How to Install a Bathroom

DSC_0579

Extract:

How to install a  bathroom: cover all floors with cardboard; spread your economically thin dust-sheet on top; tell the woman of the house that it will make a mess; make sure it is a big mess, she is paying a lot of money; find the longest route through the house; tread carefully, your boots are for building-sites not hardwood floors in Newton Mearns; do not spin round on your heels; that interesting circular pattern was not there before; yes it is unique, no, her neighbours will not be envious;

MVJ 2015

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The System

Extract

What is it that pulls you off the beaten path? The path you’ve mapped so that each day follows the next in well-ordered progression. Where love is constant, unquestionable and as unassuming as the cup of tea you bring me before work, when my eyes are half open and the bed still warm on your side.

—–

What she means is that she will not work for me. I watch him at his desk. He is fast, efficient, he doesn’t ask her opinion but expects to receive it. He does his part, passes papers to her, she does her bit, brings them back, smooth as the Berlin Metro. He rewards her with quick little smiles. She beams; she shimmies past my desk on her click-clicking heels.

MVJ2015

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The Lightness of Her Bones

Extract:

She looked like a piano teacher to me. She had that straight-backed look you get from sitting for hours on a piano stool. She was close enough for me to see that her fingers that clutched the boy’s shoulders were slender but strong. She was tall and middle-aged, and clearly angry.

“I bet she raps their knuckles when they get the notes wrong,” I said aloud, absently.

“What?”

 

 

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MVJ

20 July 2015

GET THIS

Extract:

There I was, dancing naked on the front lawn of suburbia, my heart pumping to the pulse of the sprinkler, spray-wet skin and diamonds beading my hair.

“Dance with me.” I screamed at you; at your bedroom window, no longer our bedroom window.

______

I saw you cowering behind the curtain. I felt your blood run cold. I saw you turn uncertainly to the woman, no girl, behind you. She is deranged, you would say, and pull a sheet around your nakedness, exposed by my nakedness, outside, not in. Mad bitch, mad, mad. I felt your fear as you saw your world come crashing down. I threw up my arms and laughed.

MVJ2014

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Love Locks

Extract:

“Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais?” I asked hopefully.

It was pretty much the only thing I could say in French. I stood  in the  police station and shifted from foot to foot. I was nervous, and my feet were hot.

“Mai-oui, but of course, how can I help you?” He looked me up and down, then looked back to his book where he recorded the time.

“Your name? You are staying where, and for how long? May I see your passport? Now, why are you here?”

“I have lost my wife.”

MVJ2014

 

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Chocolate Brownie

Extract:

There was a woman who walked her dog every day to the woods. She walked past an old man’s house. The man’s name was Alex. He watched her as she came out, and went back into her house. He watched her in her garden, and at night he watched her through her lit-up windows when she did not know he was watching. But she did know because he liked to complain to Fred from the social and Fred knew her friend Jean, but the old man did not know that she knew, so he talked and talked.

MVJ2014

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My Sister’s Life

Extract:

I was twelve years old when I first realised I was walking on water. Before that I was home-schooled and no-one had much hope for me. But I survived. My sister was at private school and would have stayed there had I not hung on. The cost of my tuition was sucking the funds from her education pot so our parents had no choice but to dismiss my tutor, and pull her from the posh school. That is how we ended up at the local academy where normal kids go, and that is when I saw how much her life differed from mine.

MVJ2014

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Something Coils

What is Your Story?

A version of this story is published as “The Bag” in Oor Ain Voice, by Write Enuff, 2016. Available from epubli at this link: Oor Ain Voice, or from iTunes, or Amazon

 

What does he have in the bag?
Sculpture on exhibition at Hotel Tylösand, Sweden.

This sculpture chilled me. The man or boy seems to have emerged from the ocean. He is pale and holds something in a bag at arm’s length. The sculptor must have had a particular story in mind. Here is mine.

The man ascends the steep bank rising from the shoreline. His head appears first over the grassy embankment. His hair is short and pressed damply to his skull, so his ears seem unusually large and stand out from his head. You note that although his nose is not quite straight, no features are striking. Nor is his body distinctive. He is slim but not muscular and you can see that his upper torso is smooth and hairless, because he wears no shirt. You are not alarmed by his partially dressed state, for although it is late, at this time of year it could be tempting to take a plunge in the river after a day in a hot office. So his smart shoes and city trousers, while at odds with the pale nakedness of his chest and arms, are easily explained.

A sudden shiver runs down your spine as you see his expression of intense concentration. His eyes are unblinking and focus on a sack that he grasps by its neck and holds in front and away from his body. His arm stretches forward, its muscles sharply defined in the moonlight. His other hand hangs loosely at his side and is connected to the sack with rope, the yellow kind used by boatmen, to see easily below water. At its end is a metal clip. The middle of the rope coils tightly several times around his hand to ensure his grip and its length shows that the bag was submerged at six or seven feet.  You see the sack is heavy and that something coils inside. Its weight is dispersed in each corner for balance, although he holds it steady. You see his lips curve in a slight smile and realise this is his precious. What does he have in the bag?

You can’t get it out of your head. You follow him through the grass to an old wooden boathouse. The  water laps under the rotted boards. You shudder at the sucking sound of the tide pulling back, for it has now turned. You follow him inside keeping to the shadows. He sets the bag down gently in the boat moored there, and you see he is careful to distribute its weight evenly. As he lets go of the bag it settles down wetly onto the thing inside. You think you see movement, but it might just be the bag pulled down by the weight of water and slipping around the smooth surface of something lurking there; for you feel a presence. The man takes a lantern from a hook and steps into the boat. It rocks gently for a moment, the water lap-lapping as he sits carefully on the bench, an oar at either side of him, the bag in front between his feet. He adjusts it carefully, tenderly. You hear him speak to it softly.

You think he is going to take the oars and pull the boat out of the boathouse, into the current, but first he lights the lantern. The light is dim and soft and casts fleeting shadows. He loosens the top of the bag, and in the shifting reflections of the ripples shimmering across his face you see what it has done to him. This is mine you think. You have to have it. You move forward slowly, stealthily. One oar does it. One quick smack. One single splash.

You sit on the bench, the bag between your feet. You adjust it carefully, tenderly. It’s alright you say as you extinguish the lantern. You take the bag and hold it in front of you and away from your body. You step out of the boat and walk along the bank to the place from which he came. You lower it into the water taking care that it is fully submerged, letting it sink until the yellow rope is all played out. You coil it around the post, once, twice, and a half hitch.

I stand in the shadows. I watch you climb up the embankment in front of me. Your shirt is clinging wetly to your skin. You raise your arm and wipe your sleeve across your face. In the moonlight I see you look around. You pull a fallen branch from the side of the path and sweep it behind, covering your tracks. I watch as you reach the road, your head rising first above the embankment and caught in the glow of the street lamps. As you move away along the road, I look back towards the river.

I follow your path. I reach the post where the yellow rope is coiled, once, twice around, and secured by a half hitch. I remove my shirt and place it on a stone, then I squat down to pull on the rope. I see myself reflected in a sliver of moonlight on the dark water, I see that I am slim but not muscular and as I pull on the rope the muscles of my arms are sharply contoured. On my face is an expression of concentration, a slight smile curves my lips. This is my precious; in the bag is my precious.

Also published as “The Bag” in Oor Ain Voice, by Write Enuff, 2016. Available from epubli at this link: Oor Ain Voice, or from iTunes, or Amazon

Living the Dream

Extract:

“What would You know?”

It was the wrong response. The cab lurched forward. The driver barked something unintelligible at her, his eyes pierced hers in the mirror. His soothing tone was gone and she felt the tension mounting as he slammed the wheel back and forth, navigating the sharp bends on the mountain road. He was shouting and shouting at her, spit spraying her face as he turned to yell.

MVJ2014

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Unattended

Extract:

It was the pile of banknotes lying unattended on the bar that drew my attention. We were in a café bar in the centre of Copenhagen in deep conversation about the exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Leaving the gallery we had taken a brisk detour through the normally quaint and picturesque Nyhavn with its pastel coloured town-houses and pretty boats, on the waterways around which the old town was built. Today though it was miserably wet, and cold for August, so we hurried back to the city centre where we were glad to find a café with an empty table. We sat perched on two high stools, just inside the door with a good vantage point to view the bustling city street outside, as well the goings-on within. I had spotted a number of small galleries that we were enthusiastically planning to visit the next day when I stopped mid-sentence, as the strangeness of the situation dawned on me.

MVJ2014

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The Final Prayer

Extract:

Angela came to church but not often. It was Zimbabwe, 1985, and our songs and prayers rose with the optimism and reconciliation of those first years of independence. She tended to arrive late, just after the service started, and seemingly slipped out during the final prayer because I did not see her at the door where we all ritually hugged and asked after family. “They are all right if you are all right too,” and prolonged our goodbyes lest some misfortune befall us between now and the next gathering.

MVJ2014

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