Monday 30 April 2012

Z is for Zealot

He sat before the mirror, breathing hard, blood trickling down his cheek. The face that stared back was pale but the eyes shone with triumph. It had started as a joke by one of those kids, but they would see now that he was serious. They couldn't make fun of him when they saw this. He pressed firmly on the cut with a swab of tissue then leaned over the sink and washed the blood away. Then he carefully dried and examined the raw wound. He had made a neat job. It would heal into a perfect lightning shape scar.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge, for the final time today)

Sunday 29 April 2012

The Finishing School

Firstly thanks to Stuck in a Book for both the challenge this week and the help with the image alignment. The Finishing School was my second book for Muriel Spark Reading Week. 

"Célestine spread out the cups and saucers and the plates of biscuits which began to disappear even as she did so. One of the girls poured the tea, another handed round the cups. All was right with the world." (p.61)
This rather sums up the book for me, and partly sums up why I did not care for it. Set in a finishing school and concerned with Rowland and Nina who run the school and the arrival of Chris, a precociously talented writer, I found the characters to be shallow and self-involved and the world of privilege and entitlement tends to bore me. It was all too self-consciously bohemian. 

Rowland is trying to write a novel, Chris is actually writing one, a jealous rivalry ensues. I did not for one minute think, despite his continual fantasises, that Rowland would kill Chris, in fact the sexual obsession was a definite undercurrent all along. The minor players were a bit clichéd and only appeared to prop up the story. I did not like Nina much either and did not get to grips with the relationship between the two of them. The atmosphere of the school and the story felt as if they were much older and more experienced, when in fact they were very young; the whole set-up just felt a little implausible. The writing felt a bit dead; Rowland did this, or said this, or felt this, then Nina said this, then Chris did this. It jumped between the three of them but I never felt that I got to know any of them or felt any engagement with their point of view or motivation. All in all I was very disappointed after the other of her books that I have read. Never mind, I'll try a different one.

My lovely sister sent me a copy of Emma Donoghue's The Sealed Letter which I have started and I also decided to shuffle up the TBR pile and picked out 'Nothing to do but stay' by Carrie Young, a true story of homesteading in early 20th century North Dakota.

Saturday 28 April 2012

Y is for Yearn

She stood in the queue, her basket containing bananas, shampoo and a small packet of Brie. It was a mistake to shop this time on a Friday, it was always so busy. The man being served was having an in-depth discussion with the checkout girl about a coupon. She rang the bell and they all waited for the supervisor. The woman in front stepped aside to pick up a magazine, and she looked down at the tiny baby in the cradle on her trolley. She fell into the deep dark pools of his eyes and thought she would drown.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge.)

Friday 27 April 2012

X is fior Xenophobia

The hatch jerked open and Captain Jack pulled himself from the disintegrating capsule, falling awkwardly onto the purple sand. He lay staring up at the towering plants that surrounded him and had cushioned the descent of his craft. They gave off a pungent odour but he found that the atmosphere was tolerable. Resting a moment to recover his senses he was about to get up when a heavy staff pushed him back to the ground. Standing over him were three bizarre creatures. One spoke;
"I've never seen one this colour before, I don't think it will taste nice!" (rudimentary translation)

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Thursday 26 April 2012

W is for Wistful

In the top cupboard there is a tatty cardboard box with seven or eight photograph albums. They would gather dust but the cupboard is rarely opened so really they are quite pristine. Inside them is the truncated history of childhood, cut off untimely by a parting of the ways. Never much one for posed pictures they tell a tale of wild activity, every day life captured on the go. But togetherness is ubiquitous. Change over time should be a natural process, separation inevitable, but the abrupt ending and the last empty pages reminds too strongly of what has been lost.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday 25 April 2012

V is for Voracious

The cupboard doors did not quite shut. He pushed one irritably with his foot but it swung open and banged his shin. He swore under his breath. From his chair a pile of boxes partially blocked his view of the television so he shifted a large wicker basket and he plonked himself sullenly on the sofa. There was a distinct lump underneath the seat. Delving down between the cushions he pulled out a ball of the softest lavender blue yarn. He handed it silently to his wife.
"Oh, thank you, my alpaca silk. I wondered where that had gotten to."

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge.)
(You kind of need to be a knitter to get the subtleties of the 'stash':-)

Pisseur de copie

(Ok, the first thing I don't like about the new Blogger interface is that you can't position your images left or right, it just puts them in the middle without asking.)

A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark. I started reading this last week, to get a head start on the Muriel Spark Reading Week. Although written in 1988 it has this wonderful 1950's atmosphere. I have found Spark is very much a character writer and this book is no exception, and every single one of them could quite easily be described as somewhat quirky, all in different ways, from Mrs Hawkins (our protagonist) through to the minor players at the office, like the woman who's father is a mass murderer. The story follows Mrs Hawkins (or Nancy, as it turns out) through her home life in a slightly shabby boarding house, and her various employment within the publishing industry. I get the impression that it was a parody of Spark's own experience of publishers and the industry in general, a closed and insular little world. Her defining feature, by both herself and those who know her, is her reliability. People turn to her for advice, and she does not stint on handing it out. It is her encounter with a man called Hector Bartlett that sparks the chain of events that befall her. He is a smarmy, untalented little man and in a fit of annoyance she tells him he is a 'pisseur de copie' (someone who pisses hack journalism). It is a blunt and honest summation of him, appearing cruel, except that she does not suffer fools gladly and due to her editing experience is a good judge of writing. 

"What he wanted from me was an introduction to Martin York and through him to his uncle, a film producer.
Pisseur de copie! Hector Bartlett, it seemed to me, vomited literary matter, he urinated and sweated, he excreted it.
'Mrs Hawkins, I take incalculable pains with my prose style.'
He did indeed. The pains showed. his writing writhed and ached with twists and turns and tergiversations, inept words, fanciful repetitions, far-fetched verbosity and long Latin-based words." (p.43-44)

Despite it causing her the loss of her job she never regrets the comment, and indeed, repeats it on more than one occasion. It comes to be repeated with uncharacteristic venom, and by the time she encounters him at the end of the book I was almost (only almost) feeling sorry for him. 

I liked Mrs Hawkins, and watching her friendships with the people around her, the ins and outs of the little group that shares the boarding house, but it was her perceptiveness about herself and others that made her so interesting. She recognised people's weaknesses but did not judge them for it (with the exception of Bartlett). She looks critically at her own life, prematurely widowed and resigned to quasi middle aged sexlessness, she decides to take control and recreate herself. But all the time something more sinister is going on in the background, that justifies her negative judgement of Bartlett. 

Lovely understated writing. I recently watched the film of 84 Charing Cross Road (though have not read the book) and the description of the atmosphere in the office of Ullswater Press reminded me very much of that:

"The morning clattered on, with the sound of Ivy's typewriter and Cathy the bookkeeper's muttering, the sound of all our shoes on the bare boards of the office floor and the rattle of cups as one of us made the tea." (p.48)

And here is Sir Alec, her second employer:

"Sir Alec was thin and grey and his voice matched his looks. It sounded like a wisp of smoke wafting from some burning of leaves hidden by a clump of lavender." (p.71)

All in all a very satisfying read, highly recommended.
Other books I have read by Muriel Spark: The Driver's Seat, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Not to Disturb. I started listening to Symposium on CD over the washing up this morning but was not taken with it so will move on to Finishing School. Please visit over at Stuck in a Book and see what other people have been reading this week.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

U is for Usurp

It had been a long night but as she lay back, sweaty and exhausted, a sense of calm came over her. Someone was moving quietly around the room, but they seemed hazy and did not concern her. All she could feel was her own heart beat and the synchronised rhythm of their breathing. The door opened just an inch and in the light from the hall she could make out a small shadow. He came in cautiously and stood against the wall watching them, his eyes dark and suspicious. She smiled.
"Ben, come and say hello to your new sister."

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)
(Feeling like I will have read the entire dictionary by the end of the month.)
(Not liking the new Blogger interface, don't know where anything is)

Monday 23 April 2012

T is for Transgress

They sat in a huddle around the corner table, whispering together below the hubbub. The dining hall was noisy, chatterings and clatterings bounced around the echoey room. Standing in the queue she could sense them watching her. She got her lunch and approached, trying to look casual, judging the mood from a distance as she weaved between the tables. She smiled hopefully at the group. She opened her mouth to say something but then stopped. The red haired girl turned and slowly looked her up and down.
"Sorry," she said, not sounding sorry, "you can't sit here, there's no room."

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge.)
(Another good word suggested by Creature, and the situation inspired, I confess, by the film Mean Girls.)

Sunday 22 April 2012

S is for Supine

The day was hot, really hot. The bag was heavy, really heavy. He shifted it from one shoulder to the other, but it didn't help much. And there were four more in the back of the van. The path was unshaded and yellow dust rose around his feet and settled on his skin as he trudged down to the house and then up the flight of steps. When the last one landed with a thump on the deck he wiped his sleeve across his face and sank down. Slowly he lay back on the soft grass and closed his eyes.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge.)

Saturday 21 April 2012

New Blanket in progress

Several years ago I knitted this lovely blanket for cuddling up with on the sofa on chilly evenings. It is made with recycled sari yarn and banana yarn (also known as vegan silk because it has a soft silky sheen but is, as the name suggests, made from banana fibre). It is not all that soft so it is backed with a cheap fleece throw to make it more cosy. In a fit of generosity I gave it to Tish when she went off to uni.
So I bought a batch of yarn last summer to make a start on a replacement, most of which has now been used, so the other day I bought another selection of beautiful yarns, mainly Araucania and Mirasol, all from Aileen's Wool Shop on eBay. By the time it is finished I will have spent a small fortune on it ... but what the hell:-)
I have moved over to crochet in the interests of speed and am kind of winging it, vaguely using a log cabin patchwork pattern. I learned how to do a half double crochet and am just doing that (except when the yarn is nearly running out, then I do a row of single crochet.) I have also raided the stash and found some left over balls from other projects that are suitable. Currently I have 8 large squares, if I do 16, plus joining, plus an edging, it should be about the size of a double quilt.

Friday 20 April 2012

R is for Retribution

He left the old man lying face down, he was not moving. Not looking back he ran out across the road , dodging between two cars and headed around the corner. His rasping laboured breathing was the only sound on the deserted street, but then someone shouted and he nearly stumbled. Feet pounded behind him. Turning the next corner he found himself in a narrow alley. He climbed on a bin and pulled himself up and over the nearest wall. Crouching down he listened at the gate for the footsteps and then turned slowly at the low threatening growl behind him.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)
(Word suggested by Dunk)

Thursday 19 April 2012

Q is for Quandary

I can't decide.
Yes or no. Stay or go.
Left or right. Dark or light.
I just don't know.
Up or down. Smile or frown.
Love or hate. Early or late.
It can't be that difficult.
Read or knit. Stand or sit.
Coffee or tea. Flower or tree.
Please tell me what to do.
Hot or cold. Silver or gold.
False or true. Boot or shoe.
How do I choose.
Right or wrong. Weak or strong.
Meat or bread. Alive or dead.
But when it comes down to it
there is only one choice:
Red or Blue.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Cake to make you smile

Cake always makes me smile. This one was based on the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland (Disney version of course), who vanishes, leaving behind only his smile. At a quick glance it was actually rather creepy, but still yummy.

P is for Pyromania

She lies, nose almost touching the dry soil, and watches as the bright orange glow licks delicately at the edge of the hole, spreading outwards, the tiniest wisp of smoke carrying away tiny flakes of ash. Then a flame appears, startling her back but bringing the tiniest of triumphant smiles. She places tiny twigs on top, shielding the flames with her hand, and the pile begins to crackle and twist. She can feel the warmth growing now. The fire spits out a spark that hits her finger. She snatches her hand away and sucks it vigorously, but she is mesmerised.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

The Finkler Question

I have taken my time reading 'The Finkler Question' by Howard Jacobson, probably three or four weeks, and it's only 300 pages. I have also put off writing about it and am glad I did because Dunk pointed out a programme on Sky Arts 1 the other evening where he was being interviewed, and his comments about his writing in general, and about the Finkler Question in particular, were most amusing, interesting and enlightening, and have made me see and understand the book in a whole new way. The book is about Jewishness, and about Treslove, who wants to be Jewish, and who struggles to find some sense of identity. Having said that I don't think that I finished the book with any more of a sense of what it is to be Jewish than I had at the beginning.

My own understanding of Jewishness comes entirely from some very longstanding friends of my family, Harriet and Al Saperstein, who first spent Christmas with us when I was about ten and Al was on sabbatical at the Open University (am sure some family member has better recollection), and we made paper dolls to put on the tree with their daughters Rina and Shira. Like Treslove I developed this yearning to be Jewish after learning about Kibbutz and assumed that you had to be Jewish to live on one (see, I have always been a naive idealist:-) To me Jewishness is less about religion and more about cultural identity. Certainly for Jacobson it seems this way, god doesn't get much of a mention, it is about being part of something bigger than yourself, and Jewishness has the advantage of having this long, long history, a well recorded history, of which you get to feel a part.

What was interesting in the TV programme was Jacobson saying how he doesn't like the idea of 'plot'. His writing is based around characters, what they do and say and what happens to them, but the idea of 'plot' is too contrived and artificial, and really very little happens in this book. It is also very much about male relationships, which is rather unusual. Most (in the grand scale of novel writing) books about about male characters, but mostly these men have to do stuff and very little is written about the relationships between men. Finkler and Libor are both recently widowed and as such fall back on their important friendships for succour. The story becomes a discussion about the differing attitudes to the nature of being Jewish (Finkler and Libor are both Jewish and Treslove is the aspiring Jew) but also is an interesting examination of the nature of love, contrasting the three men's marriages and their feelings about their wives. This is a writer who knows his strengths and writes to them, here are his three main characters:

"Some days he'd ask one of the boys to give his lesson for him since they all knew it so well. When no questions about the First, the Second or indeed Any Subsequent Defenestrations of Prague appeared on their examination papers, the class complained to Libor. 'Don't look to me to prepare your for examinations,' he told them, curling his already curly lip. 'There are plenty of teachers who can help you get good marks. The point of me is to give you a taste of the wider world.' " (p.19)

"But without a doubt he felt more purposeful this minute than he had in years. How could this be, he didn't know. He would have expected himself to want to stay in bed and never rise again. Mugged by a woman! For a man whose life had been one absurd disgrace after another, this was surely the crowning ignominy. And yet it wasn't." (p.48-9)

And Finkler,
"Finkler opened wide his arms Finklerishly. Infinite patience beginning to run out, the gesture denoted. Finkler reminded Treslove of God when he did that. God despairing of his people from a mountain top. Treslove was envious. It was what God gave to the Finklers, as a mark of his covenant with them - the ability to shrug like Him. Something on which, as a non-Finkler, Treslove had missed out." (p.65)

So in spite of them being a million miles from me I found myself sympathising and rooting for them all, fascinated by the intimate inside picture of their friendship, their hopes and dreams.

Little quote now, just a phrase that I liked, always a sign of lovely writing to find such things dropped in unselfconsciously (Libor and his bereavement counsellor):
"He would have preferred it if she had worked out of a clinic or a hospital, but she saw him in the front room of her house.
She was, she explained, retired. But still counselled ....
Libor thought she was going to say for a hobby or to keep her hand in, but she left the sentence to dangle like a person on the end of a rope ..." (p.171)

Although he claimed in the programme to hate using the word anti-semitism, the book is to some extent about the idea of anti-semitism, held in contrast to Treslove's fascination with the notion of Jewishness. Long quote that kind of sums up the argument; Hephzibah's museum has suffered attack by vandals and this is her reaction. My mum (who lent me the book) had also noted this and written one sentence on a post-it note stuck to the page:

"Then Hephzibah began to laugh. She saw the rashers of bacon wrapped painstakingly around the ram-horn handles. And the plugs of meat and fat, which she hadn't got round to telling him about, stuffed into the keyholes of the doors. She imagined the vandals going into Marks & Spencer and buying what they needed, paying at the till, perhaps using a reward card, and then, like vigilantes, vigilantes armed with bacon, the greatest defilement they could conceive, descending on the Museum of Ango-Jewish Culture, which didn't have signs up yet, and so which strictly couldn't even be said to exist.
'It isn't just their overestimation of our horror of the pig,' she said, wiping her eyes. 'I'm sure, for example, they don't know how much I love a bacon sandwich, but it isn't only that, it's their exaggeration of our presence. They find us before we find ourselves. Nowhere is safe from them because they think nowhere is safe from us.'
Treslove couldn't keep up with the fluctuation of her feelings. She wasn't, he realised, going from fear to amusement and back again, she was experiencing both emotions simultaneously. It wasn't even a matter of reconciling opposites, because they were not opposites for her. Each partook of the other." (p.208)

There is ridicule, but it does not lessen the impact. There is the sense almost of resignation, but again, not quite, just about the inevitability, as if these experiences (from vandalism through to the Holocaust) are a part of everything that makes up being Jewish. And Treslove, in trying to understand her reaction, concludes, "Not for the first time in recent days, Treslove felt he had failed a test." A fascinating, engaging book. No plot, but plenty of story.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

O is for Oubliette

From her window Elspeth can see the garden. They call it the garden but it's on the shady side of the building so nothing thrives there, only a few unkempt rosebushes along the fence and some stubbly grass. Once a chaffinch had landed on the abandoned bird feeder and flown away in disgust. That had been a nice morning. A carer bustles in with a tepid cup of tea and hurriedly straightens the bedclothes. Elspeth opens her mouth but can only manage an incoherent mumble, but the woman has already gone anyway. She looks back out of the window, hoping.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

N is for Nadir

Sleet blew through the trees and froze his fingers to the shovel. Dark shadows shrouded him as he laboured, his breathing ragged and harsh as he struggled to shift the earth. All he knew was that he had to hide it, every fibre of his being concentrated on the task. His hair was plastered to his face and his jacket sodden and heavy, weighing him down. Freezing water pooled in the hole. Then a heavy footstep sloshed in the mud and he looked up into torchlight that nearly blinded him.
"When you get to the bottom, you better stop digging."

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)
(Belated after the iPad ate my last night's efforts)

Sunday 15 April 2012

M is for Mollify

"But I left it right here."
He began gathering up old letters and peering randomly into empty envelopes. He clattered the dirty plates together and tossed piles of newspaper onto the floor. He emptied his pockets onto the table and searched through the screwed up bus tickets and receipts.
"What have you lost now dad?"
Eric looked over from the television, feigning disinterest.
"That twenty quid. I just know I still had it."
Eric sighed and got up.
"Here, have this fiver to keep you going till pension day. I'll put the kettle on and we'll have a nice cuppa."

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge.)

Friday 13 April 2012

L is for Ligature

Her wrist is so narrow his thumb and forefinger can encircle it easily. It feels as fragile as a tiny animal, a mouse or a sparrow, as if a mere pinch of the fingers could snap it. The piece of pale pink ribbon wrapped around it is tattered and frayed. She twists the ribbon nervously back and forth, picking at the threads. He presents her with the beautiful silver chain, on which tiny silver bells tinkle and tiny diamonds dangle. But when he fetches scissors to cut the ribbon she backs away slowly, covering it protectively and withdraws her smile.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)
(Sorry, late again. Word inspired but not suggested by Creature)

Thursday 12 April 2012

K is for Keepsake

I don't know if he wore a hat before. I mean he probably did when he was younger because that was the 1920's and everyone wore hats then; I mean before we bought him the beret. It must have been our first trip to France, when we rented a caravan in St George de Didonne. After that he always wore it and that's how I thought of him. After the funeral it was just lying, in the last place he left it, so I picked it up and asked the aunts if it was ok for me to have it.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)
(Today's word suggested by Dunk)

J is for Juvenile

The boy was basking on the platform, a cap pulled down, ostensibly to shade his eyes from the fierce sun, but mainly so he could observe the girls on the swings without them noticing. His friend pulled himself up and sat picking indifferently at the splintered wood. One of the girls twisted her swing tightly and allowed it to unfurl, swinging her around wildly and making her shriek. They chattered about nothing much, kicking an empty plastic bottle back and forth between them. After a while they got up and wandered away. The boys watched them go without a word.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)
(p.s. I know it's late, Creature had the computer and was revising on the BBC bitesize.)

Tuesday 10 April 2012

I is for Iridescence

It had been raining all day, clouds so thick the sky was almost black. The chill wind seemed to creep through invisible gaps around the windows. The baby had been crying all day too and she sagged with weariness as she tried in vain to soothe him. In desperation she put on wellies, lay him in the pram and ventured out. Drips thundered on the hood as she stalked irritably through the puddles. Within minutes the crying ceased and as they crossed towards the park he fell asleep. She tipped back her head and laughed, drinking in the raindrops gratefully.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Monday 9 April 2012

H is for Homeostasis

Winnie and George took the path cautiously, an overnight frost had tinged the hedgerow with white but the ground was dark and damp. She tucked her hand under his elbow and they made their way down towards the high street. Outside the butchers he waited while she shopped then they stepped out to cross to the post office. Without warning she felt her foot slide and panic rose as she lurched towards an approaching lorry. A strong hand caught her by the arm and pulled her back. She looked up to thank her rescuer and met her husband's reassuring smile.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Deliberately Sad Books

On the recommendation of Jenners at Life With Books I went to the library and found a copy of 'Every Last One' by Anna Quindlen. I picked it up Wednesday morning (there being no overtime available I had a nice three day midweek break) and finished it before bedtime. The story is a portrait of ordinary (for US novels read affluent middle class) family life destroyed by an act of violence. There seems to be an unspoken pact amongst bloggy reviewers that you don't reveal what the event is, so I will abide by it, though as you creep towards the middle of the book it becomes plain what is going to happen. There is nothing very clever or distinctive about her writing but it just flows so nicely. I liked the characters and the details of their live enamoured them to me, and I did identify with the mother as she shares all her joys and concerns of watching her children grow up. Her reactions and behaviour after the event are authentic and believable. The trouble I have is the feeling of being emotionally manipulated, that the purpose of the book is to make me feel sad. I do not get an intellectual response, it does not provoke thoughts, it merely provokes tears. But it was one of those nice 'resilience of the human spirit' kind of books, an undemanding and enjoyable quick read.

So I went upstairs and told Creature what I had been reading and she handed me this: 'Looking for Alaska' by John Green, that her friend Tom had given her for Christmas. Now this one is much less bashful about it's tear-jerking nature ... the chapters are entitled 'One hundred and thirty six days before', and so on, in a count down, so you know as soon as you open the book that something really bad is going to happen. It is about a bunch of teenagers at a somewhat offbeat private school, where they spend their time trying to avoid being caught doing the three things that will get them expelled (smoking, drinking and having sex). Again it was well written with the teenage voices all very credible (sometimes teenage talking can feel stilted when written by adults).
Found myself laughing uproariously several times during the first half, particularly when the Colonel makes up cheerleader chants to taunt their opponents at the basketball game (he is maintaining his record of being thrown out of every single game): "Cornbread! he screamed. Chicken! the crowd responded. Rice! Peas! And then all together: WE'VE GOT HIGHER S.A.T.s. Hip Hip Hip Hooray! the Colonel cried. YOU'LL BE WORKING FOR US SOME DAY!"
Also loved the line when Pudge (aka Miles) asks Alaska about her book collection:
"I am going to read them all. I call it my Life's Library. Every summer since I was little, I've gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read. But there's so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I'll have more time for reading when I'm old and boring." (p.28)
It's very 'teenage'. As is, "A deep fried bean burrito, the burfriedo proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that frying always improves a food." (p.31)
And, "So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane." (p.109)
All in all a most enjoyable book. It's about the teenage friendships, the adults in their life are all in the background, not relevant to the big picture. It was less intense than 'Every Last One', and I felt more like an observer, as an adult reader, but again the impact and reactions of the characters felt real.

Saturday 7 April 2012

G is for Gomenasai

The door swung open and the smell that drifted out was both stale and putrid. The tap dripped ominously into a sink full of greasy plates. Beer cans lined the window sill, twenty seven of them. The bread on the side had patches of green mould; half a carton of milk congealed quietly next to the kettle. A rattle of gunfire came from upstairs so they followed the sound. Three boys, hunched over controllers in the dark were battling for supremacy at the end of the universe. One glanced up and nudged his neighbour.
"Mum, Dad, you're home early!"

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

(another word suggestion from Creature, 'gomenasai' means 'sorry' in Japanese)

Friday 6 April 2012

F is for Façade

Mrs Mac hadn't been seen for nearly a week and the flowers on her front windowsill were wilting. She had been expected to Chair the WI meeting the previous evening and had failed to arrive. As he knocked tentatively the policeman found a very determined tabby winding itself around his legs, mewing pitifully. He walked around to the back door and peered in at the immaculate kitchen. The door opened and he could hear the hum of the television. The elderly lady was in the living room, overcome, he assumed, by a massive heart attack, wearing only scarlet nipple tassels.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge.)

Cakes are pants

I have been craving cake. Nasty processed, sickly, shop-bought cake. But I have better things to do with my money. And we had most of a packet of ready roll icing (left over from the Lizard Cake) just begging to be finished off. I asked Creature what I should put on the cake and she said (of course) "Underpants!"
(p.s. this is not an A to Z post, could have saved it for 'U' I suppose.)

Thursday 5 April 2012

15 days without a head

I read a review of '15 Days Without a Head' by Dave Cousins over on Vulpes Libris, and it's been quite a while since I read any YA fiction so I popped to the library and picked it out.
So, it's about Lawrence and his little brother Jay, and their alcoholic mother has upped and disappeared. Lawrence tries desperately to hold things together, to pretend to Jay that things are ok and to convince the nosey neighbours that they don't need the help of the social services. I liked it because there is no glamorisation, or making him so clever and resourceful ... things are a mess. Lawrence makes some really bad decisions, they have no money and no food and give up on going to school (he's afraid Jay will tell the teacher their mum has gone) and then Jay gets very ill. And then he finds help in the shape of Mina, a girl from school, who's mere presence seems to help him not feel like such a loser. And you can't help but like him, he is so determined, and focusses his whole being on the idea that if he can win a holiday in a radio phone-in competition he can make his mum come home and everything will be alright. It is the neat mixture of trying to be responsible and utter naivety that makes him such a convincing character. Things don't exactly work out ok in the end, but they work out in a believable way, life is tough, and much as you love your family sometimes it's not enough. I liked the way that the guy from social services actually does come in and help them and not judge them, those people need all the good press they can get.

E is for Evanescence

Ben was perched precariously on the stone parapet above the beach, silhouetted by the intense blue of the water behind, the sun glistening off his dark hair and off the peak of the ice cream he clutched. From under her sunglasses she watched him surreptitiously as, with the intense concentration that only five year olds manage, he licked the sticky dome down to nothing. The shrieks of children in the sea and the hum of the fairground rides faded. A fly landed on her hand and she glanced down to flick it away. When she looked again he was gone.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge.)
(Also the name of this band)

Wednesday 4 April 2012

D is for Dystopia

There is the merest suggestion of tension in the air as she crosses the office, but maybe it's just paranoia. She places her jacket on the back of the chair and turns on the computer. Bernard puts a cup of coffee on her desk silently. She opens her mouth to greet him but he avoids her gaze and gathers files from the desk. Sweat prickles at the back of her neck. Just act normal she tells herself, everything will be fine. The knock at the door makes her start.
"Some people to see you Miss Adamson," says Bernard stepping aside.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Monday 2 April 2012

C is for Cadaverous

An old man is sitting in the autumn sunshine. His eyes are sunken and his skin looks sallow and dry. In the chill breeze the legs of his trousers flap against his skinny shanks. Drifts of fallen leaves swirl unnoticed about his shoes. Two magpies peck at some discarded rubbish behind the bench. A woman walking past pauses, curiously, anxiously. She leans over and tentatively touches his hand, it is cool. A siren sounds on the main road, but the man does not stir. She waits a minute. He breathes a deep sigh, opens his eyes and smiles at her.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

B is for Betwixt

"If you're only going for a walk then he can go with you."
"But mum ..." he said.
"Unless you're not telling me everything?"
"No, we're just friends, I said."
Ben hopped up and down on the spot expectantly, eyes pleading.
He looked at him and sighed, resigned.
She was waiting for them at the end of the road and greeted him with a shy smile. The breeze whipped her long hair around her face. Ben reached out his other hand to her. They stood a moment, both feeling the small trusting warmth of his hands.
"Come on, it's this way."

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge site, where you can visit other participants)

Sunday 1 April 2012

A is for Adultery

The setting sun is bright behind the half lowered blind and the shadow of the washing line bisects the table between them. After the 'How was your day?' formalities there is little left to say; what little there is is left unsaid. The food is shuffled around plates listlessly, she eats her potato tiny piece by tiny piece. At each sip the wine turns sour in his mouth, but fingers rest on the stem for want of anything better to do. She pushes her plate away and sighs. A phone beeps abruptly in the silence and, then, their eyes meet.

(I have decided to go for a month of Flash Fiction, also written to the 100 Words format, just to add to the challenge. Written for the A to Z Challenge. Title suggested by Creature when I requested inspiration.)