Day #11068

June and July Round Up

Update-o-rama!  And yet, nothing much to really update.  No news from any of the competitions I entered this spring (and, in this case, no news is not good news).  But as each rejection has rolled around, it has been pleasing to re-read the stories I sent off – it’s a bit like they’re coming home to me.  And, whilst I can now see ways I could improve them, I look at each one and think that, ‘yes, I did what I set out to do with that story,’ and I’m not sure you can hope for much more than that.  We keep trying.

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I recently read a couple of novels that I would describe as being the opposite of thrillers – Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine and Tibor Fischer’s The Collector Collector.  I wouldn’t say I was guided towards these novels by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin’s The Novel Cure (Ella bibliotherapised me at the Guernsey Litfest in 2012 and recommended I read some short stories by Steven Milhauser, one of which has possibly become one of my favourite short stories) but I had this book of ‘literary remedies’ in mind when I was choosing what to read, and maybe I was thinking of these books as remedies.

The Mezzanine happens to be listed in The Novel Cure under ‘ten novels to lower your blood pressure’.  I’m not sure about blood pressure, but something slow and thoughtful was what I needed, and this strange meditation on shoelaces, escalators and various ephemera did the trick.  I think there is often something quite reassuring about studying things in depth and finding interest in the everyday objects that usually slip under the radar, and Nicholson Baker is usually worth your attention for 200 pages or so.

The Novel Cure makes no mention of The Collector Collector, but I think that if this title was included, it could perhaps be described as a cure for ‘feeling out of place in time and space.’  It may sound like a gimmick, but the fact that this novel is narrated by a piece of ancient pottery allows for a whole new perspective – one informed by the pottery’s age and wisdom, it’s patience and lack of human desires.  And whilst the plot is filled with drama and stories within stories, the narrator’s sense of peace makes all the kerfuffle appear to be nothing more than a drop in the ocean of human activity.

Last weekend we went to London and looked at lots of book-shaped benches that had been decorated to represent different classic books.  It was a good way of seeing some strange and interesting parts of London, and I have made a wee video of our trip (see above).

Right, that’s all to report for now.  I’m off to remember how to write stories.

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Crises In Canine Masculinity

Someone must have gone past earlier that morning with a couple dozen incontinent dogs, big ones too by the looks of it.

Mike ran a hand through his thinning hair, loosened his tie a little.  It was 0804.  He needed to get this mess sorted before the kids started to arrive or the school would quickly become spoiled with dog muck tramped here and there, and he wasn’t going to let that happen.

Not on his watch.

He didn’t have keys to the caretaker’s cupboard so he took a bin liner from a nearby classroom, turned the bag inside out and tried to scoop up the more solid parts of the mess without losing balance, without getting his shoes dirty, without breathing in the putrid air.  Maybe it was faeces, maybe vomit.  The terrible image came to mind of dogs being squeezed so they expelled from both ends until they were wrung dry and had nothing left.  A thin skin of black plastic was all Mike was using to protect his hands.

He looked up, hoping for a sudden, violent rain shower but there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.  His watch read 0811.

Think, think, think.

What would the caretaker do?  What would the headmistress do?

He threw the dirtied bag into the bins behind the kitchens then decided to check over the perimeter of the school grounds.  This was diligence, not cowardice, he told himself.  The air out there must have been fresh, but the stink was stubborn in his nostrils.

When he was three-quarters of the way round the playing fields he found the thing.  The dead thing.

Or at least, he hoped it was dead – it was completely still, and twisted into a unnatural position.  For a moment Mike thought he could detect a heartbeat – then he realised it was his own.  Clearly he couldn’t leave the dead thing where it was, to be discovered by inquisitive children.  Not on his watch.

Mike jogged back to the school to retrieve another bin liner, then returned to the dead thing to pick it up.  Tried not to think about the fact that it still felt warm.  Had a brief, sick thought that he could keep it and give it to the cooks.  Glanced at his wrist to check the time.

0812.

What?  No.  How could that be?

He could not have said whether his blood ran boiling hot or freezing cold.  He took off his watch and shook it, for all the good that would do.  Tried to tot up all the time he had spent cleaning up.  Tried to mentally claw the minutes back, but he had no idea how long any of it would have taken.  Some seconds took hours, some hours passed like seconds.

Think, think, think.

Aware that it would take time to find out the time, and time being in short supply, Mike nevertheless ran back into the school.  In every classroom there was a clock, all set so as to be in sync with one another.

0812.

0812.

0812.

Each was stopped, stuck.  As if in a rut.

He ran outside, past the pool of dog muck, out into the road.  No sign of another human being.

Mike cursed watches and clocks and time itself.  He cursed dogs and dog walkers.  He cursed the school, cursed the playing fields and the children.  Cursed the dead thing.  Cursed the weather.  Cursed the day.

Cursed too much.

He cursed chance, wondering whether it really was just that.  Cursed coincidence, cursed the fact that the headmistress was still AWOL, cursed the freak accident that had lead to the caretaker falling through a window and ending up in hospital.

And now this.

0812.

0812.

0812.