The writers have been at work again to give you a brand new set of micro fiction to read.
The more often we do this the easier it is to get into the flow of writing and I reckon that this week we’ve produced some of our best work so far. These kind of writing exercises were never my favourite at school or university because there was always a time limit and that dampens the creativity. With the freedom to spend as much time as I need to get my ideas on paper, I’m beginning to see how exciting and inventive that these tasks can actually be.
We were inspired by the theme of bucket list for our latest interpretations, as decided by Holly, with the twist that at least one of the characters has to be over the age of sixty. As always, we’ve all looked at this in a different way and found something to write that is loyal to our tone and style, while also sticking to the brief. Next week will be our final collaboration for a couple of months, but after the success of these pieces, I’m certain we’ll be back to have another crack at this somewhere down the line.
For now, let’s just see what exactly we came up with for this week’s task…
It was only turning 4 o clock but already the sun was teetering on the horizon, too tired to keep the day from ending early. Jacob watched it hover over the fence and pulled his legs up to his chest. He wasn’t made for the cold.
The buzz from inside had started to die down, the masses making their excuses and taking their pity as far away from the house as they could manage. Jacob ignored the few that tried to wish him goodbye and kept watch on the horizon, counting every second that the sun kept in sight. He knew at some point the light would disappear from sight and there was no hope of it coming back up again.
‘You shouldn’t stay out here. Come in. Get a drink.’
Jacob closed his eyes and took a steady breath. There was an unpleasant taste in my mouth.
‘I’m fine where I am,’ he muttered, fingers digging into skin as the breeze curled around his frail body. It had been days since he’d eaten a full meal – nothing tasted the same.
‘I know what you’re doing. It doesn’t work.’
‘Thanks for the advice. I didn’t ask for it.’
‘You didn’t have to.’
Jacob scoffed and turned away from the falling sun. His bloodshot eyes took in the sight of his grandfather leaning in the doorway, arms folded, brows tight. He’d looked the same the day he’d told Jacob not to bring up his boyfriend when he was around.
It was the last time the two of them had spoken.
‘You’re not welcome here.’
‘Your mother thought differently. You can’t keep pushing her away.’
‘Do you hear the words that come out of your mouth? Take your bullshit somewhere else; you’re not ruining today.’
Jacob’s lip quivered as he turned back to the sun. The evening glow had started to colour the sky orange, the faintest wisps of pink and red bleeding through. There were no clouds in sight and he could already see some prickles of life above, the brightest stars shining despite the fading light.
It took him back to that night in the park when he’d seen the list and poked fun at it.
‘He doesn’t need you acting like a child,’ his grandfather piped up, no longer standing firm in the doorway. His shadow covered Jacob like a blanket.
‘Amazing how you can talk to the dead.’
‘I’ve been where you are. Don’t forget that.’
‘Forget?’ Jacob slammed his fist against the pavement, pain washed away by the blood boiling in his body, the frantic heartbeat pounding against his ribs. ‘I’ll never be able to forget this.’
‘Things get better with time.’
‘Just shut up. Why are you here? You don’t care about me, you certainly didn’t care about him. Maybe you’d prefer to go to the church and spit on his grave.’
‘Stop being petty.’
‘You broke me! You told me you didn’t want me in your life and I couldn’t cope. We’re supposed to be family and you pushed me away because I don’t love who you want me to.’ Jacob tried to steady his breaths but there was too much fire in his eyes. ‘Now he’s gone and I feel like I have nothing.’
‘That isn’t true.’
‘Then why do I just want to fall asleep and never wake up again?’
Jacob felt a hand grip his shoulder and tensed. He was choking for air but his lungs remained empty, the anger breaking down into tears. Holding them back for so long had been pointless.
The two of them stayed that way for a few minutes, the whistle of the wind undercut by Jacob’s steady sobs. He wanted the loneliness of his own company, but his grandfather was too stubborn to leave him be.
‘Your sympathy is wasted,’ he eventually said when the voice no longer hitched in his throat, ‘I still hate you.’
‘I deserve it. I was wrong.’
‘It’s too late for that now.’
‘I know, but it’s not for you. I threw away so much when I lost your grandmother. Don’t be me.’
Jacob curled his arms around his body and leant forward.
‘I don’t remember her, not very well.’
‘She was a good woman. She’d have wanted you to stay strong.’
‘It’s been thirteen years; how do you know what she’d have wanted.’
‘I just do.’
With a shaky hand, Jacob rummaged through his jacket pocket and pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper. It was damp with sweat and the handwriting was barely legible, but seeing the words on the page brought another tear to his eye. They were his words – his final words.
You have a habit of going crazy for nothing so you’re probably gonna shout at me for this, but you know I’m no good with talking about all that feeling stuff.
I don’t wanna leave you, but I don’t have a choice. Life is cruel, you’re gonna have to give it hell when I’m gone. Don’t go punching things, though.
You know I hate it when you do that.
We’d have gone all the way if things had been different. Married at twenty-five, two kids at thirty, it would have been the dream. Well, it probably wouldn’t have been but oh well.
I need you to promise me you’ll find that with someone else. Maybe not now, but one day. I want you to be happy.
It’s all I’ve ever wanted. (ew soppy!)
Just hold onto this if you do. I wrote a couple of things on the back that I always wanted to do…perhaps one day you can do them for me.
Or not. They’re pretty boring tbh.
Basically, just have a fucking good life. As much as you’d never admit it, you deserve it.
(Just don’t forget about me, okay?)
When Jacob looked back up from the paper, the sun had disappeared behind the fence.
No one had visited her in a long time. That was the trouble; being old. No one wanted to see a reminder of how the end of life looked. They busied themselves with families and holidays to forget what the winter of life was like.
Maurine had once been that way too. Too caught up in the springtime of her youth, taking it for granted. But now she was alone. Sat in a retirement home, staring bleakly through the window as her weak breath rattled and the cold bit at her fragile skin. She knew her time was ending.
Out in the corridor, modern chart music played on the radio. It was lively and the other residents seemed to enjoy it. But Maurine could not take to it. It was nothing like the music of her time. In her twenties she had been a ballerina, a fine wisp of a woman, dainty and graceful. She danced many an hour to the great composers, Tchaikovsky; Delibes. Her particularly favourite piece was Strauss’ Vienna Waltz, which always featured in her recitals.
“Mrs. Portella?” Ah. It was that time again. Maurine drifted away from her memories of an adoring crowd, watching her pirouetting across the grand stage, to see the young night nurse in his smocks, holding a cup of medication and a glass of water. She sighed deeply, leaning down to grasp the wheels of her chair, only he rushed forward.
“Oh, no. I’ll come to you. Please.”
He was such a fussy boy. New. Had only been here a few months. She sat straight as he bounded over, offering her both plastic cups.
“You needn’t bother anymore,” she said softly, leaving him to hold them in front of her. He was quiet a moment. He always seemed to be thinking. That mind of his, looking towards the future and a lifetime of possibilities. She envied him. All she could do was live on in her memories, her body too frail to even stand on its own.
“Please,” he urged. “We want you to be as comfortable as possible.”
That look in his eye. He reminded her of her son when he had been that age. On the cusp of adulthood but still shy and unsure of himself. She had been a sucker to his pleading too.
“If you insist.” She held her shaking hand out and he gave her the pills. She took them, swallowed them, then drank the water, turning to stare through the window again. He stood with her. He stared through the window beside her.
“Will someone come to see you, this week?”
He sounded naively hopeful. She reached across to her bedside table, lifting a small picture frame from it. She held it in her lap and her eyes cast back into memories. “I don’t believe so.”
There she was, dressed in her tutu, holding a bouquet of flowers with her husband beside her and their son tucked in his arms. It was difficult for him to see her now. He had grown up with her prancing around the house, the epitome of liveliness. No one wanted to accept that those days had an expiration date. She had not seen her son since her husband had passed.
“Please will you turn the radio down?” she asked, wishing to lose herself in her memories with no distraction just for now. He did not respond, nor move. She looked up at him. He was looking down at her. He always wore his heart on his sleeve. She could see his pity but it was not something she wished for. Her state was nothing he could change.
“Oh, do stop that. Go away if you’re going to be like that.”
Scolded like a child, he ducked his head. “I’m sorry.”
He took the empty plastic cup and hurriedly left her room. She sighed deeply. It made her cough. She wheezed, clutching her chest. The fit subsided.
What it was to be young.
The radio cut out. She folded her hands together, resting them in her lap with the photograph of her past. Her eyes closed. The grand theatre in her mind played. Dementia and Alzheimer’s had taken many of the other residents but with an unmoving body, she clung to her mind with all she had. It was her humanity.
Before she could become lost in her time on the stage, a sound stopped her. She could hear it. Strauss’ Vienna Waltz. In the corridor. She had not heard it play outside of her own mind in years.
Her shaking hand clutched her mouth as emotion suddenly overwhelmed her. She was no longer in the home in her wheelchair. There she was, her beautiful twenty year old self, gliding across the stage as the audience cheered her on. She was unaware of her tears or the reappearance of the night nurse until he gently touched her shoulder.
She turned and saw him there, the tears trickling down her face.
“How did you ..?” His smile was soft. “I shooed you away. I’m so sorry.”
He shook his head, accepting her apology without a moment’s hesitation. He stayed beside her. Together they looked through the window as Maurine lifted her arms, retracing the dance as elegantly as she had done in her first performance. Her final, beautiful performance.
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The wooden floorboards creaked with every step that Katie made. It had been years since she, or anyone else in her family, had ventured into her grandmother’s dusty attic. Boxes filled the space and cobwebs hung above., a musty scent hanging stale in the air.
She turned back to the attic opening
‘Granny are you sure you want all of this gone?’ she shouted, hoping her nearly deaf grandmother could hear her. Moving her from their family home to a care home was hard for Katie to deal with, but she knew it was for the best.
There was no response.
‘This will take me hours,’ she sighed to herself, looking at the boxes around her. She rolled her sleeves back to her elbows and scraped her dark hair into a messy bun. Let’s get started, she thought as she headed towards the first dusty box.
Four down, two to go. She put the next box alongside the others that she’d spent the day working through and stretched.
‘My arms are gonna kill me in the morning.’
Katie grabbed the cellotape from the kitchen and proceeded to seal up her Grandmother’s boxes. Each held their own memories from decades before she’d been born – every box holding a hundred different stories. Some of those stories had stuck in her mind and as she’d made her way through the boxes she’d come across things her Granny had talked about when she’d been growing up. It had upset her when she’d found the ones she’d never heard of before; the old, lost relics whose story would never be told.
Not much left now, she thought as she headed back up to the attic to continue her work.
When she reached the next dusty cardboard box, she opened it up and saw it was filled with books and clothes, the same things she’d been finding all day. She pulled them out and sorted them into two piles: keep or throw out. The moth-holed clothes immediately went to the throw away pile, but there were some nice things in there that Katie thought deserved to see the sun once again.
As she neared the bottom of the box, she reached down and her fingers touched something different. She looked inside to find a folded-up piece of paper, crumpled and faded with time. When she unfurled it, her grandmothers old scrawl was clear to see.
Printed at the top of the paper were the words ‘June Deveraux- Bucket List’. She stared at them in disbelief; her grandmother had never once mentioned this.
Katie stood up and made her way out of the attic, the antique piece of paper held firmly in her hand, and hurried to lounge where her grandmother was sitting.
The old woman turned at the sound of her maternal title.
‘Yes dear.’ Her voice was croaky and slow, the kind that develops with old age. Moving closer, Katie offered up the piece of paper in front of her.
‘I found this in one of the boxes.’
June reached out her hand and took the piece of paper, lowering her glasses so she could read to see its content.
Seeing the title brought the memories flooding back and a smiled appeared on her lips.
‘I remember this’ she said softly, looking up to see her granddaughter’s reaction.
‘Did you ever do any of these?’ She asked curiously.
‘I wrote this when I was 23, just a little older than you are now. I wanted to do so much.’ Her smile kept growing.
‘But granny some of the stuff on there, did you actually do it?’ She looked over her grandmother’s shoulder to reread the list. ‘Get a tattoo, go to china, take part in a marathon, climb Everest.’ Katie’s voice was filled with shock and curiosity.
‘I did some of them’ the elderly voice replied. ‘The marathon, China – I did that before your father was born. Jefferey and I went for our fourth wedding anniversary.’ Her voice trailed off at the end.
‘What’s wrong Granny?’ Katie asked. June looked up from the piece of paper.
‘I never did climb Everest or get a tattoo,’ she sighed loudly. ‘Oh well, they were merely daydreams of a life long ago.’
June folded up the piece of paper and placed in down on the coffee table next to her. Katie looked at her and crouched down so that she was at the same level as her grandmother.
‘You know what Granny, let’s go get you that tattoo.’ she said smiling. June looked at her granddaughter and mirrored her smile.
‘Sounds like a plan.’
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