom to fetch Mum’s make-up. They’d always borrowed Mum’s make-up.
The two girls sat on Mum and Dad’s floor, and gave each other “pretty cheeks” and “lovely eyes”; they admired, they role-played, they chatted about pretend neighbours, pretend occupations, they gave themselves names and husbands and children.
Mum’s lipstick was “Hot pink”.
They giggled as they sat cross-legged and applied lipstick to each other’s mouths.
‘This lipstick is “Hot”!’ laughed Violet. ‘We are gonna look so “Hot” in this lipstick, girlfriend.’
Ruby made an over-enthusiastic “Hot pink” mess of Violet’s face, so Violet skipped back to the bathroom to fetch toilet tissue.
As she left the bathroom she collided with Not-really-Uncle Marcus on the landing.
‘Oop. Steady on, young thing,’ Marcus mumbled, squeezing her arm and holding her firmly in front of him – as if pretending to assist her in some way, and staring down at her sock breasts. ‘What a pretty thing you are. Off out to find yourself a boyfriend?’
Violet fell silent and still. She felt the way she’d done when her swimsuit slipped down over one shoulder in front of Megan’s older brother in their parent’s hot tub last summer. She wanted to disappear, she wanted to be back in her bedroom with Ruby, wearing normal clothes, pulling her bedcovers up close under her chin and not having anyone staring at her, restraining her, calling her a “thing”.
She giggled nervously, turned her arm out of Marcus’s grasp and hurried back to Ruby.

‘What was funny?’ asked Ruby.
‘Nothing. I don’t know why I laughed,’ replied Violet, glancing back nervously at the door and looking around for her own clothes. ‘I don’t want to be a lady anymore. Let’s watch the penguin film.’



Words

Noelcandle

Three years ago, when I was in the early stages of realising I was still in love with the writing I enjoyed as a girl, I found I was being visited by imaginary old people, shy children, desperate people, and people with no voice. The first 2 stories I wrote for my new creative writing tutor were about older people, struggling with hidden sadness.

I’m always attracted to the forgotten people: those suffering in silence, those who stand apart in some way or for some reason, those who experience great hardship, those who are misunderstood or unfairly judged.
I am drawn to stories about people with some kind of barrier, or those who might be made to feel they don’t belong in some way, even people who are criticised for seemingly behaving badly. Let’s hear the reasons for these, I think. There’s a story behind every one.

Fiction not only gives a voice to these forgotten people – it draws our attention to them and makes us see what we did not see. It pulls out and exposes the reasons for behaviour; focuses on the insides not the surface appearance, peels back the layers of image – for I feel it is image that so often distracts us in real and everyday life.

Whether reading or listening to fiction (I love to listen to stories and drama), we use our eyes and ears to see and hear words not pictures. Yes, pictures and appearances are what we conjure up from descriptions in writing, but they don’t remain ever-present when we are focussing on the story, or the conversation, or the voice. It’s not like TV and films and face-to-face discussion. In stories you have to pay deep, deep attention. You can have your eyes closed.

You can deliberately avoid distracting with appearances in writing. We might want a reader to focus on the words: “He touched me. I didn’t want him to touch me,” for instance, and not on the character’s bright red lipstick, short skirt or the way she holds herself. Perhaps, we don’t want this to be about sexuality, we want it to be about attitudes. Or you can time when you allow a description to be made available to a reader, so they may look inwardly at their own preconceptions or how others judge on appearance. You can make less of skin colour, or accent, or disability. You can then surprise your reader when another character makes something of them.
When a writer talks to you, it is not his or her face you see, or the way she tucks her hair behind her ear, or the way his black eyes burn a hole in your resolve – it is his or her words. The words captivate you or repel you. It’s all about whether you like what they are saying and not what they look like.

And because of this the forgotten people can talk, and we can see their insides, their guts, we can hear what they would tell us if we stopped making too fast assumptions.

That second story I wrote for my tutor, three years ago, was a story about a grandmother called Pat who struggled with Christmas every year, but braved it for the sake of her family. The family were so wrapped up in their own lives and needs they saw nothing but Gran and not the woman with needs of her own. I found that I wanted to show how the loudest characters were not always the strongest and that looks often hide a multitude of emotions but also that a deliberate gesture may not be done from the heart.

There is a lot of beauty hidden behind a poor image. And we need to be reminded where to find beauty.

The writer is not beautiful. The writer’s words are beautiful.

Merry Christmas. I hope you get to eat and drink well. After all – it’s what’s inside that counts 😉

Middling

A flash fiction
BroomHer house was in the middle of the town. It was not particularly big or small or fancy or plain. It was pleasant enough. She didn’t love it and she didn’t hate it. She liked it well enough.
She felt she had no cause to brag nor good reason to complain.
Mustn’t grumble.
Fair to middling.

She swept her driveway, pulled weeds out of the lane so folk could walk by, and clipped the hedge so the neighbours’ light wouldn’t be obscured. She didn’t play loud music or throw wild parties or keep noisy dogs.
Passers by made no comment. Passed no judgement. Offered no sympathy either.

She was just there. There she was in the middle.

She’d had love. She’d lost love. She was alone. She was lonely. But she saw that she had more than some and hid her tears. Who was she to feel sorry for herself?

She saw people come and go past her house and saw the fat people, the thin people, the old people, the young people, the rich people, the poor people. She heard love and hate in a word on the wind, violence in a drunken roar, thoughtlessness in a loud engine. She noticed differences, struggles, children crying, and she felt a need to be useful: to point out these differences.

Somehow.

But how?

So she wrote a poem and made a giant sign. For days she thought about the words, about the design. She made it by hand with brushes and ink. She thought about suffering and unfairness until her heart ached, and wiped away tears before they dropped onto the ink on the page.
She asked for those who have to care about those who have not.
She asked for people to love one another.
She asked for everyone to think about their actions.

After days of hard work, she bought an expensive frame and nailed the sign with the poem to the side of the house overlooking the lane, for all to see.

She went inside and rested.

When she awoke she heard breaking glass, shouts and knocking.
What did she know about pain and suffering?!
What right did she have to tell others how to live?!
Head-in-the-clouds poets should get a proper job!

After dark she went outside to remove the sign. It was broken. It was defaced. She was crying.

In the morning she went out and swept the drive. A passer-by spat on her broom. A driver in a shiny black sports car mocked her through his car window as he revved his engine and choked her with fumes. An old woman tutted in pity at her foolish extravagance.

She felt hurt and lonely and foolish.

She leant on the broom and controlled the tears.
She felt she had no reason to complain.

Who was she to feel sorry for herself?



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