Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the sixty-first piece in this series. This week’s is a 922-worder by multi-genre author guest blogger, interviewee and spotlightee Marion Grace Woolley, which won first place in the Swanezine Short Story Competition in December 2011. 🙂
We’re like the sea, you and I. Rolling to a thick, deep rhythm that only we can hear. That invincible river of truth running between two distant shores, the type of truth you can drown in. Some nights, that’s exactly what happens, dragged beneath the surface of my own consciousness. Pulled under by the crocodile teeth of my own lies, ready for that final death roll. I wake, sweat drenched and sour in my own scent. Afraid that I will never be able to rise again, back to the cool oxygen that my body craves.
That’s the thing about cravings. Some things you crave because, without them, your flesh would die. You need to breathe, to eat, to drink. But other things – you need them just as much, but, in needing them, you’re killing yourself.
You never understood that, did you? You never quite got it.
And now it’s too late. Every day of our lives I tried to explain it to you. Tried to show you; make you aware. At first I thought you hadn’t noticed – I really was that subtle. Pouring your champagne before mine. Helping you into your coat as we left the restaurant. Would I have noticed? Probably not.
But as time went by, I started to suspect. I knew you better than that, see. To me, you’re like crackle glass. There’s nothing transparent about you. If you were ordinary, I could look straight through you and know all there is to know. I could see our future on the other side of you. I could look you over, and look away.
But you’re not. Your clarity changes with the light. Those thick fractures within you, they fascinate the eye. I could gaze at you for a lifetime and never see the complete picture. It takes a complicated person to be that beautiful. It takes intelligence to break itself upon the jarred rocks of self-realisation and denial.
That’s how I knew that you were choosing not to acknowledge me. You were fully aware of my craving, yet you chose to overlook it. You chose to withdraw into the facetious playroom of childhood innocence. You chose to be stupid, blind and dumb.
And every part of me wanted you more for that.
I couldn’t help what happened that night. The fairy lights twinkled as bright as stars around the garden trellis. Your husband and his fat, porky guests quaffing port like pigs in a mud hole. Drunk on their own fine taste and sense of self-worth. I watched you smile, like a string of pearls strung around a pauper. That fake, false way that I watched you cultivate over twenty years of marriage.
I missed the girl in you. I missed the part that was real; that was genuine. Where did she go? Sometimes when we’d take tea, or walk in the country, I’d imagine that I caught a glimpse of her. For a moment she would return as if from some far-flung adventure to the outer shores of existence. ‘I was always coming home,’ she’d say, then just as soon be off on her next escapade, far beyond my grasp.
I loved you from the first moment I saw you, standing in your skinny gym slip at St. Mary of the Immaculate Heart’s. I cherished those all-girl dances we used to attend. They were our salad days. Where no man could touch you, because none were invited.
Every sentence begins with ‘I’, because I never knew what you thought or felt. Did you ever look at me sideways in the showers? Did you ever wonder? Did you ever, for one brief moment, in the dark-enraptured night, consider what it might have been like?
Each of your boyfriends came and went, so literally. Yet I was always constant. After every heartbreak, after every betrayal – wasn’t I always there, just as I ever was? Perhaps you believed my inventions, those imaginary boyfriends who never called and never sent me flowers. Surely you knew that there was only ever one. One person, out of the entire world, that had my full attention.
It had to be said. As we sat beneath the eaves of your grand affluence, staring out across the night-cooled lawns towards the lake. It had to be said.
The sting of your hand across my face burns still. That hot horror as you realised what I had been trying to tell you all our lives. And in that moment, as your eyes flashed and your pearls broke and scattered, I knew that you had known. I knew that, in your own way, you had expected this moment to come.
I suppose, if we’re now to be honest, I had always known your reaction. What caused me to provoke you, I cannot say. The empty look of your Gould-guzzling guests, your husband’s hollow laugh; the sheer plasticity of it all? The faintest recognition in the depths of my soul that there could be another life behind all of this. Something real. Something meaningful.
And now, there is nothing. Should I regret opening my mouth? Because I do, with every ounce of my being. If, by staying silent, I could look upon you every day for the rest of our lives – look, but never touch – I would sign my name to that contract. But it’s too late. That river of truth touches both our continents, but forever keeps us worlds apart.
Should you ever return to the country of our birth, you shall find me waiting. Here, beneath the eaves.
I asked Marion what prompted this piece and she said…
Carte Blanche was written specifically for the Swanezine Short Story Competition in December 2011. Incredibly, it beat 214 other entries to take the (cash) first prize. So, an afternoon well spent.
I’ve been a long-standing supporter of a scriptwriting community called Celtx. They used to run short competitions on their forum, based on prompts. Their 14th competition, in 2008, asked for a ‘script over 5 pages of a meeting between two formerly-close friends that haven’t seen one another for over a year.’
I titled my seven-page entry Meet Me Next June. It was set in a café where two formerly-close friends, June (ho ho) and Emily, were experiencing a less-than-comfortable reunion. Friends for years, they had fallen out when June finally confessed her feelings and tried to kiss Emily. It’s a theme that I had been holding onto for a while.
At the time of writing Carte Blanche, I had been enthused by the Muse. Every now and then – rarely – you meet someone who captures your imagination. It’s never a deliberate thing, but it has the effect of wiring you into the mains, rather than running off double As.
Possibly for that reason, this story was one of the easiest to write; it just flowed onto the page. I think I knew, when I got to the end, that I’d written something special. It’s a hefty thing to say, but I still class this as one of the best pieces I’ve written to date. See what you think.
It was great. Thank you, Marion.
Marion Grace Woolley is the author of four novels and a collection of short stories. In 2009, she was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers.
Balancing her creative impulses with a career in International Development, she has worked and travelled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with ‘A’.
An associate member of the Society of Authors, Marion is currently at work on her fifth novel.
If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with psychological thriller novelist Rebecca Reid – the five hundred and fifty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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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 fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, 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.