perception

Transition #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

All the time when we lived opposite and she was alive, I would envy the woman her house across the courtyard from mine. It was serene: the wonderful stone gable, the stout, reliable oak door, and a small, teak garden bench for sitting out, catching the morning sun, while my own was cast in morbid shadow. Then, in the afternoon, when my half was scorched in a blistering oppression of the merciless sun’s heat, hers was sheltered, and shady, and cool. I’d notice her seating outside, on her bench, under her window, sipping wine, or maybe some cold cordial; a book open upon her lap. She was often smiling; contented.

And then she died. A brief illness, I don’t know what. An ambulance came one day last Spring and took her away, and the next thing I knew about it was the agent’s man coming around to fix up a board. “For Sale”. Of course, I bought it; a ridiculous price but I had to have it, see? After all those years, looking out upon it.

There is a new family in my old house now. Two children play in the courtyard after school, in the afternoon sunshine, while the couple cuddle up on my old bench, under my old window. They are always laughing. Sometimes they notice me looking out and they give a little wave, and occasionally mime a friendly “hello”. They seem happy and at home, in my old house, and I envy them.

(287 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Transition”

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Rorschach Test

a flash-fiction piece

“To me, this image represents our excesses, our gluttony and greed. It’s chaotic, unconstrained, undisciplined. Disrespectful. It is a metaphor of the state of the world as I see it today…”

He separated the notes he intermittently made on Patient P’s interpretations of Card X with a vertical line down the page. On the right hand side he wrote, “tomatoes, beetroot, string beans, avocado”. Then, on the left hand side, “vivid, politicised, abstraction”. He thought for a while, sucking on his pen, and then added, “carrots”. Then he wondered how well off he was for bananas. She liked bananas, he recalled, but he wasn’t sure how much he liked them himself.

“Clearly, it’s a fat lady wearing a blue bra and not much else,” smirked Patient F. “Apart from yellow gloves! She has long, curly, violently red hair…green stockings…”

He wrote down Martha’s number, just to see if he could remember it. It didn’t look right so he scratched it out and tried a different combination. This too looked odd. He wondered if Martha was still single after their split. She wasn’t the dating kind; they’d met in unusual circumstances, by pure chance; an accident, or coincidence, one might say. Though she wasn’t shy. She had been adventurous, full of surprises, sometimes shockingly so…but he really missed sharing the intimacy.

“An aquarium. See, tropical fish, coral, hermit crabs, a bit of a weed, bladderwrack..”

“What?” he said, his attention coming suddenly back to the test.

“Bladderwrack,” reiterated Patient W, “a bit of a weed.”

He wrote it down and gestured for the patient to continue. As the voice drifted further back into his conscious awareness, he began doodling in the margin: a desert island with a palm tree protruding dead centre, and little waves lapping around. They met on the sands of a lonely beach. He was taking photographs, she was sunbathing. He had been shocked to come across her, quite nude, while he was changing lenses: a wide angle for a zoom, the very longest. He fumbled clumsily, she squinted up at him through the bright sunlight, he coughed, and she laughed, without a shred of embarrassment. Propping herself up on one side, she offered him a drink from an open can, and he found he had a thirst he needed to quench.

“Well, it’s just a load of ink randomly splattered on a bit of card, then someone’s obviously folded it down the middle and opened it out again. It’s meaningless. Utterly meaningless. I could tell you it was the man in the moon. I could say pie in the sky. I could say it was two lovers in love, making love, but it would be ridiculous to do so.”

He didn’t know what to write now. No one had yet not played along. He looked into the eyes of Patient X and was bewitched by their clarity. Almond shaped and blue, sitting in absolute symmetry within the freshest of complexions, framed with auburn curls. She smiled at his dumb gaze, her plump lips parting ever so slightly revealing the edges of straight lines of pearly teeth. He wondered how unethical it would be to ask her out for a date.

“Shall I go on?” she asked, not breaking the spell.

“Yes, please do,” he said, putting down the blank clipboard.

(545 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Sunday writing prompt – “Rorschach Test”

image: Rorschach Test, card X – the final test card.

Official: I am not middle class

Here’s a bit of fun from the Daily Mirror. How “Posh” are you?

Well, I didn’t think being middle class was posh, more aspiring posh, I think. However, an expert in etiquette, William Hanson, claims there are 16 tell-tale household possessions which can determine how middle class you are.

And, surprisingly, I score a fat zero.

Okay, hands up, I have owned one or two in the past but, of this precise moment, I don’t. Here they are, listed in order of popularity,

Smart TV. I have thought about it but telly is a bit crap, so I’m putting it off.

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner. Have had two in the past. Expensive crap, both fell apart. Bought German design instead.

Barbecue. No, much prefer proper cooking.

Vinyl Record Collection. Gone to charity.

iMac Computers. Never considered it. Does an iPad count?

Nutribullet. Have teeth, prefer chewing.

Samsonite Wheelie Suitcase. What’s wrong with a couple of carrier bags?

Wood Burning Stove. Previously had one a couple of houses ago. With the state of the world, might need one again soon.

Spiralizer. What the hell is that? Sounds like the name of a 90’s Indie band.

Mulberry Bags. What, like for carrying your mulberries home in? What?

Matching Coasters. The coffee cup marks on the table provide evidence to the contrary.

Boiling Water Taps. Had these at work once. Don’t actually boil water. Horrible tasting tea.

Hot Tub. I very much doubt this is in any way “posh” but, nope, just wouldn’t.

Aga Cooker. Have used one before but – see same for barbecue above.

Smeg Fridge. Sounds obscene: something they store samples in at a sperm bank, perhaps? A fridge is a fridge, isn’t it?

Brompton Folding Bicycle. Never had a car I couldn’t easily throw an ordinary bike into, so, no thanks.

Ha, what larks! Are you middle-class? Want to be? Buy all of the above.


You are posh if you own one of these 16 items says etiquette expert (Daily Mirror)

Ivory Towers

“I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it.”

wrote the French writer, Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to the Russian author, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev. Thanks to Lit.hub.com, a blog I follow, for this quote.

It’s a timely quote as it does reflect a sense of the world I see today.

I was interested in the term Ivory Tower. It isn’t literally a tower made from ivory but refers to the colour. A symbolic colour of noble purity, Wikipedia tells us. It is mentioned in The Song of Solomon, part of the Old Testament; “Your neck is like an ivory tower”. Quite a long neck, then, and in no literal sense being an abode.

But it probably didn’t originate in the O.T. and its use is found littered throughout time.

Modern usage has modified its sense to convey the idea of a person isolated from common experiences rather than, as Flaubert probably had it, simply striving to live a more virtuous or meaningful life. Of course, in his case, no doubt he sees the average person’s preferences as being part of the “shit”.

Social media has provided the platform for free speech and democratic expression from all quarters of the free world. People say what they want. Is it fair to regard any of it as “shit”? The trouble is, I suppose, this idea of “the will of the people”; is this today’s “shit” that’s beating at the walls, the utter certainty and determination of the plebiscite?


The picture is an altered image of Broadway Tower which is near here. It is actually built in Cotswold limestone which has turned a beautiful, deep and mellow honey colour with time, something which is peculiar to the Cotswold stone around about the county of Worcestershire, in the north west of the area.

Is it okay to be in love with your protagonist?

The idea occurred to me while walking the dogs this morning. Actually, no sooner was this idea given oxygen when it latched itself onto an old idea that all our protagonists are, in essence, autobiographical, just different versions of us. Combined, this asks, how much writing a central character is an act of narcissism?

I’ve just begun reading Montalbano’s First Case, a book of short stories by Andreas Camilleri, a kind of prequel to the Montalbano novels of which he has written many. It’s apparent that Camilleri emphasises Montalbano’s good character: his virtues, his compassion, his good judgement, his wisdom – even when his man goes against the grain, bends the rules and breaks the law, there is an apology and virtuous reasoning. I’d say he is in love with him. But whether Montalbano is secretly Camilleri, I have no way of telling.

Of course, there’s the other idea that our characters are our fictional children, or even that they are our Adams and Eves to which we play God. We simply love our children, whatever they may do.

Perspective

I don’t believe anyone isn’t familiar with the scene in the Irish comedy series, Father Ted. It’s in the episode where the three priests are holidaying in a caravan in a field during inclement weather, so they are stuck indoors. In the brilliant scene, Father Ted is sat across the table from the young dimwit, Father Dougal, and on the table is a toy set of plastic farmyard animals.

The scene opens with Ted picking up two toy cows and he says to Dougal,

Okay, one last time. These…,” showing Dougal the cows, “are small,”

then gesturing to the window, he continues, “but the ones out there…are far away.” Then deliberately more slowly, he hammers it home,

Small. Far away.”

And Dougal’s face says he simply doesn’t get it. And for a long time neither did artists, this illusion of perspective. Even today, artists make mistakes in perspective.


Technical drawing was probably my favourite class in school because a lot of the tricks involved in drawing geometry absolutely fascinated me, and this included the way to do a perspective representation using vanishing points, or VPs, and projection lines. Of course, revealing the working out – these points and lines – isn’t often desirable but I think it looks beautiful, probably because it shows an understanding.

An important benefit of practicing drawing and fine art, and even photography providing it’s not done carelessly and superficially, is the way it encourages the practitioner to see things accurately, and to notice things in relationship with other things.

And it doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve got this germ inside your mind, I think it expands into other aspects of life: abstract thought, philosophy, innovation and generally understanding of most things. Everyone ought to try a little perspective representation, once in a while.


inspired by and written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #83 – “Perspective”.

image: from The Book of Perspective by Jan Vredeman de Vries, (1604)

Here’s that scene from Father Ted,

We Grow Accustomed To The Darkness

a writing prompt challenge

In the school where I go to learn yoga, the men’s changing room is just off the entrance hall. It’s a small room, not much more than six feet by eight. There is a low bench along the wall on which to put your clothes and the arrangement of its sparse furniture has been the same for more than fifteen years.

I arrive early: to bag a good spot and get into the right frame of mind for the session. I’m usually the first in and, entering the changing room, there is enough light spilling in from the bright hall to see by so I won’t turn on the light. How much do you need to see to remove one’s trousers and top, fold them and place them on the bench which has always been there? An act most could do with their eyes closed, and besides, it all takes no more than ten seconds.

If another student comes in while I’m changing, usually his hand goes automatically to the light switch; he may give me an odd look and may question me about getting changed in the dark. But the question surely is; why do something habitually, without any thought?


When I was a boy scout, one of my favourite exercises was the night hike. There were six patrols in our group, about five to six boys in each, and we’d be driven in a minibus and several volunteers’ cars to six different places in the countryside. Having been deposited in the strange gloom, the patrol leader was handed a map and compass, shown where we were on the map and a destination to arrive at before dawn.

I don’t remember it ever being frightening. When you’re the youngest, you look up to the older members, even though the oldest is only sixteen, four years older than yourself. When you are the oldest, you are their patrol leader. If you’re the mindful sort, you feel the responsibility for the others, especially the new boy, but you’ve been there before, and several times. Not the same place, exactly, nor the same destination sought but the nighttime, in very unfamiliar surroundings, can appear as a homogeneity: the habit we form of seeing it instinctively. It’s not a place you want to give in to.

When the grownups leave, it’s better we face our situation squarely and piece together the clues that eventually reveal themselves, as we grow accustomed to the darkness.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge writing prompt #81 – “as we grow accustomed to the darkness”

Reena’s prompt this week is also provided by the poem, “We Grow Accustomed To The Dark” by Emily Dickinson, in this animation by Hannah Jacobs

image: “Full moon over Greece” by Jason Blackeye via Unsplash.com

Flash Fiction Challenge: A Bucket of Water

Looking into the bucket, I imagine the water as molecules; an impossible vision. We’re told the space inside an atom is greater than its matter, which implies that if we could remove all that space from the water, it’d leave just a sheen of matter at the bottom.

“Why is water wet, and snow dry?”, Gail asks, having watched a documentary on polar bears. Whenever polar bears leave the sea, they roll in the snow to dry themselves. It’s essential to stay warm in the Arctic.

“I don’t know”, I say. There’s more to this than meets the eye.

(99 words)


written for The Carrot Ranch Literary Community writing prompt – “A Bucket of Water”

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a bucket of water. What is the condition of the water and what is the bucket for? Drop deep into the well and draw from where the prompt leads!”

image via The Carrot Ranch.

Are all my protagonists me (white, male, and vaguely English)?

Here’s an interesting essay from Lithub.com, a blog I’m following, about a writer’s difficulty in portraying a non-white character – Egyptian, in this case – without their ethnicity being explicitly relevant to the story.

I suppose the problem has a lot to do with the author being in America, a nation founded on worldwide immigration yet somewhat biased in favour of white, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

I googled “Egyptian novels” and, of course, they are many – I didn’t doubt it – and I doubt their readers visualise anything other than Egyptian characters in those stories. However, that doesn’t help an Egyptian author based in Brooklyn.

I’m still a novice at storytelling and I feel my characters usually stem naturally from some version of myself. I seem more than comfortable with this and see it as complying with the old writer’s tenet for writing only about what you know.

But it’s different for me. I’m not a professional, I’m amateur, I dabble. I’m not seeking success, financial reward, or even approval. To hell with tenets, I want to have fun, experiment, to stick my bare wet fingers into the live socket just to see what happens. What do I have to lose?

I was editing a story this morning which could be gender ambiguous. In my mind, however, it was a male, probably white, and English. There was no reason for the subject to be any of these things, so I changed it. Changing the sex filled me with a little anxiety. Cowardly, I substituted a few words so as not to be seen as overly presumptuous about how women thought. In the end, gender ambiguity became gender neutral. For now, that’s the best I can do.

I hope I made her vaguely American rather than vaguely English. As for implicit ethnicity, I have no idea how to do that yet. Maybe this is something left to the reader.

All thoughts welcome!


Waiting for the day that characters don’t default to White (Lithub.com)

Monochrome Dreams

Did you know we dream only in black and white?

No? Neither did I.

I’ve been reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, the one which begins with him taking mescalin, and in that book he claims this is the case. Apparently, dreaming is nearly always about symbolism and symbolic stories don’t need colour as it’s irrelevant.

I’m not so sure but being one who rarely remembers dreams upon waking, I have no personal evidence. The trouble with TDOP for me is as soon as Huxley thinks of something and writes it down, it becomes fact. He sees no need for explanation or evidence.

I wondered if this monochrome dreaming was influenced by black and white movies and telly. His mescalin experience took place in 1953. Most western people’s exposure to imagery would have been black and white ones and so, when dreaming then, it may have played out like a typical movie. This could mean that nowadays, it’s likely we dream in full colour. But I don’t know.