Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Author's week with RTB!

Check out Eldin's blog for author's week, starting now! Some awesome writers, some great competitions and some unbelievable prizes! * ** ***

* there is talk of a camel
** Ok, so Josephine Damien may have started that one
*** Some of us may have joined in...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Robin's story - fourth and final part

The next week, in the middle of the week, and almost into September, Randall T. asked me if I could call in sick, if I could go with him on a trip out of town, down I-65 to the small towns up and down it, and him seeing some doctors and selling them his pharmaceuticals. So I called in sick and I rode down into the country with Randall T. while he peddled his wares, or his pills, anyway, so we could go on a small-scale grand adventure for a couple of days.

He told me he was tired of me always being in jeans all the time. I’d gone back to wearing them now that I was at his house when we were together, so he bought me this zip-up brown jumpsuit, thin chocolate-brown corduroy, new for our trip. It was soft like velvet. When I told him that, about it feeling soft on me and how I liked that, Randall T. said it was perfect for me then, because I was soft like velvet, too.

He had a CB in his work car, so he could jabber on it and say over when he was done, like the truckers all did. And he had a handle he went by, like a code name to play secret road agent. It wasn’t quite as stupid as Glad-he-ate-her, although it was close.

So I wore my new jumpsuit, there at the end of summer, sitting beside Randall T. in the car while he played with his CB all the way down the highway, him talking to the truckers, and then grinning big. A couple of times when a truck flew on past us, the trucker would get on his con and say something about that little beauty that guy in the Buick had along for the ride, and Randall T.’d look over at me and grin again, and he’d say, Bet you liked hearing that, didn’t ya Renae? And I kind of did like it, but I was too embarrassed to say so.

I sat in the car and waited while Randall T. went in and out of doctor’s offices here and there all the way down to Cave City. Then he turned down a slip road off I-65, and we called it a night at a roadside motel, even though it was only afternoon.

The hotel had a pool. I never got the chance anymore to swim in a pool. I hadn’t been swimming since I’d known Eugene, but I didn’t mention him when I said I wanted to jump in the warm water. When I said that part to Randall T., he told me that he’d take me.

Maybe it was the lateness of the day, and the angle of the sunlight, shining straight across my line of vision, brightening everything in sharp relief along its path, the turquoise of the pool paint, the wide slats on the lounges. Maybe it was the high hum of the air conditioners, lined up in all the windows and running full tilt. I don’t know. Maybe it was those things, or maybe it was just being away. But breathing time was gone. And it had been replaced with a funny feeling, that I wasn’t there, that I was a moment in time, that I had become a part of memory, it’s just that I hadn’t left yet. There are moments, pieces of time that you punch through and you see it and you know this, even if you can’t find the words to say you see it. Like there, sitting at the hotel pool with Randall T. And me wearing a silky cranberry-colored bikini and me just jumping into the water to get wet, because I was hot, and coming up out of the water, feeling around me, hearing it move around my ears, leaning back in and dipping my head backwards into the water to smooth my hair back. And climbing out and walking over to Randall and hearing a boy, a boy in the pool resting his elbows up on the concrete edge, asking Randall if he was my daddy. And Randall saying What like that embarrassed him, and then him saying to the boy No, no, she’s my daughter, kid, and he stood up and walked to me with a towel and leaned over and said in my ear, Did you hear that, Renae, what that kid said? And I said I did and I said I thought it was funny and don’t worry about it, Randy, is what I said.

And then we walked over to a different set of lounges away from that rude boy and we sat down, but Randall sat down right beside me there in the hot sun. He sat there on the same lounge with me, just sat, and we didn’t lie back, and the sun went under a cloud just then, and you know how even on a hot, hot day, if there’s a breeze and the sun goes under a cloud, you can get a shock of cool air hit your skin? I got a shock of cool right then, and I shivered, and Randall put his arm around me, and he put his leg right up against mine, to warm me up, and he rubbed on my other leg with the white hotel towel. The air was quiet all around us and the only sounds seemed far away right then, like the traffic noise out on the highway in front of the hotel. And the air conditioners, running and running.

Randall T. told me stories that night, lying on the bed after we’d made love. How he wanted to move to Colorado and ski and make a mint with a plan he had, how he was gonna do just that, and soon. How he’d lost his one eye when he was young. How he’d tried to keep his head very still while they thought his eye was healing, how the healing didn’t work. How much he loved his little girl, but what he really wanted were some sons.

The next morning, we drove back home, me to Jeff and Tony; Randall T. to his big house and whatever he did with his weekends.
The next week was the week before my birthday, and Randall T. said we’d celebrate together. When I said, What day are we going out, he said, We’ll see, honey.

On the Tuesday night, which was just about my regular night by now, I went out to his house. He’d rolled a big joint for us. We toked away on it for a while, made love on his big brown bear rug. Lying there after, the nestling didn’t feel quite right.

“A funny thing happened last weekend,” Randall T. said. When he went to pick up his little girl for his visitation right, his ex-wife, Veronica, answered her apartment door in her panties, and nothing else. “I guess she thought I’d be turned on. I wasn’t, though.” He looked over at me, looking solemn, looking serious as a heart attack. “I wasn’t.”


I hadn’t known Randall T. all that long, but I already knew a lot about him. He wore leisure suits. His favorite one was a beige polyester number with dark brown stitching. Polyester Western Man was what I figured he was going for. I figured Randall T was a little like me; he had lots of things he could be but since he couldn’t decide which one he was still tinkering. He was a western man, a hunter and a skier; he was a pharmaceutical sales rep, he was an aging hippy pot-smoking fool, he was into sex and bunnies, and he wanted to be rich. He was everything and nothing at the same time, but he was making a lot more money than I was while he was making up his mind, so no one was laughing at him, at least to his face. That’s how it seems to work in life. Even if you’re an idiot, if you have money, people don’t tell you you’re an idiot. They just smile, and hang around for handouts.

So the next week, on my birthday, I drove up to Cincinnati, and got the job at the Playboy Club, on the day I turned twenty-one.

Driving home later on, in the dark, back down to my city, life took on the feeling of cruise control, which is a good and dangerous feeling. Dangerous because the drive itself became a game and seemed more important than anything else that had just happened, with the longhaired gray suited manager man, with the changing into the blue Bunny suit, with the saying I’d start next Monday, when I hadn’t quit my old job yet.

But that didn’t matter there in the dark on the long interstate drive back home. Keeping the same speed, darting in and out of the traffic and taking my chances to keep my speed constant, chances I’d never take when using the pedals to speed up or slow down. The game of it became more important than the point of the journey home. The journey became the point. It took me over. If I could’ve kept driving with no end in sight, well, that would‘ve the best thing. My MG didn’t have cruise control. But that night, it sure felt like it did. And that part was good.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Quick break for a meme for Aerin

"An epithet, a characteristic word (or phrase) replaces or is used together with a person's proper name. Sports and entertainment are among the many rich sources of epithets. Capitalize epithets, but do not use quotation marks."

Science and Technical Writing: A Manual of Style. Philip Rubens, General Editor.

This will make sense to Aerin and now she has to come visit us here!

Robin's story, part 3

Randall T. opened the door almost as soon as I knocked. He walked me inside, to a wide room with stone floors and thick-piled brown rugs. A fireplace sat directly across from the front door, built into a wall of stone running along the back of the house. The room was a cavern.

“Come and sit down with me for a few minutes – before we have dinner, “ Randall T. said, motioning me along with him on into the room.

I’d been thinking and thinking about having it happen like this, with me sitting on his sofa, with me sitting in his house, and him right beside me, grinning big. We were both grinning big, me from the shock of finally finding myself sitting on his sofa, and him, I suppose, from the look on my face as I sat there, all content.

Randall T.’s sofa sat in the middle of his long living room, and, you know how you notice weird things when you’re nervous and excited? Well, I wasn’t nervous, but I was all excited, and in my heightened state, I could feel all the way through my jeans, the taut warmth and texture of the brown leather underneath me, with its deep polished sheen and its hard nubby pillows of red-brown-beige Indian prints propped up behind my back.

I felt something in my hand, and when I looked, I saw I still had my keys in my hand. I was worried about making any mark on Randall’s leather, so I got up and walked over to where I’d put my purse down, and I leaned over to put my keys inside it.

When I stood up and turned around, Randall T. was watching me. He looked a little strained as I explained this to him about my keys; he got a funny look on his face. I thought maybe he was mad, thinking about me making a mark on his good leather.

But then he said something about how nice it was to see me bend over; how women didn’t know how nice that was, seeing them bend over from behind. And then he got another funny look on his face. When I heard his bending over speech, I knew what the rest of his looks had been about.

He showed me to a round wooden table by one of the front living room windows, a nd he walked into the kitchen to carry in our dinner. When I asked him if he wanted any help; Randall T. said no, he wanted to do this all for me, just for me, and I should let him wait on me.

I tunred around in my chair and looked around the room again while Randall T. was gone. There were animal parts everywhere. There was a big deer over the fireplace, a buck with antlers. There were lamps on the end tables like none I’d ever seen before; their stands were made of animal legs. The hoofs were still on them, holidng up the lamps like they used to hold up the deer they used to be part of. There were snowshoes, or I guessed they were snowshoes, since I’d never seen one before, hanging on the fireplace wall, and they looked like they had animal tails hanging up there with them.

Randall T. walked in then, so I turned back around to the table. He brought me his meal of little dead birds on rice, and some green beans, and some wine. The dead birds, he said, were quail.He told me he’d baked them for me, just for me, because they were little, and he thought I’d like them, small like that. I said thank you.

Looking at my dead bird made me feel bad. I moved it around on my plate while Randall T. was talking to me and biting into his bird. The flesh came apart here and there while I forked it around, umtil it looked like I’d eaten some of it, and that was good. I ate the rice and the beans, and drank the red wine Randall T. poured me. I didn’t like it much.

He cleaned off the table pretty fast, and he asked me if I wanted to see his patio with him. We walked out the kitchen door to the side yard of his house. He switched on the patio lights as we walked outside. There were containers of pot everywhere, sitting alongside lounges, sitting on wooden tables. Everywhere.

“Aren’t you worried the cops are gonna find out about these, and you’ll get in trouble?” I said. “I mean, everyone I know hides theirs.”

Randall laughed. His laugh sounded filtered. He kept his lips almost together when he laughed, so his laugh made a kind of wet air sucking sound as it came and went in and out of him. It made him sound like he wasn’t worried about anything, ever, world without end, amen.

“Nah, Renae.” Randall T. laughed his little filtered laugh again. He motioned all around us with an arm and a hand, motioning out into the blue-black darkness, cut off like a wall from the reach of the patio lights. “Look around, honey. We’re out in the woods here. No one comes back here without a reason.”

He looked down at me. “Don’t worry. It’s safe. We can do whatever we wanna do out here, and nobody’ll ever be the wiser.”

Randall let out a breath like he was exhaling something better than only air. “Ready for some of the best weed you’ll ever have?” He had the funny look on his face again, the hard-jawed look men have when they’re waiting, when they’re waiting and they’re finished with the smiling. So I said yes.

I didn’t want Randall T. to know I couldn’t tell good weed from bad, that I didn’t even know how to roll a joint because Jeff and Tony rolled them for me, so as I enhaled and held and exhaled along with him, out there on his patio, sitting on the side of one of his big wooden lounge chairs together, I nodded and agreed when he told me this was some of the best shit anyone around here could ever get. Pretty soon, I was messed up in the good way of being messed up, when everything seems right and worth doing, when life isn’t just one long thick line of daily bore. That’s when we took our clothes off, and we walked inside and up his stairs.

He had a furry brown rug up in his bedroom, spread out over part of the gold carpet underneath it, a big rug of a dead bear’s fur, and the bear’s head on there, too, right in front of Randall T.’s bedroom fireplace. And we were laughing and he had his hands on me and I had mine on him, just where he wanted me to, just where he told me, and pretty soon I had my head leaning back of the back of that bear’s dead head, and Randall T. was inside of me.

After, we smoked another joint, and we laid out there on the rug in the dark, and we told each other stories. And he told me some things about himself that I should’ve hated, but I didn’t hate them in my altered state, in the altered place where lives the part of you that doesn’t have to play pretend. That he had done some bad things with women, but he was doing better now.

You wouldn’t think this was a secret, but there you go, turns out it is. It’s a secret you have to find out for yourself every time because no one believable will tell you out loud, that you can be good and bad and it can work out like that. Good and bad, and no one tells you being this way makes you clearer in the head than the just being only good can make you. Like me, fucking men sometimes just for the feeling of it and the look of the hairs on their bellies, or the line of their thighs, and how beautiful it is and how precisely alive, to look at and to see and to lean over and feel with your cheek and smell of as you’re feeling of it, the hairs and the belly skin and the place where they grow, right there at the bottom of their bellies.

And Randall T. said, as we settled down into the fur beneath us, as we settled down to rest, wouldn’t it great, wouldn’t it be something, he said, if he had a bunny spraddled over this brown bear’s big head, and I was that bunny.

“Man,” he said, “man, that would really be something.”

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Robin's story, part 2

It's awful quiet round here. Are you all still recovering from your hangovers after EE's birthday party?! Over to Robin (part 1 below)...

And what Randall T. said was would I like to have dinner with him on Friday night, and I said yes I would. And he said he’d pick me up at seven and he asked me my address, but I said no, I’d meet him there instead, wherever we were eating, because I was going to be out anyway.

I wasn’t about to give Jeff and Tony a shot at meeting this guy and teasing the crap out of me, or embarrassing me, which would’ve been even worse. Because it looked to me like Randall T. was at least a decade older than we all were. My biggest clue on that was the way he was dressed - in this kinda shiny beige polyester leisure suit with dark brown stitching. That and his face looked older. That and no guy I’d ever known would’ve been caught dead with hair permed all curly. No. If their hair it was curly, well then it was curly, and if it was straight, it was straight. Fake curly hair was pussy hair, as far as my pothead hang about friends that were boys were
concerned. I was on the fence about it now, watching Randall T. grin as I’d said yes.

So I went out to dinner with a leisure-suited man named Randall T. Macon. I met him in the parking lot of a place called Steak n Ale; with its half-timber Tudor façade, it looked like merry ole’ England had landed smack in the middle of a long, long strip of an asphalt parking lot along Interstate 64 right along the northernmost line of the Mason-Dixon line, circa 1976. And it was feeling fine. The parking lot was full. The place was jammed.

I had on my one pair of insurance-company-work navy dress pants that I thought would maybe double as a dinner out thing to wear without looking stupid. Randall was leisure-suited up all fine, wearing a brown shiny version of the leisure suit he’d worn before. He turned to talk to some man who came in, and as they shook hands, I looked over Randall, and under his jacket, I saw his nice bottom, sheathed in polyester and looking just fine.

The hostess seemed to know Randall. She said his table was ready, and she swept us away to it, whooshing menus back and forth as she walked us on over there. Randall motioned me to follow right behind her; he kept his hand on the lower forty of my back while we wandered around tables to the one she had waiting just, she said, for us.

Randall scooted me close to the table, once I was in my chair. That was a new sensation, beng scooted. I liked it. Randall walked to his side of the table and he sat down and I was quiet, very quiet, while he perused a leather-bound linen sheet of a wine list with those odd two eyes of his, and I perused parts of him other than his bottom, and some of our surrounding. My perusal took me on a tour of the color beige. Textured beige walls, looking like stucco, beige-on-beige patterned table coverings, the dark brown wood of our chairs offset by beige upholstery. Yeah, we were swimming in low lit placid.

After a quiet few minutes of Randall reading his wine list , I felt an antsy deep color-deprived need to peruse on over to look at Randall’s face, to really take him in, because I hand’t really taken much of him in before, except that he was older, and he wanted to know me, and I was surprised. I watched his eyes, how they didn’t move together when he read, how they weren’t the same color. I’d seen a cat like that once, with two colors of eyes.

Finally, Randall looked up and saw me looking over at him.

“Hungry?” he said.

“Uh huh.”

“I think,” Randall said, “I think I’m gonna order a Chivas insteada wine, so we won’t need a bottle. Red or white for you, Renae?”

And I couldn’t bring myself to say I wasn’t twenty-one, so I’d never had a drink in a restaurant before, and I was worried I’d spill on myself and make a big mess, so I said white, because it was clear.

And he ordered our drinks and he told me what to order when I said I hadn’t been there much before. I was worried about what I’d say while we were eating, but that wasn’t a problem. Randall had that covered.

I dropped my salad fork, but I didn’t think he noticed. While I chewed on my caesar salad with the longer fork, hoping he wouldn’t wonder why I’d do that, Randall told me, grinning big like he did underneath his thick and sandy-colored moustache, all about his ex-wife Angela, the one he’d knocked up, he said, in college. About how he’d done his duty, like his father said he had to do, and he married her. They’d had to live in a trailer for a while down on the flatlands near the river in Indiana, away from the university, and that had really pissed him off, that living in a trailer part, while he worked at night and got through the rest of his classes in the day and that wasn’t how his life was supposed to be. And they’d moved over here and now he’d left her, her and his little girl, and he missed his little girl, but he couldn’t take any more of being trapped with Angela, and he knew he’ d been trapped. He knew it even though he couldn’t prove it, and he’d done all he could do, staying with until his daughter was ten. And now, he was free, is how he said it. And he saw his daughter every other weekend, and on Thursdays, too.

On the way out of the parking lot later, I heard a weird scraping sound following along with me, and when I looked down, I saw the fork I’d dropped earlier. It was dangling off the macramé on the underside of my purse, scraping the asphalt while I walked along. When Randall kissed me goodnight by my car, I held my purse very still, so he couldn’t see the restaurant’s fork, gangling there and laugh at me.

That’s what we did for a few weeks. Randall called me at work and said did I want to go out to dinner, and I said yes, and we met in parking lots in the dark. And then one day, Randall said he’d pick me up at work, and did I want to go to his house. And I said yes, I did want to go there, but I would drive.

And I did. On a Friday night, I drove out in the county to the fieldstone house belonging to Randall T. Macon, pharmaceutical rep and man about town. The first thing I noticed was how big it was. The second thing I noticed were the pot plants growing large and luxurious in big clay planters, right on either side of Randall T.’s front door.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Robin's story

This is the first part of Robin's Procrastination Buster Speed Story. If there are any rules, they go roughly like this... A section a day. Can be a new story or a significant rewrite. Must be complete within three/four days. Readers to make helpful comments. Simple. Enjoy. And quake. I may turn tagger on this one.

This is...Hoof Man (a chapter from Robin's novel)

I’d been driven north to Cincinnati when I was young. There was a zoo up there, and an opera house, and sometimes the people from the opera house went over to the zoo and sang in an outdoor amphitheater to bring opera to the people, is how my father said it to me, and we drove up there on a weekend afternoon to get some cheap culture and listen to the zoo animals baying and moaning with the opera singers in their evening performance, and, even though that animal part wasn’t supposed to be part of the show, it was the best part. We knew we’d better not laugh, or we’d get it, but I was laughing inside. That was almost just as good.

The second time I drove up to Cincinnati I drove up alone in my blue MGB that was the color blue that matched my eyes, people said. I had an appointment with the manager of the Playboy Club on my twenty-first birthday. I was really nervous, so I kept saying to myself OK, panic bone, calm down, just calm down, and it didn’t matter anyway if I got a job or not there, but I said I’d try so I was trying, I was trying. Then the manager, this older guy with stringy brown hair that looked longer than most men wore when they had on dress suits like the one this guy had on, he had me change into a blue bunny suit to try me out, he said, and I walked into his office and he looked me up and down and didn’t talk much but he adjusted his glasses and looked some more and then he said I would do and when could I start, so I said Monday. I ended with a name change and propped-up pantyhose boobs. And I did all that driving and changing to make Randall T. Macon, the Hoof-Lamp Man, happy.


Here is how it started. I was antsy, and I knew I was going to be staying that way unless something different came along, and then one day, just like it happens in stories, something different just fell in my lap like a gift from a stranger, when this girl Charisse invited me home from the office with her. There was a man she knew, she said, and he wanted to meet me. She said he’d seen me downstairs in the lobby one day, delivering some papers, and he knew Charisse from before, and he asked her to introduce us.

So she asked me what did I think, and I didn’t know what I thought, I only knew I was antsy, so I said all right, sure, because it was a hot summer afternoon and I was always only about an inch away from being flat dead broke, so there was nothing much else for me to do but go back home and sit in the living room with Jeff and Tony, maybe cook out on the little grill on the back stoop, and wait to see who came walking through our living room door to sit down with us and pass away the rest of the day.

And that’s how I ended up over at her little box of a white-walled apartment at this apartment complex called The Something Something Pines, way out in the county. And that’s how I ended up enduring a weird little interview that felt more like a one-woman lineup, with me just about standing back against the wall right inside Charisse’s front door that looked like wood but was really thick plastic. This guy with one pale hazel eye and one other eye not quite looking at me and not quite the same color as the other, stood across from me, grinning big and looking me over. Because when I drove out to her apartment after work, she’d beaten me there, and so was the man who said he wanted to meet me.

“Renae, this is Randy. Randy, Renae.”

I nodded over at Randall T., standing beside where Charisse was seated on her sofa, and he nodded over at me, and kept grinning, as Charisse spoke her pleasantries. And she looked like she was enjoying herself. I thought maybe that was because she’d worked to make her voice sound this certain way, like a permanent customer service voice, all low and pleasant, and just a little husky, so she liked hearing it, and feeling proud, sitting there like a Buddha lady draped in billows of fabric on her small white sofa. At work, she hardly ever moved from a spot once she’d planted herself there, and it looked like she lived that way at home, too.

Charisse, I thought, thought Charisse was quite a lady. For one thing, she had her manners. For another, she had her face mole. Charisse loved her little face mole. You could tell because she fingered it a lot, and called it her beauty mark, sitting there on one of her big smooth cheeks, alongside her nose. Charisse just seemed made up, like she grew up with her butt planted on that sofa, like she came fully formed like that, all grown up and hefty. It made her seem not real, right on down to her name that sounded made up to me.

The three of us stood there for a longer minute than I thought possible with only the one sentence lingering between us. Then I thought that was because I was supposed to say something, maybe it was my turn, but I didn’t know what to say. I was going to say nice to meet you, but I’d better be going, when Randall T. finally talked.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Got tagged...

Twice. Once by Aerin and once by Blogless Troll.

Better do it then, hadn't I?

These are the rules:

a. Link to the person who tagged you.
b. Post the rules on your blog.
c. Write six random things about yourself.
f. Let your tagger know when your entry is up.

I know, no d & e. I thought if I was going to blatantly disobey those rules, I wouldn't even mention them.

1. Sometimes I disobey rules.

2. Life is much easier since I realised I didn't have to make everybody like me.

3. I still hate it when people hate me.

4. There is only one person in my life who I actively dislike, I disliked her at first sight and two years on, everybody else who liked her at first sight now dislikes her too. Am I psychic or just ahead of my time?

5. Despite all this I'm actually quite nice.

6. German men think I'm pretty. After a while I guess all that sleek blonde hair and golden sun tan thing can get a bit dull, and you get a hankering for the curly red hair and pale skin that Scottish guys think is uberdull.

How's that?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Birthday EE!

Two years already, my how times flies when you're having fun.

Ode to an Evil Editor

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That surfs on high o'er net and web
When all at once I saw a crowd*
A host of giggling minionettes**
A single blog had pulled the folk
All filled with laughter by one bloke***

The blogs beside him danced, but he
Outdid the sparkling wits in glee
A writer could scrawl quite happily
In such laughing company
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought

For oft when at my keys I sigh
In vacant or in pensive mood
He flashes upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
And then my heart with pleasure fills
For love of Evil Editor's skills

* poetic licence, actually it was the late, great Miss Snark that sent me your way
** poetic licence, I think at that point there were about ten
*** no more poetic licence, it was fun from the start baby!


Monday, April 21, 2008

Procrastination Buster - Aerin's up!

Check out Aerin's blog - she's picked up the challenge of writing a serial story in just a few days. (And she's tagged me too - post coming up later when the kids are quiet - it's holiday time here!)

Please visit Aerin's blog and see how her story's coming along.

Hey, this approach worked for Dickens... Robin's going to be doing it too, and her story will be posted here, so keep watching for updates.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fourth and final part

Dedicated to Robin this time. I wasn't originally planning on posting the whole story here - I was just short on blog ideas, so I thought I'd plonk a bit of story down and see if anyone commented. You did, you lovely people, and so I had to finish it (I knew how it would finish, but hadn't quite got there yet...). Now Aerin and Robin are going to take up the challenge of writing their own stories over a three/four day period. It looks like Aerin's going first, starting Monday, then Robin, starting Friday. Aerin will post on her own blog - I'll post details here, but Blogless Robin's will appear here.

If you have any great ideas for a name for this challenge, or you'd like to take it up yourself, post them in the comments, but in the meantime here is the fourth and final part of 'The woman in the wall'

He's actually taking good care of me. I haven't had the energy to step out the door, but he goes on the bus to Edinburgh every couple of days and brings back food, real food – fresh things that need peeling and chopping – and he chips, chops, fries and grills and makes things that taste good to eat. I'm not used to that.

'I didn't know you could cook,' I mumbled at him one day through a mouthful of grilled lamb with parsnip mash.

'Eck loaned me a book or two,' he said. 'It's no' that hard once you get the hang of it.'

I twist the cheque in my hands and look out through the window and through the air, and see nothing but trees and hills and blue, blue sky. I should go out, but I can't, and it's not just lack of energy. I need the woman in the wall, but she's still not talking and I can't figure out if the silence between us is the comfortable silence we've enjoyed so often, or just silence. When Dad's there, it's fine, but when he's out, the silence is so loud it deafens me, but no matter how much I call her, she won't talk to me. Maybe it's Dad. Maybe she won't talk until he's gone.

What if he doesn't go?

'How long are you staying?' I ask him now. He's wiping dishes and putting them away in the kitchenette. He's reorganised the cupboards 'so things are near where they're needed', he says. At home Mum never put a thing away, but Dad likes order.

He puts down the tea towel and leans over the counter to look at me, like he wants me to speak to him. 'I've let the flat go, hen,' he says. 'Eck's been over and cleared out my stuff, no' that there's much worth clearing, and he'll store it for me for a while.'

How easy it sounds. 'I've let the flat go.' Within a week the council will have somebody else living in it, somebody else struggling to see the sky through the tower blocks. Maybe they won't mind, because they won't have the memories. Of stepping over my father, drunk and unconscious in the hallway. Of my mother's hand, open on the kitchen table like a pale spider, fingers chewed to the bone by the cat and yet unbleeding. Of Benito, in Dad's hands one moment, gone the next, tossed over the railing outside the flat, his tabby fur invisible against the dingy buildings, then his blood spreading like tomato sauce over chewing-gum plastered pavement below while his falling yowl still echoed through the narrow canyons between the high-rises.

But I don't say any of that. 'So, where you planning on living then?'

He smiles. 'I thought I'd stay here wi' you a while.' I don't say anything, but he takes that as a 'yes', because the next day he goes on one of his trips to Edinburgh and comes back with a pile of paint swatches and presents them to me with the same shy smile he did when I was a kid and he came back with Benito, just a puff of black fur in his hands.

'I don't like cats,' Mum said.

'Well, I do,' he said. 'And so does Jackie.' I had no idea I liked cats, but the moment Benito twitched in my arms I knew I loved him.

I fan the swatches out. Creams, yellows and terracottas, all warm colours. 'What's are these for?'

'Thought I might do a bit of painting, maybe get a bit of renovation going for you. Pay for my keep.'

I fold the swatches back together. 'I like the yellow,' I say. 'The honey one.'

'Aye, me too,' he says. 'Honey sunshine. Like painting summer on the walls. So I'll do it then.'

By answer, I reach behind the sofa cushion and pull out the cheque. 'I got this,' I said. 'Can you pay it into the bank for me?' I ask.

He looks at it and his eyes do little circles. It's four times as much money as he'd make in a year.

'You'll be wanting an interior decorator wi' this,' he says. 'No' me and my paint pot.'

'No,' I say. 'Honey sunshine will be fine. This might need to do me…us…for a while.'

'Why don't you come into Edinburgh with me?' he says. 'A wee trip out'd do you good.'

'I'm not well enough,' I said. 'I can't leave the house.'

I don't want to miss the woman in the wall, but he's ready with the paint two days later and there's no sign of her.

'Can you start with that one?' I say, pointing at her wall. Maybe she'd like a new dress, maybe she'll come out to say thank you. Or maybe I'm angry with her and I just want to stir her up a bit.

I make mugs of tea, while Dad gets going with the preparation, peeling off strips of old-people wallpaper with his bare hands. Watching him work, like when I was a kid and he was always doing odd jobs in the flat. Before the drinking. Making shelves, painting walls, even making me new toys. A strip of wood salvaged from a skip could turn into a rocking horse, a doll, even a dog. I'd forgotten about that, like I'd lost the good memories along with the bad.

'You like doing this kind of thing, don't you?' I said. 'Maybe you should do it for work.'

He turns from the wall for a minute. 'I only like doing it for you, lass,' he says and for a moment our eyes meet.

'When you had me…everything was fine with you and mum, wasn't it?' I ask.

'There's no need to talk around it, lass,' he says. 'Aye, there was no drink and no drugs then.'

'Why just me, then? Why just the one child?'

'We only wanted the one,' said Dad. 'You were special. That's why you had the two names, one for each of us.'

'I hate my name.'

'We thought it was braw. 'Jacqueline' – that was my favourite name. 'Marie' – that was your mum's. Jacqueline-Marie. It's got a ring to it, we thought, mixing the new and the old. A hint of the big world with the heart of Glasgow. Jacqueline-Marie."

Nobody ever says my whole name all together, and said slowly in his rolling accent it suddenly sounds different. Richer.

'Maybe you should use it more often, instead of Jackie,' I say. 'If you like it so much. Maybe…maybe you could make me like it.'

He smiles at me. 'It'd be my pleasure, lass,' he says and then he turns back to the paper. White powder flutters down with the shreds of paper, then flakes and chunks of plaster crumble off and fall to the floor as he works his way towards the window corner. 'This plaster's rotten,' he says. 'I'll need to redo that and all.' He taps the wall thoughtfully. 'It's no' original,' he says. 'Maybe it's plasterboard over the original. Let's have a look.' He picks up a hammer from floor and taps the wall harder, then hefts it for a minute, preparing for a harder strike.

For a moment I think about stopping him. But why? She's gone anyway. I'm Jacqueline-Marie. I am my father's daughter. All that I am is all that he made me.

Dad smashes the wall with the hammer and the plaster shatters like hard icing, in a cloud of white dust, that makes him turn away, coughing. Cracks radiate out far beyond the point of contact, which is a dark, ragged-edged hole. Out of the hole drops a yellowing skeletal hand, oddly elegant and relaxed, like a hand dangling over the edge of a bed. A gold wedding band glides slowly down one flaking finger, sliding from bone to bone, catching for a moment on the last knuckle, before slipping off and spinning through the dusty air to land softly in a bed of white powder.

'That's not me,' says the woman in the wall.

Third part

Dedicated to Blogless, this time. The fourth part should be the final one, but, um, not quite finished it yet. I'll try and do it tomorrow (my time) so I can stick with the daily posting schedule. Then I'm going to challenge somebody else to do this too! Or you can volunteer.

So when it comes to responsibility, the woman in the wall is a better candidate than my dad. The one good thing about dad is that he can get me out of here, so I smile sweetly and say: 'thanks, Dad,' all enthusiastic so the nurse can hear.

Because of the no-licence thing, the hospital arranges for a volunteer to drive us to the cottage. She's a square-shouldered older lady with grey helmet hair who smells of hairspray and fusty perfume. She helps me into the back of her car with a heap of fussing and seatbelt arranging. Dad makes as if to climb in after me, but I shut the door, so he has to go and sit in the front next to her. She witters on about the weather, and was I comfy in the back there, and the price of bread, and she doesn't shut up until I interrupt a story about her budgie to say: 'so, you'll be leaving as soon as we get to the cottage then, Dad. There's a bus stop up the road.'

Dad doesn't say anything for a moment, so the helmet-hair gets back on to the budgie story, until he interrupts her to say: 'Jackie, you'd have died if I'd no' found you when I had.'

Helmet-hair draws her breath in sharply between her teeth, and then even more sharply when he adds: 'You minded me of your mum when I found her after the overdose, you were that empty-looking and still.'

That offends me, because I'm no addict, unlike him and Mum, and I don't even want to look like someone who's an addict, so I jump the conversation on. 'Well, maybe you should have gone away down the pub for another drink, like you did when you found Mum, and then I'd be dead too.'

'Jac, your Mum was dead already. I've told you that many times I canna even do it nice any more. She was dead, with the needle still in her arm, and I just needed a drink to give me the strength to call the police in.'

'So you left her there for me to find.'

Helmet-hair's not got the strength to hiss any more breath in, but when I look at the back of her head, I can see her hair quivering despite the hairspray.

'I didnae ken you'd be home early. But…I've no excuses, Jackie. I'm no' going to make it sound any prettier than it is. I coundnae have brought your mother back, but I did the wrong thing. It took me more than twenty year to learn how wrong, but I ken it the now.' He turns round in his seat and looks right at me, and for the first time, probably because I've been avoiding looking at him, I notice that the whites of his eyes are that. White.

'Look,' he says. 'I'm no' drinking any more, hen. I've no job, I've no car, but I've no bottles rattling around in my pockets either. I'm a fully signed up member of AA, I go three times a week back in Glasgow, and I've been twice to the church up the road since you've been in the hospital. Back home I sit alongside Eck McKinnnon. He's been in the AA for over 30 years and I never even knew. He says that's why he'd give me a birl home after a night in the lock-up. There but for the grace of God, he says. And he says it's the grace of God that brought me to the AA, too. I dinny ken too much about God, but every morning when I wake up with my face in the pillow instead of in a pile of puke I've the manners to say thank you to Him if he's a hand in keeping me sober. But, if it's any help, hen, I'm awful sorry for your mother.'

I don't know whether he means he's sorry for not doing anything to help her, or, he's sorry she died so pathetically, sprawled across the kitchen table with my cat gnawing on her fingers. Or he's sorry I had to see it. Or even that he's sorry that she didn't have the courage to do what he's done and stop it all before it was too late. If he has stopped. I heard that one in a million different ways when I was a kid. 'Never again, Jackie.' 'Our lives'll change now I've stopped drinking.' 'Just one more chance, Jackie.'

I don't say anything else all the way home, and neither does he, and neither does Helmet-hair, so we never find out what happened to Joey, her budgie that flew out the window on a cold winter's night. When we get into the cottage I’m feeling a bit light-headed, so I let him help me in. He looks around as I flop on the sofa.

'No' done much wi' the place, have you?' he says. 'How's the sofa facing the wall and not the telly?'

'I don't watch television.' I close my eyes and when I open them again, there's a mug of black tea on the coffee table beside me and a note saying: 'Away to the shops for some milk and bread'. Well, I suppose he might as well get some supplies for me. I wonder if he's any idea where the shops are. If you turn right at the gate, the next village is only a mile away; if you turn left then you've three miles to go. The tea is cold, so I'm guessing he turned left.

'Hi,' I whisper, but nobody answers. 'Hi,' I say again, a bit louder. 'Hello? Where are you?'

No Dad. No woman in the wall.

When Dad gets back he's carrying more plastic bags than a bit of bread and milk would need. 'The bus stop's up the road,' I remind him.

'I ken,' he says. 'I got the bus into Edinburgh the day.' Then, without saying anything more, he unpacks a sleeping bag, a pillow and some new clothes. 'I forgot to bring any,' he says as he unpacks a packet of undies. 'I was in that much of a hurry when Stuart called me.'

'Why did Stuart call you?'

'Said he'd given you notice and you looked a bit weird. He was worried about you.'

'I don't need anyone to worry about me.'

'Aye. Right,' he says as he piles the bedding on the end of the sofa by my feet. 'Where's the shower?'

I don't tell him, but he finds it, and when he comes out, shaven and washed, he looks almost respectable. He sleeps on the sofa at night, and when I lie on it in the day, the cushions smell of cigarette smoke.

'I couldna give up the fags,' he says. 'I will, but no' too much at the one time.' He smokes outside, without my having to ask, but the smell still clings to him and I find myself breathing in deeply when he walks past me, and sometimes I bury my face in the sofa cushions, not to hide from the smell, but to absorb more. The smell of my childhood. I ate, slept, lived in a musk of cigarette smoke. I thought I hated it.

There's no sign of the woman in the wall. Perhaps it's because he's here. Perhaps she's shy. I whisper to her when he's in the toilet, or off to the supermarket, but there's no answer. I’m worried she's gone. There's so much I need to talk to her about. Not working is driving me mad, my fingers fidget on the arms of the sofa like it's a plush keyboard, but they're typing out nonsense. I've nothing to think about, and that's making me thing about things I don't want to think about. I've got to get back to work. Then I remember I've no work to go back to and my fingers fidget all the more, until I'm exhausted and slump back into sleep, clutching a cushion with a sharp-cornered zip that feels like one of Benito's claws.

After a few days, Dad brings in a letter from the hallway. A cheque from the office with a formal letter terminating my contract and offering me six month's redundancy. A pink post-it is stuck to the front of the letter. 'I fixed this up for you. Hope it helps. Stuart.' The post-it has a puppy in the corner. He must have picked up off Maddy's desk.

I rip the letter and post-it into shreds, then roll the cheque up into a little tube. Dad cleans up the shreds without asking what or why or even complaining. Sometimes I like him for that.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The second chunk of the story...

For Aerin. First chunk below for new readers. Let me know if you can handle more. Our ill heroine has just been sacked...

The room glows orange with late evening light and every breath I take binds my lungs more tightly in white-hot metal bands. For some reason, I'm thinking about Benito, the cat I had when I was a kid, and how it felt to have him curled up against me when I slept, warm and breathing. If I close my eyes and wriggle back against the cushions, it's almost as if he's there, snuggled into the curve of my back.

The woman in the wall stops singing. 'It was the name, wasn't it?'

'Yes.' She manages not to say, I told you so.

We sit up together through the darkness, but we don't talk. Through the window, I watch the brief night close down day and then the pale light of tomorrow fights it off again. At some point I crawl into the bedroom and change out of my crumpled suit into pyjamas, then I go back to the sofa to be with the woman in the wall and Benito. At some point I throw up, tearing more pain into my chest, and the woman in the wall says she's amazed I've anything to throw up, because as far as she can tell I've not eaten for days. At some point when the air is invisible again, I throw open the window and breathe it in deeply, which sets off such a coughing fit that the woman in the wall tells me to shut the window before I catch my death. At some point I sleep again and I dream about Benito, flying through the air with his legs and tail outspread, like some kind of five-limbed and wingless prehistoric bird. At some point I lose track of time. At some point the woman in the wall, frustrated by my silence, tells me it's her turn to talk, and she asks herself the questions she asks me and then she answers them too.

'Tell me where you're from,' she starts.

'Just outside Edinburgh,' she says.

'I ken Edinburgh very well,' she says, and now I hear that she's putting on a Glasgow accent. Like mine before I changed it.

'It's a tiny village,' she says. 'On the outskirts.'

'I ken most of the villages outside Edinburgh too,' she says, as me. I never say 'ken' now.

'I went to the village school,' she says, and then she hesitates, because she can't exactly stick to the script now.

'Och, I love the friendly family atmosphere of wee village school!' she improvises in her Glasgow-me voice.

'It wasny so friendly,' she says. 'And family can only go so far.'

'The woman in the wall?' she says. 'Unusual name for a girl.'

'Short for dead woman in the wall,' she answers and even the pain in my chest pauses for a moment.

'Shouldn't it be dead woman?' she-me asks.

'I ken, I ken, but that's no' a very nice name, now is it?' she says. 'Woman in the wall, now that's got a wee bit of a ring to it, that's a wee bit romantic. Dead, that's no' nice at all.' There's a snap in her voice, I think, but then she asks the next question and her voice is sweet again.

'So, you were an only child?'

'Aye. My parents only wanted the one. I was special, my father told me all the time.'

'What about your mother?'

'Och, she left, when I was just a bairn. I came home from the school one day and she was up and away and I never heard a word from her again.'

That's different. I always simply say that my mother died when I was young.

'So your father brought you up on his own?' she-me asks.

'Aye. All that I am is all that he made me.' And I find my mouth moving along with those words, even though I've never said them before.

She asks a new question at the end. 'Why did you never ask me any of these questions?'

She doesn't answer that one and neither do I. By then I'm using all my strength to squeeze air and out of my lungs, although I wonder why I bother, because all I'm doing is tightening those metal bands, millimetre by burning millimetre. I can't feel the sofa under my body. I think I may be floating. A man is talking, I think, or it might be a woman. Am I awake or dreaming? Alive or dead? I don't care, so I close my eyes and let go.

I wake up in hospital. I am still breathing, and although I feel as though something heavy and warm is living in my lungs the fire is gone. A drip dangles over my head and the room smells of alcohol, which helps me to work out that the slumped thing in the corner must be my father.

It's pneumonia and I'm there in the hospital for five days and he's there for most of it too, although I manage to ignore him for most of it. He tells me that Stuart called him when I didn't answer my phone. I never even heard it ringing. Dad was listed on my original application form as my next-of-kin, right next to the Jacqueline-Marie. Two mistakes on one form. If I've learned anything from this, it's to start the lying sooner.

The nurses are nice enough to him as well as me. They don't seem to notice the smell of alcohol. For a while I wonder if he's real, but then he comes over to the bed to kiss me, and I feel the stubble on his cheek and turn my head away so I won't have to smell his breath.

I don't talk, but he does. 'I'd to come on the bus,' he says. 'I lost my license a year or two ago.'

I'm only surprised it didn't happen sooner.

He's like the woman in the wall. Just keeps on talking, even though I don't say anything back. Asks his own questions, gives his own answers.

'What about my job, you'll be asking? Well, I lost that too. No' really a surprise. Good of them to keep me as long as they did. I'm doing volunteer work now, surviving off the bru.'

He sounds very philosophical. The alcohol helps with that. He seems to be there in his corner most of the time, though, so I'm not sure when he's doing his drinking.

I miss the woman in the wall. On day five the hospital say I can go home if there's somebody to look after me.

'I don't have anybody who can do that,' I say, because the woman in the wall can't exactly heat me up a tin of soup, and the nurse lets the forms fall back on to her clipboard and is already turning to leave the room when Dad says: 'aye, she does'.

'You don't know how to look after yourself,' I say.

'Ignore her, hen,' says Dad to the nurse. 'She's aye grumpy when she's sick. Where do I sign?' The nurse hands over the form, no doubt glad for the bed, and with a sweep of the pen I'm his responsibility again.

Not that he ever showed much responsibility. We let ourselves in and out of the flat with our own keys and sometimes I'd meet him in the kitchen, hunched over a whisky glass with a fag burning between his yellowy fingers, and I'd have to nudge him out of the way so I could get in to the cupboard for some baked beans for my tea.

More often he'd be off on some bender somewhere for a day or so, until Eck McKinnon would rap on the door to drop off a shambling beast, stinking of alcohol, fags and vomit. He'd not have to tell me my dad'd been in the cell again, but sometimes he would ask me, did I have enough to eat, because his Effie'd love to make me a casserole? I'd smile as the beast shuffled past me in the narrow corridor to his nest on the sofa and say, och, thanks Eck, but I've my cookbook and we're doing fine. Eck wasn't to know that I was my mother's pupil when it came to cooking. We lived off a diet of tins, toast and fish and chips from the shop on the corner. Unlike her, though, I didn't follow it with a heroin chaser.

I'd wave Eck away with a big smile and stand at the door of the flat, looking out at the grimy sky peeking between the tower blocks, listening to my dad retching inside and the police sirens going off outside. Not knowing if it would be better to be outside or in, or maybe just to jump right off the railings right here on the tenth floor of Sunlight Towers and splatter my blood like tomato sauce over chewing-gum plastered pavement below.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bigger chunk of the story...

The Woman in the Wall

I practice a lot at home. Tonight is no different.

'Tell me where you're from,' asks the woman in the wall and I do. She knows the story well enough now to correct me if I slip up. I know the story well enough not to.

'Just outside Glasgow,' I say.

'I ken Glasgow very well,' she says.

'It's a tiny village,' I say. 'On the outskirts.'

The wall is ordinary. Wallpapered with faded old-people wallpaper, to match the speckled formica kitchenette and pink bathroom suite. When I moved in I thought I might renovate, make it into a home, but it doesn't bother me that much. It's not like I've ever lived anywhere nice.

For now I just like that when I lie on the floor on my back and look up out of the windows I can see the air, real air that's invisible all the way up to the sky. Not second-hand city breath, but air as clean as a sheet on the line and smelling just as fresh. For that alone, the cottage is worth the long bus trip to work in Edinburgh.

'I ken most of the villages outside of Glasgow too,' says the woman in the wall.

'I went to boarding school down south. I was a complete bookworm – I even loved maths.'

'An accountant from an early age!' says the woman in the wall and I smile like it's the first time I've heard anyone say that. 'You're showing too many teeth,' she says and I press my lips together, hiding the black scars of cheap fillings, put in too late. The price of a childhood of jeely pieces and gobstoppers.

The afternoon light is fading, adding blotchy grey shadows to the pale roses and creeping vines of the wallpaper. Usually I'm not home until after dark, even in summer. The woman in the wall says I work too much, but I tell her it's my life. She says that's daft and life should mean a social life. I tell her she's my social life and then she'll stop talking, but I know she's pleased.

I start to cough. I've been coughing for a few days, hacking coughs that stoke a fire in my chest that burns constantly now, even when I'm just breathing. Stuart sent me home early today; told me to see a doctor, but I stay away from doctors, because the last thing I want to do is discuss my family history. 'And what did your mother die of?'

I just need a good sleep, that's all. I'll be back at work tomorrow. At work I matter. 'It's a shame bonuses are only for client management this year,' Stuart said at my appraisal last month. 'If they were for technical knowledge, you'd have got one for sure.'

'That's an awful cough,' says the woman in the wall. 'Got a hanky?' I wave a tissue at the patch of wall where the paper is peeling away from the cracked plaster. Her window. Some days she mutters about a nice cotton hanky, but today she's satisfied with the tissue and moves on seamlessly through the litany.

'Jac?' she asks. 'Unusual name for a girl.'

'Short for Jacinta,' I say. Kirsty Watt, the payroll clerk knows about Jacqueline-Marie Thomson, but Kirsty's down on the third floor where the elevator only stops to let out women in chain store suits and men with soft-soled shoes. Jac Thomson works on the sixteenth floor, where the air conditioning works properly and the men wear silk ties.

'Shouldn't it be Jass or Jace?' the woman in the wall goes on, and I'm ready for this too.

'I know, I know,' I say, rolling my eyes. 'My parents wanted a boy. Continue the family name and all that.'

The only place our family name has ever appeared is the drunk's cell at the local police station. Eck McKinnon wrote Dad's name over the door in Magic Marker one night. 'It seemed only right,' he said when he dropped him off the next morning. 'He's had that much use out of the place.' Eck always dropped Dad off in the morning if he'd been on the night shift when Dad was brought in.

'You went too far with the name,' the woman in the wall says.

'Nobody's ever going to ask me,' I say, but my words are lost in a fusillade of coughing that rips at the burning insides of my lungs.

'Honey and lemon,' says the woman in the wall. 'I told you that.'

'I just need sleep,' I gasp eventually.

'But we haven't got on to your parents yet. That's the most important bit.'

'I know.' I have to turn my back to get her to shut up.

'You've no' had your tea, yet,' she mutters as I pass by the kitchenette. 'Again,' she points out as I close the bedroom door on her.

I lie in a sweat of fever and chills that doesn't feel like sleep, but still makes late for work the next day. I'm never late, I'm never sick, I'm never moody, but today I have to plaster on a breezy smile in the lift.

The breeze freezes when I see Maddy Cooper at my desk. Not just at it, but inhabiting it with her furry gonks and family photos, the uneven china pencil holder one of her kids made and the computer screen decorated with multi-coloured post-it notes like a tacky Christmas tree. Desks like that make me feel itchy. I keep my desk clean and clear. I even put my coffee cup on the floor and fold my jacket in a drawer. Now the back of my chair is draped with Maddy Cooper's jacket and her blue-skirted cushion bottom is oozing over the edge of the seat.

'That's my desk,' I say.

She looks up at me, sticks out her lower lip and puffs out some air as if to say it's none of her business. 'You've to talk to Stuart,' she says and rearranges one of her gonks.

Stuart's door is shut, but when I knock he opens immediately, like he's been watching me through the narrow little window at the side.

'Come on in,' he says, and now he leaves the door open.

'Why is Maddy at my desk?' I ask.

'Sit down, Jac,' he says. 'We need to talk.' He sits down behind his curvy desk and picks up a pencil to twiddle. He's a big man, with loose ties and fidgety fingers that are always twiddling with something.

I sit neatly, with my hands folded. 'I'd like my desk back, please.'

He makes a noise halfway between a groan and a laugh. 'Such a polite request,' he says. 'I've always admired your beautiful manners. Which makes it all the stranger…' He pauses, tapping on the desk with his pencil. 'I can't give you your desk back,' he says after a few minutes. 'Your technical ability – that can't be faulted. Nor can your manners, your appearance, even your presentations. And yet – the clients don't warm to you. I send Maddy or Tim along with your ideas and the clients call me to thank me and ask for more. I send you, and the same ideas get rejected. I've never really understood that. Until yesterday.'

He puts the pencil down on his desk. His hands are still, for the first time I remember. 'See, Jac, I popped down to payroll yesterday afternoon.'

Something cold crawls through the inside of my head; icy-legged spiders that ripple freezing webs down my neck and spine.

'I'd had a word with the other partners, to see if we couldn't do something about your bonus situation, to recognise your ability. Fine, they said. So I went to Kirsty. She'd never heard of Jacinta Thomson. But, she said, there was a Jacqueline-Marie Thomson working on the sixteenth floor. Working for me.'

The spiders are in my mouth; wrapping their silken frost around my tongue, so that even though Stuart looks at me, I cannot speak.

'Jac,' he says. 'It's not just the name. You're a clever girl. It's just…the clients don't believe in you. And now, I…' I can see from the look in his eyes how hard he's trying not to say that he doesn't believe in me either.

The only part of me that is warm is my chest, rising and falling through its lapping tongues of fire. I breathe in and then out, long and steady, defrosting my tongue, chasing away the spiders, rolling them down my body to my hands and feet where they settle with lumpen chill.

I smile with fiery lips, then stand up and offer Stuart my hand. 'It's been a pleasure working with you,' I say. He looks at my hand like it's something extraordinary, something he's never seen before, but then he reaches over and shakes it limply.

I have no personal belongings here, so I just leave.

The woman in the wall is waiting for me.

'Early again,' she says.

'Yes,' I say. I lie on the sofa facing her. 'Sing to me.'

She doesn't ask any questions, just starts singing softly, like my mother used to do when I was tiny, and I fall asleep right there on the sofa in my suit and shoes. When I wake up the she's still singing. 'You can stop now,' I say.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Here's a few hundred words of a short story...

...if you've got a moment, have a read and let me know what you think. It's a long one, but this is how it kicks off.

The Woman in the Wall

I practice a lot at home. Tonight is no different.

'Tell me where you're from,' asks the woman in the wall and I do. She knows the story well enough now to correct me if I slip up. I know the story well enough not to.

'Just outside Glasgow,' I say.

'I ken Glasgow very well,' she says.

'It's a tiny village,' I say. 'On the outskirts.'

The wall is ordinary. Wallpapered with faded old-people wallpaper, to match the speckled formica kitchenette and pink bathroom suite. When I moved in I thought I might do something with the cottage, make it into a home, but it doesn't bother me that much. It's not like I've ever lived anywhere nice. There will be time for that.

For now I just like the fact that when I lie on the floor on my back and look up out of the cottage windows I can see the air, real air that's invisible all the way up to the sky. Not second-hand city breath, but air as clean as a sheet on the line and smelling just as fresh. For that alone, the cottage is worth the long bus trip in to work in Edinburgh.

'I ken most of the villages outside of Glasgow too,' says the woman in the wall.

'I went to boarding school down south.'

'Och, I loved hockey!'

'Last time you said lacrosse,' I say.

'I like to keep you on your toes,' says the woman in the wall.

'I was more of a bookworm,' I say. 'And I loved maths.'

'An accountant from an early age!' says the woman in the wall and I smile. 'You're showing too many teeth,' she says and I press my lips together, hiding the black scars of cheap fillings, put in too late. The price of a childhood of jeely pieces and gobstoppers.

The afternoon light is fading, adding blotchy grey shadows to the pale roses and creeping vines of the wallpaper. Usually I'm not home until after dark, even in summer, and it stays light most of the night in summer. The woman in the wall says I work too many hours, but I tell her it's my life. She says that's daft and life should mean a social life. I tell her she's my social life and then she'll stop talking, but I know she's pleased.

I start to cough. I've been coughing for a few days, hacking coughs that stoke a fire in my chest that burns constantly now, even when I'm just breathing. Stuart sent me home early today; told me to see a doctor, but I stay away from doctors, because the last thing I want to do is discuss my family history. 'And what did your mother die of?'

Saturday, April 12, 2008

How was your writing week?

I've been on a bit of an unplanned writing hiatus. Not writer's block, more writer's faff. I started to research for a possible new novel, but found the research so boring that I had to stop! Ah, my dedication. I love the characters that are demanding to squeeze themselves into the novel; I love my basic plot and the idea of the background...but the research for that background. What a yawn. So many poor novels and very little usable non-fiction or original sources (one being so boring and so badly written I just couldn't get through it). Solution? Possibly to relocate the story slightly to the future and apply what I've learned with a degree of re-interpretation. Not science-fiction, not really, but a slightly changed world, where different rules can apply in the face of impending devastation.

While mulling that over, a process that I do not wish to hurry, this week I wrote 4,772 words of a new short story. 'Short'? I know, another 15,000 or so and it will be a novella. Hey, chuck in 60,000 and call it a novel. I expect it to finish in another 1000 words or so, though.

And then there's the famous re-editing of Maureen, which I keep talking about and not doing.

So, tally for the week:

New words: 4,772
Re-editing Maureen: 0
New novel research: -0
New novel ideas: plenty

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Writing exercise!

I don't normally make you work for a living, but there's a first time for everything. It's a short snippet, I promise, and I hope it will be funny. No prize, but I will be grading your efforts on criteria such as writing, ideas and humour. Mostly humour, if you want a hint as to how to beat your fellow bloggers. No laugh, no points.

The King of Troll-land is considering purchasing some kind of voice recognition software in order to help him share his brilliance with the world. He was comforted to learn that there is only a 1% error rate.

I was not comforted in the least by this and came up with this demonstration of why 1% matters. Here's an innocuous paragraph of 116 characters or so:

"The great ship towered above, creaking in the wind. Warm steam from the vents caressed his skin as he breathed in the rich smell of its cargo."

Changing just one of those letters – i.e. less than 1% – has the potential to completely change the whole thing. Say, for example, replacing the 'p' of 'ship' with a 't'...

"The great shit towered above, creaking in the wind. Warm steam from the vents caressed his skin as he breathed in the rich smell of its cargo."

I'm so pathetic that I spat tea on my own keyboard when I came up with that.

Amuse me. Write your own para of 100 characters or so (Word can count 'em for you, but I won't hold you to precision) and change only one letter to totally turn the meaning around.

My keyboard awaits your efforts.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Life's little luxuries...

You're a millionaire. Yes, you. The lottery fairy fluttered past everybody else and sprinkled you with magic dust and millions of dollars.

You've bought the mansion. Eight bedrooms, a pool, a gym, a movie theatre and everything else you'd expect in your luxury pad. A sports car, a four-wheel drive, a limo, a hummer and several other vehicles are parked in your multi-car garage (complete with chauffeurs). They're next to the yacht (complete with crew). Staff everywhere, pandering to your every whim.

But what is that whim? What's the quirky little luxury that will remind you every time you see/hear/touch/smell/taste it, that you are really so rich that you can have everything you ever dreamed of?

For me would be clean sheets every day. Twice a day if I take a nap. Crisp, clean, fresh-smelling sheets. The best feeling in the world.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ah, soccer boy

With fire in their bellies and blisters on their feet (new soccer boots are such a pain), the 8P1s took to the field. To be confronted with the same group of girls they drew with in their very last game of last year. (When I say 'they', I mean the four players that were on last year's team that are also on this year's team). Of course, that got them even more fired up.

I'd like to be nice about this, but 8-1. Again, 8-1. Two goals from Soccer Boy, two each from three of his friends and the other three came close to scoring too. The girls only got one chance, they took it with both hands and scored, but after that they had no chance. One more time 8-1.

My athleticism nearly matched that of Soccer Boy, with another visit to the gym. I worked a bit harder this time, having got over the fear that I was going to break myself. I got my heart rate up to the recommended level and survived. Pain no worse than last time. I may even be looking forward to going back, but I refuse to commit myself to that statement.

Other than our family sporting endeavours, I spent virtually all my computer time this week wrestling with a printer and software issue. Finally fixed it on Friday (myself, the barrage of e-mails to the tech experts didn't help me one little bit) and managed to send out an edited version of'The Party' to a couple of mags. Other than that, no new writing recently. I wrote half a page of a new story, not enough to count, but the idea is still wriggling around, so I may finish that this week if work isn't too demanding.

So, if I were grading this week, I'd give my body 8/10 and brain 10/10. I was thinking that my brain deserved a much lower mark for not actually doing any writing, but, on the other hand, it did fix my faithful 'puter, without which I'd probably do no writing whatsoever, so I think it deserves some praise.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

In a word

I went to the gym today for the third time in my life. I went twice a few years ago, but then fell pregnant, so that was the end of me and gyms for a few years.

This is a small, non-intimidating gym only for women. Everybody in baggy old gear. No cool people. At all. Works for me!

As for the exercising part. In a word. Ouch.