Late April 2011 I discovered http://StoryADay.org and the project that is to write 31 stories in 31 days. Anyone who knows me or follows this blog, knows how passionate I am about short stories so my clichéd eyes lit up at this new marvel. And just a few days later there I was, breathing life into new characters. This went on to become (with some editing of course) my 31-story collection eBook Story A Day May 2011.
And here we are a year later doing it all over again. Today’s prompt was to write a story featuring a loner, so here is my 726-worder. And it’s another sad one, sorry about that.
Bill the Bag Man
Bill’s wife Laura had been the one interested in shopping, he’d just sit reading the sports section until she either bought (usually) or moved on to another shop (or both).
She’d been the one with the good job. He’d never understood what a gorgeous sales executive had seen in a bin man like Bill but he made her laugh, they made each other laugh and when they were told they couldn’t have children it didn’t seem to matter. They used the money a buggy would have cost to go away for the weekend, a cot bought them a London show.
Whenever she bought a new suit she’d call it an investment but to Bill it looked the same as the one she’d been wearing the day before. “Quality over quantity,” she’d say and she seemed to have both but it was her money and it made her happy, so Bill had no complaints.
“We should do a car boot sale,” he’d suggested but then agreed when she’d said they’d only get a fraction of the money back and that she still wore or used everything she’d bought and he’d nodded again.
But then she started buying smaller sizes, seemed paler each shopping trip and when she’d collapsed he’d wanted to cry at how light she felt lifting her in the car.
As she got thinner the trips increased; she’d wanted to explore while she could, then her mode of transport changed from the London Underground to a wheelchair by the sea front. Finally shopping was all she enjoyed but she’d buy things for him, saying she had more than enough to last a lifetime. Bill knew she meant hers.
He’d not wanted all the clutter around the house before but when she’d died he began to see its attraction; it kept him company. Inanimate objects they may have been, but every now and then he’d get out a bag and look at the contents; smiling if it was something he’d bought, crying if it was hers. So he kept up the tradition, went in every shop with a ‘sale’ sign then bought regardless of whether reduced or not, adding it to the pile when he got home.
He started having to step over things, cupboard space a premium but it felt like exercise. He’d become practiced at making mounds that stayed upright despite resembling the leaning Tower of Pisa. They incorporate tunnels and he felt like his childhood guinea pigs nestling through straw. He’d even chirruped and laughed. He wasn’t sure how Laura would have felt about his existence but he knew she wouldn’t have wanted him mourning and having all her things around him grew soothing.
Routines kept him sane; Tesco Monday afternoons, picking a different assistant each time, the library Wednesday mornings where self-service meant he could be a no-one. Friday lunchtimes were foil-wrapped sandwiches in the park with a bottle of orange juice on a warm day or flask of tea when cold.
He began thinking that retirement wasn’t as bad as people made out and he’d pop into the pound shop on the way home, filling a couple of carrier bags with anything bright and cheerful; toys for grandchildren he’d never have, squeaky bones for a dog long gone, short date shortbread from a Scottish loch. He’d have them with his cup of tea so he treated himself to the local paper from Mr Patel’s.
Pulling out the shortbread, he started a new layer of bags in one corner of the lounge. He’d put the kettle on and stretch his legs in the garden then work his way back to his favourite chair to see what the outside world had been up to, according to the Holford Gazette.
The kettle was boiling when he remembered he’d left his mug by the chair and nestled his way knowing every square inch of carpet. He’d just turned round, mug in hand, when his foot kicked a bag and he heard plastic shifting. It was his back that felt the blow first, then a hip, a shoulder, his head.
As Bill took his last breath he saw Laura’s face and he knew everything was going to be OK.
If you like working from prompts you might be interested in my 365-Day Writer’s Block Workbook (Vol 1).
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.