Blue Is Not The Only Fruit

This was something for Writers HQ Flash Face Off about a month ago when the theme was Blue vs Orange.

.

We always started the day with a glass of blue juice, freshly squeezed from fresh blues, which we piled up in the fruit bowl so they became the bountiful centre point of the kitchen.

First thing in the morning, we would chop the blues in half and throw them into the juicer which would whir and shake and pulp those blues until we could pour ourselves out a beautiful glass of blue. We were lucky that out here, with our days and days of endless sunshine, the blue grew full and fat, you could grow your own or buy them by the boxful for only a few pounds.

“Do you ever think,” she said, as we toasted the morning – another dazzling, sun-drenched morning – with our blue juice, “do you ever wonder, which came first, the colour or the fruit?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are they called blues because they’re blue or is blue named after the colour of blues.”

I didn’t have an answer to this. But it felt like I had a lot of time to think about it because it was a brand new morning and here we were living out our lives in a town which sparkled with such luminosity it felt like we were actually somewhere outside reality, somewhere too good to be true.

“If blues were orange,” I said, eventually, “what colour would be the sky?”

She repeated my words, slowly. “If blues… were orange… what colour… would be the sky?”

When she had finished she just stopped completely, her gaze caught by something on the horizon or her mind snagged on something she had just remembered, some doubt she had dug up.

Then she collapsed in uncontrollable laughter. “If blues!” Her body heaved and shook like it was going to burst. “What colour orange!”

But I was still looking to see whatever she had seen on the horizon, and as I searched in vain I had a feeling like we were stick figures in a child’s painting and whether our bodies were green or pink was only an idea; blues might become orange; the sky would be any colour the child decided on a whim; the sun might be extinguished; we might be stuck on the side of a fridge or rolled up and put away in a cupboard.

She was still laughing or it might have been crying.

I knocked my glass of blue juice over and it spilled upon the worktop, a slick of deep, rich blue of which I didn’t know the meaning.

Les Grotesqueries @ Sledgehammer Lit

I am pleased to point you in the direction of Sledgehammer Lit which has published my short story Les Grotesqueries, a piece of flash fiction about dogs written in French and English.

Sledgehammer is a new online journal, only one week old, established here in Guernsey by my buddy Joe who has been a key member of the writing workshop I have been running for the past year and a half.  You can read some of Joe’s published work here.

Chip Shop?

A knock at the door. An old man.

“Fish, chips and mushy peas please.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Just a fish and chips please, and a mushy peas on the side.”

He tilts his head up and smiles, hopeful.  His wispy hair is plastered to his head with drizzle.  Water runs in thin streams down his coat.  From his pocket he takes a battered leather wallet.

“Sure,” you say.  “One moment.”

You go back into the house.

“Mum? Mum?  Have we got anything I can wrap in paper… No, it’s not for school… It doesn’t matter… What can I use?  Something about the size of a fish?”

From a bag of clothes set to go to charity, you drag an old shirt, wrap it in paper and put it in the microwave. You go back to the door. He’s still there. You fish a small pot out of the plastic recycling, ball up more paper, stick it inside, wrap the pot in paper, stick it in the microwave. All of this, as quick as you can. The microwaved parcels go in a thin plastic bag.

“Here you go. Err… five pounds please. Or… Sorry… Four ninety.” Four ninety somehow sounds more realistic.

The old man hands you a fiver. “Keep the change.”

“Thanks.”

“You know. I didn’t even realise this was a fish and chip shop.”

That’s the line you remember. The punchline. The one you want to tell everyone.

But for the next week, you don’t say anything. Your nerves jangle. Every time there is a knock at the door. Every time the phone rings. Every time you wake from dreams feeling guilty.

The weeks pass and nothing comes of it. You still have the fiver and no one has come for you, which doesn’t seem right – you are almost disappointed to find there are no consequences to your actions.

And that’s all you learn from the episode – that sometimes you get away with it.

Writing Challenge: Resolution

The terms of this New Year challenge were as follows:  a theme of resolution, featuring two promises / pledges, one kept / one broken, 365 or 366 words.

NO RESOLUTION

It was not unusual for soaking wet fell walkers to come through the doors of The Ram, to dry by the fire with a restorative, but these three seemed to have had a particularly bad time of it.

Pale, shaking, mute – drowned rats.

Drowned rats. McGregs, the establishment’s most perceptive regular, could imagine these three as animals recently transmogrified into human form, just as he might once have been a wild boar.

Nobody knew anything much about McGregs, presumably short for McGregor, only that he lived alone in a small cottage a hundred yards from the pub where he drew comic strips by candlelight. They were published in magazines none of them read.

Every now and then, maybe a few times a year, someone would come in to The Ram and ask about a man named Paul Joseph Sunday, showing a laughably out-of-date photograph. Nobody, neither the regulars nor the bar staff, ever knew who or what they were talking about.

*

That night, the rain didn’t so much fall as form a permanent link between the heavens and the earth, so that it might have been possible for a harpist to pluck the strings and make music.

But no, that sound was the phone ringing.

It was not the first time D.I. Johnson had woken McGregs. Their relationship… was not a relationship, not quite. There were questions he had made her promise she would never ask him.

“Three people came into the pub this afternoon,” she said. “Did you see them?”

He’d seen them, of course, and he’d sketched them, just in case.

He asked if she wanted to come over but she said she didn’t.

They had men out on the moors with flashlights, curses and dogs. A body had been found. Could he send her a picture of the pictures he had drawn of those three drowned rats?

*

When he closed his eyes, he could see them walking through the rain, newly changed by whatever had happened, promising each other they would keep their secret secret. To never breathe a word.

McGregs knew that wasn’t how it worked. If you wanted promises kept, you had to go it alone.

Day #13429 – The Very Best Things I Read In 2020

On the second of January (2020) we went to town and bought some spoons, having noticed we never quite had enough.  Then we took the cat to the vets for her yearly check-up.  We felt so organised and on top of things, surely this would be an efficient, orderly year.  In February we went to Manchester and there was a man at the airport dressed in full hazmat suit, as a joke.  Ha ha.  Ha.  Um, ha?  From there, things went downhill, didn’t they?  Here on the small island we were very lucky and got away with it lightly. Since the summer, life here has been weirdly normal.  Apart from not being able to leave, we can get on with life as normal – walking around, doing things. 

Still, 2020 – with its insistence that we spend more time alone, its crackdown on things going on, its constant events that you wanted to block out with fiction – was a good year for reading.  Lots of reading. Good books (Boy Parts, the debut by Eliza Clark; White Tears by Hari Kunzru, the excellent Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy), more good books (Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, Paul Takes The Form Of A Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor), bad books (I read a James Paterson novel for a library reading challenge), confounding books (Jaws by Peter Benchley – 50 pages left and they hadn’t even got in the boat?!).  Books by authors I really like (the new Juan Pablo Villalobos was good but didn’t hit the heights of his others).  Books that I’d read before (both of Jon McGregor’s last two novels – Even The Dogs, Reservoir 13 – were rewarding to revisit).  Books that won prizes (I really liked Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and Milkman by Anna Burns).  Books, books, books, books, eh?

There was Clyde Fans by Seth – a beautifully, quietly drawn story about two brothers running a shop that sells electric fans.  In places it flirts with being almost deliciously boring before it yields and offers up its awkward charms.  I read this right at the start of the year (it was a present last Christmas) and writing about it now makes me want to re-visit it.

Cathy Sweeney’s Modern Times was my favourite collection of short stories.  These are stories that exist right in the space where I like them – short, weird, funny.  Over the course of this collection, Sweeney proved herself adept at writing stories that didn’t proceed how you expected, twisting and turning in surprising ways that nevertheless never felt forced.

My favourite novel of the year was Hurricane Season by Mexican author Fernanda Melchor.  Soon after reading it, I was gratified to read in an interview with her that two writers who had influenced her were Stephen King and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  This was pleasing because the first, brief, chapter, in which a group of small boys discover a body in the stream seemed like an homage to King’s The Body, the short story that inspired the film Stand By Me.  The second chapter, which recounts the history of The Witch and her influence in the village in which the novel is set, and describes the passing of the mantle to her progeny, also known as The Witch, reminded me of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, of all the generations of characters, the strange magic, things that might be myths. 

At that point, I thought that was what Hurricane Season was going to be about, but where One Hundred Years Of Solitude spirals outwards, adding more and more and more on top of what has already happened, Hurricane Season at this point digs inwards and spends the rest of its 200 (dense, intense) pages exploding the village’s myths until anything that might have seemed magical is exposed, worn down to a gritty reality in a series of hard truths told by the various characters implicated in the life and death of The Witch.

Bonus Music Bloggery Content!  My Favourite Albums of 2020

  1. DEERHOOF – Future Teenage Cave Artists
  2. THE SOFT PINK TRUTH – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
  3. SHACKLETON / ZIMPEL – Primal Forms
  4. MARY LATTIMORE – Silver Ladders
  5. MELENAS – Dias Raros
  6. THEO ALEXANDER – Broken Access
  7. MIDORI HIRANO – Invisible Island
  8. CRAVEN FAULTS – Erratics & Unconformities
  9. PERFUME GENIUS – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

Writing Challenge: A-Z

In this instance, the challenge issued was to write a short story consisting of 26 sentences, each one starting with the next letter of the alphabet. It should be on the theme of ‘order.’

All day it felt like he got things wrong.
Before breakfast, his clothes resisted.
Crumbling like dust, no explanation.
Deaf to his complaints the day continued.
Each minute ticking past in brief error.
For instance, this unfinished thought.
Going round in circles, it felt like he was.
Holding things the wrong way up, he was.
Imagining everything falling over, he was.
Just hold on a minute and try to correct.
Knowing this had all happened before.
Lately, every day had felt the same.
Must he merely put up with all this?
No, there had to be a way to get control.
Order was what he needed, organisation.
Picking things up, putting them in place.
Quite carefully creating sense from chaos.
Really starting to feel a bit more positive.
Steadying the ship, this is good, better.
There was still some part of the day left.
Under the light of the moon he worked.
Very carefully in the diminished light.
Wasting not a second before it was gone.
X next to Y which goes next to Z, end.
Yes, he had completed the day’s task.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

An Invitation To Spend A Few Minutes Doing Absolutely Nothing

This was for a challenge to write something on ‘doing nothing’.

*************

You have made yourself a cup of tea or coffee, poured a cold beer or fetched a glass of water.  It might be a cold afternoon and you have gone back to bed to huddle for warmth, or maybe this is a summer morning and you are sat in the back garden sunshine.  Whoever else is around – friends, colleagues, loved ones – can see that you have in your hands, or on your screen, a document to read.  This already buys you several minutes out of your day to day life.

What follows is a decoy. 

You are invited to use the few minutes in which it could reasonably be expected that you are reading the document, to do nothing (nothing at all).  I personally assure you that there isn’t anything of interest, value, importance or consequence that will be conveyed in the remaining 600 words of this document.

*

He’s a mad scientist type in a country house, somewhere a little bit out of the way but not completely in the middle of nowhere. The house would be large enough to house a big family, though he has no family at all, and has, at its front, space to park several cars, though he doesn’t drive. The garden boasts a lawn of rolling green, some impressive trees and birds that visit to flit from one part of the garden to the other.

At some earlier point in his life, the mad scientist type must have been well remunerated for making an important discovery or clever invention, though the details of this are neither important nor available. 

He gives the impression of being scatter-brained, but his mind is in fact very neatly ordered, perfectly tidy and functional.  The impression of him as a mad scientist type is partly due to the lack of importance he places in certain things (e.g. hair-combing, paper-tidying, indulging in small talk on social occasions) and partly an image he conveys on purpose for his own amusement. When he was a public figure he was always a flamboyant introvert – everybody noticed when he walked into a room, and they all noticed that he would look uncomfortable and say little.

On those occasions, he felt that every tiny movement he made was being audited, anything he did might cause something to happen. But the atmosphere he has cultivated here, in this big house on this grey day, is one in which anything he does will go unnoticed – nothing he does here today will matter.

This is the nature of his current experiment, which is neither at its start nor coming to an end. It is a continual anti-investigation in which the mad scientist type strives to uncover processes which have absolutely no effect on the universe. Things that can happen without any consequence whatsoever.

Many of these remain as yet undiscovered.

What he does is that he moves around the house, trying to keep his movements almost completely normal – he walks around and then sits or maybe stands and looks out of a window and then

with as little conscious purpose as possible, taking both himself and the universe by surprise, upsetting

He doesn’t creep around the house, his movements are almost completely normal. He walks around and then sits or maybe stands and at some point he will enact a small process, when he spots something that can be done that will have no consequences, if this is a thing which is indeed possible.

Maybe he upturns something that was previously upright;

shifts the position of an item by ninety degrees;

crumples something and uncrumples it;

sends something tumbling;

crumbles a rusting item;

encircles an item;

completely ignores something;

taps something to see if it makes a noise;

picks up an item and then puts it straight back down again;

hides an item in one of his hands and forces himself to guess which hand it might be in;

turns something inside out then rolls it across the floor;

does something to or with an item.

The mad scientist type can do all these things with the freedom that comes with knowing he is completely alone and that nothing he does has any effect on anything else. He touches with the lightness of touch of knowing no matter really matters, that all can be reset and

He is an unobserved fictional entity and nothing he does will make any difference

*

Enjoy the rest of your day.

Kissing In A Dream

When you wake up, you remember you have been kissing a friend in a dream.  The circumstances around the kiss are unclear – how you came to be in that position, what was going through your minds.  What you do remember is that you were both surprised, even as you were drawn inexorably together.

You refuse to tell your partner who it is, but they try and guess anyway.

“Someone we both know?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“No.”

This conversation, very early in the morning.  It might be neither of you remember it.

Then later you think about the fact that once, years ago, you had had a dream about kissing someone, a friend – a friend of a friend – and a few days later you did end up kissing that person. What was strange was that when you kissed you were standing in the same place as in the dream (though you have always wondered if this is a trick your mind played on you, taking advantage of the vagueness of dreams and the unreliability of memory).  You don’t believe in premonitions, so you can only rationalise this as something you dreamt about and, because you wanted it to become a reality, took steps towards creating the possibility it might happen.

You are thinking about this, turning it around in your mind whilst you cook-

  • Flatten two chicken breasts with a rolling pin
  • Beat two eggs and use to coat the chicken breasts; cover with breadcrumbs and parmesan
  • Heat olive oil and crushed garlic; add a jar of passata, oregano and seasoning. Simmer for ten minutes
  • Grill the chicken for five minutes on each side
    Arrange the chicken on top of the tomato sauce in an ovenproof dish
  • Scatter ripped pieces of mozzarella and more parmesan
  • Grill until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling

and this wondering about this years-ago kissing is a kind of game now because the event is so far in the past and those two kissers are so far apart and such different people from the ones they had been when they were kissing each other.

A Man Made Of Jam In A World Made Of Wasps

This is something based off an interesting line stolen from a football columnist

“Again: whatever you may think of him now, Harry Maguire hasn’t always defended like a man made of jam in a world made of wasps. For most of the year, he’s been fine.”

Jonathan Liew

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/oct/05/footballs-steady-state-theory-is-challenged-by-increasingly-wild-plot-twists

A Man Made Of Jam In A World Made Of Wasps

I considered it one of the most unlikely and unfortunate things to happen to me during my whole life – it was the afternoon I awoke from unplanned slumber to discover that I had transmogrified into a man made of jam, and that everything else in the world had become made of wasps.

I struggled to full lucidity. Realising I had dribbled as I slept, I tried to wipe it away only to find that it was jam, that my hand was made of jam and that my face was also made of jam. By the time I fully understood the situation, I had smeared jam all over the jam.

More alarming was the moment I realised that the sofa on which I had fallen asleep was now made of wasps. My clothes were made of wasps. The whole of the rest of the room was made of wasps.

And the wasps were more than a little interested in me.

I surmised that these unexplained and unexplainable substitutions had occurred only moments before I awoke, otherwise I would already be toast. It was perhaps the act of being turned into jam that had disrupted my sleep – that or the buzzing.

The sofa was buzzing, my clothes were buzzing, the whole room was buzzing. The wasps seemed inordinately angry about something, which I felt was unreasonable. If anyone was entitled to feeling miffed about the situation it was surely me.

I wondered what flavour jam I was. Raspberry? Apricot?

Wasps crawled all over me – above me and below me and around me. I tried to get away from them, but I had no bones or muscles, only jam, so my capacity to achieve movement was extremely limited.

My jam was being hastily consumed by the wasps that made up my clothes – they were the wasps first in line for the banquet. But the wasps that made up the sofa were also getting in on the act. And the wasps that made up the rest of the room were standing by in case there was any jam left for them.

It would be nice to at least know what kind of jam I was before I was all gone. Strawberry? Blackcurrant?

There remained just enough time for me to enjoy the experience of being made of jam. I had never felt so sweet. I realised what a pleasure it would be to ooze across a slice of toast, spreading out on its warmth.

If only there were anything left in the world that was not made of wasps, it might have come along and shooed the wasps away from me – but I could see nothing to suggest anything else had survived. It was all wasps versus jam now.

And the wasps were winning.

A memory came back to me, in those final moments. I had exhausted all other options and all there was left to do was think.

I remembered one particular summer afternoon when I, a child, was being bothered by a wasp. Maybe more than one wasp. But not so many wasps that they were anything more than a slightly menacing nuisance. I concocted a plan to get rid of the wasps – it involved trapping them on the bonnet of a hot car, under a glass and waiting for them to sizzle themselves to death on it. I had lured the wasps to the hot bonnet by applying a smear of jam on the car.

I didn’t remember what flavour jam it was – but I wished I could, because I was sure this incident was what the universe was now referencing. It had taken that incident (an act of cruelty on my part) as its starting point and boiled it down (with sugar) into a microcosm. I was briefly impressed by this universe’s absurd sense of humour.

Maybe I was something exotic like quince. Or maybe I wasn’t even jam at all, who’s to say I wasn’t marmalade?!

And what if I was made of marmalade? It would render the rest of this speculation (the thoughts that occupied the final few moments of my sticky existence) null and void. Or at least embarrasingly inaccurate.

Though the end result would be the same – I didn’t think the wasps would care to differentiate between jam and marmalade, they would just carry on eating me up until I was-

Honey I Shrunk The Kids At Jurassic Park

Here we have a short piece of extreme daftness.  For some reason I decided it would be fun to splice together selected extracts from the wikipedia entries describing the plots of the original Jurassic Park film and Honey I Shrunk The Kids.  This is almost entirely cut and pasted from those two sources, I have only added the conjunction or piece of punctuation to make things fit.  

HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS AT JURASSIC PARK

Industrialist John Hammond has created a theme park of cloned dinosaurs, Jurassic Park.

After a dinosaur handler is killed by a Velociraptor, the park’s investors demand that experts visit the park and certify its safety. Hammond invites a scientist and inventor named Wayne Szalinski who is attempting to create a ray gun capable of shrinking objects; his two children, teenage daughter Amy and preteen son Nick and next-door neighbors, Russ Jr. and Ron.

Upon arrival, the group is shocked to see a live Brachiosaurus.

At the park’s visitor center, Ron accidentally hits his baseball through the raptor enclosure, which inadvertently activates the machine. Ron and Nick go to retrieve the ball only for the machine to shrink them.

During lunch, the group debates the ethics of cloning, the creation of the park and the implications of genetic engineering.

Amy and Russ Jr. are shrunken when they go to check on Ron and Nick. They try to get Wayne’s attention, but their voices are too small and he is unable to hear them. Frustrated, Wayne snaps and starts smashing the machine. He then sweeps the debris and the kids into a dust pan and takes them out for a tour of the park.

The tour does not go as planned, with most of the dinosaurs failing to appear and the group encountering a sick Triceratops. It is cut short as a tropical storm approaches.

Nick falls into a flower. Russ Jr. is carried away by the park’s Tyrannosaurus rex.

Wayne discovers his machine finally works. But his happiness is only short lived when he realizes what happened to the kids and tries to find them, only to accidentally deactivate the park’s security system

Amy nearly drowns when she is knocked into a pool of mud, but Russ Jr. saves her with electric fences.

Russ Jr. becomes lost in the rain and is killed by a Dilophosaurus.

That evening, the kids take shelter in a treetop but their meal is interrupted by an ant. They later discover the broken shells of dinosaur eggs.

As night falls, the kids find a Lego block in which to camp for the night and conclude that the dinosaurs have been breeding. A scorpion, traps Ron in the Lego. The Tyrannosaurus returns to rescue Ron, but is fatally stung before the kids unite and wound the scorpion, driving it off.

Unable to reactivate the security system, Hammond and Wayne mow the lawn. The kids barely escape, seeking shelter in an earthworm burrow.

The group shuts down the park’s grid and complete the rebooting process. They discover the lawnmower has deactivated the remaining fences and released the Velociraptors.

The raptor chances upon the kids and while they are riding him into the visitor center, Nick loses his grip and falls into Wayne’s bowl of Cheerios. Wayne scoops Nick up in a spoonful of Cheerios, and unknowingly eats his own son for breakfast, pursued by the raptors in a kitchen.

Hammond calls for help.

They are cornered by the raptors, the kids are then returned to their normal sizes and the group boards a helicopter to leave the island.