A few months ago, in another little corner of cyberspace, a poster suggested that we have a writing competition. They posted a number of poems, and invited anyone who was interested to write a short story inspired by one of the poems.
Well, I read the poems, and the following one got my brain ticking:
Lost by (no author given)
Hollow footsteps, cloaked by night
Of sadness known through tortured sight;
The willow weeps for solitude
As Owl moans a gloomy interlude.
- Reflection in the glossy lake
"If I should die before I wake..."
A tear shatters the silent face
That seeks solace in this deserted place.
Wind whispers through the willow's leaves,
And Owl, perched high, silently grieves.
The glow from city lights afar
Swallow whole a falling star.
A wish upon the trembling lips
For peace. A raven gently sips
The water near his honored guest,
But soon flies to his hidden nest.
Weary beneath the flowing cloak,
The traveller rests against an oak
And fights the lure of heavenly sleep
-"I pray the Lord my soul to keep..."
Forever lost, each journey taken
Plagues the mind; the nights awaken
Troubled visions, thoughts of yesterdays,
That seem like beacons - lives away.
Random comforts cannot ease this soul,
For knowledge takes its weary toll
'Pon one who suffers with each breath,
Who slept once in peace, then awoke in death.
The following story was the result. And it occurred to me that it wouldn't be a bad idea (or perhaps it is!) to give it a home here. It was an intriguing experience writing it, because it's light years from anything that I'd written before or since. See what you think.
Evening dips its toes into the incoming dark, feeling the cool pull of unstoppable night. One world dies as another comes to life. Street lights flicker awake. The breeze is negligible but cooling after the heat of day.
Beneath the bruised sky a woman hides in the shadows and scuttles with care between patches of covering gloom as the dusk descends and people stride purposefully past to pick up their lives elsewhere.
The minutes pass. Unobserved, weary beneath the flowing coat, she rests against a wall and sighs. But exhaustion is mingled with excitement and her heart pounds as she bides her time. The glow from city lights could dwarf a star, yet in her corner she remains unseen. A sparrow in the narrow alleyway gently sips the water near his guest, but soon flies to his hidden nest, leaving her to seek solace in this deserted place.
The minutes pass. She watches as the shops close; as shutters glide down, as doors are locked, as ‘open’ signs are spun to say otherwise: and then – half envious half chivvying them away – as the shop assistants leave for the day, chatting and gossiping amongst themselves and into mobile phones, their laughter spreading out as the emptying streets echo with departing life.
The minutes pass and still she waits to be sure that she is alone. A cat slinks past, brushing against her and, with an insouciant flick of its luxuriant tail, disappears into the gloom in search of mice. She listens to the beat of her heart, the whisper of her breath; feels the pulse near the surface of her skin; feels safe in the dark, in the silence. And finally, certain at last that no one else is in sight, that nobody will see her, she steps out into the deserted street.
Neon reflected in a glossy puddle proclaims all the pleasures that can be bought from the shops around her. She gazes into vast windows, mesmerised by plastic flesh, pristine and faultless, draped in creations of exuberant colour and texture. Vacant eyes stare over her shoulder, ignoring her – as she knows everyone ignores her. How odd that being so large should make her feel so small.
Silk scarves of almost impossible delicacy drape from long, thin fingers, unmoving. Unattainable elegance scorns her gauche clumsiness and yet she stares with longing; with a belief that this could – should – be possible for her too.
Gods, plastic gods; to be worshipped and adored: looked up to as they preside over vast cathedrals of glitz and glamour, of beauty and perfection. Praise them and pass the concealing stick. Beacons, these unthinking dummies – many lives away from hers: a perpetual, impossible challenge to her own body, which she hides forever beneath formless grey that promises never to reveal her secret curves.
And she buries herself deeper, deep in the dark shadows, staying away from people, saving them the sight of her grossness. Only the gods can see her failings when she comes to them.
Fortune has been kind to her – parents who left her wealthy enough that she never has to leave the house for work each day; no mixing with those who are more beautiful that she is; no mixing with anyone, then.
The money grows of its own accord, without effort, while the internet – blessedly impersonal – takes care of basic needs: but they’re animal comforts that never ease her soul.
Unused credit cards sing siren songs from an unopened purse, urging her to give them air; to flash them brazenly at sales assistants and spend, spend, spend. To enjoy life. To experience life.
There’s so much money waiting to be spent that she could buy anything she wanted: but what she wants, money can’t buy.
Threadbare emotions, worn through by lack of care, lay bare a throbbing pain, as prodigious as her fecund bank accounts.
And still she gazes at the mannequins with their alabaster skin and curveless figures, longing to look like them because, when she does – if she could – then everything will be different; everything will be alright.
She turns from the windows that comfort and torture, and trudges through the city, back to her twilight existence on the edge of life.
Hollow footsteps, cloaked by night, sound on the naked wood. In dusky rooms, damp with the disappointment of decades, the mirrors tease her; like fairground gimmicks, they warp her before her own eyes. It’s a sadness known through tortured sight. A tear shatters her silent face.
Interred in the kitchen, she mixes ingredients with unexpected ferocity into every variety of cake imaginable. But she never eats – not even a lick from the wooden spoon – muttering instead an obsessive mantra that reminds her that, if only she can lose enough weight, if only she can cut enough calories, her life can start.
But she cannot stop wanting, cannot stop thinking about food. So she bakes the dark hours away, throwing flour and salt and eggs and cream and spices and milk into bowls and moulds; mixing and stirring and creating; the vast oven a surrogate womb, dispensing the fruits of her lust onto racks to cool as the night moves to day and she tries to beat past the need for food; for comfort.
Under bruised skies once more she scurries outside to a nearby home for the infirm, leaving cakes on the doorstep and running away again before anyone can see her.
Exhausted; gothic pale, she hides from the sun in her lair, heavy curtains blotting out the light. After the night’s work, she slumps into a chair in front of the muted TV, defeated once more, lonely and miserable, stuffing her face with chocolates, lips tinted brown like one of those store mannequins she envies so much.
She sleeps, but barely in peace, then awakes to a living death as the sky darkens once more; as a willow weeps in solitude and a nearby owl moans a gloomy interlude. There’s a wish upon her trembling lips for peace, but knowledge takes its weary toll and each journey taken plagues her mind, while the nights awaken troubled visions and thoughts of yesterdays. With nothing to follow but more of the same.