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Towers

This is a short story for the YeahWrite Fiction Challenge, #431. (Content warning: This story hints at domestic abuse).



TOWERS

She paced the flat to the rhythm of her toddler’s cries, their volume increasing like the sirens on the busy road twenty floors below. An urgent wave of need and unfamiliarity. She searched for the box among her as yet unpacked possessions, the treasure chest that bore temporary solace. She chided herself for packing Abbie’s storybooks in an unmarked box with the others, lined up like a miniature game of Jenga, ready to tumble if she made the wrong move.

She flinched at the thought, until she remembered. That life was behind her now.

This is home.

Quiet in her high-rise tower, atop the city, like the princesses in her own childhood books. Only it wasn’t the same. The fond memories of those fairytales still enveloped her in a wave of nostalgia that stole her breath and prompted tears. How she’d wanted to be a princess; how she’d dreamed of a room at the top of a beautiful tower, overlooking her bright kingdom, complete with a dashing prince.

Her mother always told her to be careful what she wished for.

As she searched, she saw the cover of a book peek out from the last box, its childlike illustration like a message from the heavens. “Don’t worry!” she yelled. “Mummy’s found it!”

Gripping the slightly worn spine, she pulled it from the box, along with a few others. Maybe I’ll read tonight, when Abbie’s asleep, she thought. As she removed them, something fell from the small pile in her hands.

A daisy.

Tiny. Pressed. Well-preserved. She remembered fondly how she’d kept it, this beautiful, fragile souvenir of the day they’d met, until she got home. Stashed it in the pocket of her jeans until she was home, pressing it into her favourite hardback. She’d keep it forever.

Her daughter’s cries subsided as she made her way back into the bedroom. She turned the daisy round in her hand, holding it up to the harsh, cheap light. It was still perfect.

The memory engulfed her, caught her breath. Part of her wanted to let the flower fall to the floor, watch as it died again beneath her foot, its dry petals crunching into the floorboards. Yet she couldn’t.

She couldn’t bring herself to hurt another being as she had been hurt. Not even a daisy.



Four years, that’s how long it had been since she’d been swept away. Rescued from the mundane, or so she’d believed back then. The days had been warm, a humid haze of summer, golden in hue, as though the whole world had been swathed in a filter. Discomfort of the never-ending heat had been forgotten in the bliss of the moment. The strange sensation of sand between toes ignored - she was walking on clouds now. It was him. He made the summer come, the daisies bloom. Made the happiness happen, washed all the bad things away as easily as the waves hit the glistening rocks.

She didn’t realise waves wore things down. That over time those picturesque cliffs erode, taking everything down with them. But as he got to one knee, beaming up at her with that broad grin, she saw nothing else. He was her dashing prince. And this was her happy ever after.

How joyful her kingdom had been. How the stars twinkled, how the lights danced on waves surrounding harbourside bars as champagne bubbles rose in newly-clinked flutes. How it all sparkled in the twilight as they’d walk home, suitably warm and lustful, willing each night to go on and on. Together in that soothing warmth of a blossoming, burgeoning love.

There were promises, lapped up wordlessly, her eagerness masking the small hint of worry. Love, its indulgence, helped her forgive the harsh words he sometimes spoke. Shouted. Hit. Pulled her more roughly at night, his touch less tender. She knew he was still there, beneath it all.

Until he wasn’t.



She looked at the daisy and recalled a time when her unwashed curls were spun gold, dancing against tanned shoulders. When her eyes were not flecked with exhaustion. A time before she’d decided to rescue herself.

They said he won’t find her here, at the top of this tower. Her prince was gone and she was free.

She walked to the window and let go of the flower in her hand, watching as it disappeared from sight.

Once upon a time she could stand forever, waiting for him.

And, in some way, she still does.

Picnic

I can’t run fast enough. Every moment not spent marveling at the view is wasted. Life’s too short to waste a minute. My aunt said that again this morning, as I waited for him by the window, glancing out every now and again, fiddling with the hem of my skirt so as not to appear too excitable.

I run and I run until the sea bursts into view. When it does it’s breathtaking. The unkempt grass tickles my ankles as I head for the cliff, one hand shielding my eyes from the early summer sun, the other in Tom’s. I pull him along. He’s not going as fast because he’s carrying the picnic basket.

“Hey!” he laughs, and he drops it, its lid coming loose. I should worry about the food, about the seagulls that dip and swoop around the rocks ahead, noisy and hungry and alert, but I can’t. I can’t worry about anything. Not while his arms are around me.

I pull my eyes away from the rolling waves beneath us. We’ve ventured off the coastpath, taking up residence in our usual spot, a grassy patch before the land curves and stops at the cliff point. I stood on the edge once, but my stomach did somersaults at the sight of the rocks below. The waves swished and clashed against them, eager and tempting, like a beautiful dare.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you,” I say, stopping to look at Tom, his face golden in the sun, making his eyes look even more blue.

“Me?” he laughs again.

“Of course.”

He pauses. Looks at me. I like the way his eyes seem to drink me in. He touches my hair, swirls it in his fingers, and I like how pretty he makes me feel, as though the world is for me and me alone. Just like this place is just for us.

“Ada, we’re eighteen. What if I get called away?”

“I’d wait for you."

And that’s when he reaches into the picnic basket and pulls out the smallest of boxes, and instantly I know that this will always be our place.

**

The waves crash heavily now. They splutter against the rocks, sending the seagulls soaring higher, but yet the sun is still out, peeking through a looming cloud. I step from the car slowly - I’ve no choice these days - and open Ada’s door. It’s often a struggle to get her out. Sometimes, she remembers. Others, she doesn’t. Today is one of those days.

“Out you come, love,” I say, and soon, gravel crunches beneath her feet, and I reach into the back seat for the picnic basket. Tattered now, but it’s still good. I lead her towards the grass verge, away from the path. I place the picnic basket down on the ground, amongst the dandelions, and lead her to the view.

“Remember this?” I ask.

She’s silent, and I wonder what’s going in her mind. I remember how she’d rush towards the cliff, her voice full of beautiful, tinkling laughter, a sound I could never tire of. Her hair swishing golden, like fire in the afternoon sunlight.

I put down the basket. It contains no food. Just a selection of items. Photographs. A baby’s tarnished silver rattle. Steven's Christening gift, before he passed.

And a note.

My breath catches in my throat. It’s been too long. I remember this place as it was all those years ago, still vivid and bright, and the very thing Ada said to me as I dropped to one knee.

We’ll never be apart.

She’s fading now. She’s been fading for years. Her white hair, still long, sways in the breeze. Then she looks at me. Looks at me. Not like yesterday, when she thought I was her brother, the one who died in ‘71. Or the day before that, when her eyes, glassy and unfamiliar, landed on mine as the nurse brushed her hair.

In this moment she is truly here.

And she turns, and she smiles that smile I knew for so long. I almost choke with the happiness, the realisation. “Our place,” she whispers. Her frail hand takes mine, and she leads me towards the cliff’s edge, and for once the view doesn’t frighten me.

“I love you,” she says, and even though she is gone she remembers. She knows we are here.

And with that, we take a step to our final adventure.

This will forever be our place.



Ballerina

Trust. The word hung expectantly in the air.

Pause. I suspected Mr Shaw was enjoying this. It was part of his act, a little fun to ease the seriousness of dealing with the bereaved, in all their sadness as they clamber for the will. So what are we - *sob* -  getting? Unless you were someone like me. Then he’d draw it out a little, that lengthy moment of anticipation. Like the dramatic minutes on those TV contests; hold and release, until the crowd erupts in a wave of applause, the kind that only drowns the losers.

“I have a feeling they already knew,” he hinted finally. “Did they say anything at the funeral?”

“They were frosty, to say the least,” I replied, smiling somewhat, and thinking of my cousins. Catherine, the ringleader, most memorable. Eldest of the three, in her impeccable black suit more suited to a corporate meeting than Great Auntie Sarah’s send-off. I could feel her fiery glare from three pews behind. She knew. She knew I’d taken what she’d wanted, what they’d all wanted.

What could I say? I deserved it.

I deserved the house.

“I don’t normally attend funerals,” I clarified, remembering the silence descending on the church before the burst of the organ, the shuffling of hymn books, the muttering. “Thankfully. You forget how awkward they can be.”

I sat back in my seat, waiting, in the cramped office. It made me think of the house.

Flats; that’s where the money is now. I could easily gut that place and transform it into four new homes.

Great Auntie Sarah’s house was a large, brick Victorian home that sat back from the street, half-concealed in a mass of sprawling ivy. I’d seen pictures of it as a kid. Some photos, some sketches, in which horses rode by its proud exterior, before the garden became overgrown, the willow reaching over the fence like a giant, looming arm, its fingers reaching and grabbing at the street below. It had been in the family for years. Many were born there. Many died there, just like Sarah.

Not that I knew her well. I never did, not really, not until I needed to. I could sense that the time was coming. So I stepped right in.

Auntie Sarah kept mementos. It was what made her different, why Mum often told us to keep away. A place full of knick-knacks, she said. A hoarder of pointless tat.

She had a doll. One of those old things with the porcelain face and squashy, fabric body. It was kitted out like a ballerina, in a skirt that was yellow with age, its musty scent permeating whatever room it had the misfortune of gracing with its presence. Auntie Sarah placed it everywhere. There was a crack on its face, just below the eye, and one porcelain hand was missing a finger. Spots of mould graced the tiny ballet shoes, that had always looked like they’d been worn through.

She kept that old thing until she died.

Before she passed, she’d mutter things. Silly things. Such is the mind of someone so old and lonely, someone who was seemingly fleeting in presence. “You’ll look after me when I’m gone, won’t you?” she'd asked, clutching the doll with its musty skirt. “Look after me.” She poked its fabric tummy, looking like a child again; big, eager eyes peering up from her chair. “You need to look after me. And all the others.”

“Of course I will,” I said, not bothering to correct her. She couldn’t understand. It didn’t matter.

I’d played it perfectly well. The visits, the chats, the cups of tea in her chipped china cups as the floorboards expanded and creaked above. They’d always sounded like footsteps. Like dancing. They did on that last evening, too, a rhythmic thump, soft, twirling. Must have been the pipes. Creak. Sip. Creak. She said I was a 'good lad'. I’d cast my gaze around the house and smiled. She didn’t notice.

I’d won. 

And now.

Mr Shaw opened his drawer. I expected the obligatory envelope. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting a box.

A box. Just bigger than a shoebox, its paisley pattern faded and worn. A familiar smell wafted up from its flattened, broken corners.

“I’m surprised,” he said, noticing my confusion. My fear. No. This wasn’t what I wanted.

Look after me when I’m gone.

“Why?”

“Because they wanted you to have it. In fact…they insisted.”


A Month of New Beginnings

It's a chilly September afternoon, punctuated by the soft thudding of the wind against the window. Just last week, I pulled my winter coats out from the back of the closet because it had officially, it seemed, become The Time. Winter is on its way, and for me, the chill is promising, the chance to pull on numerous layers a welcome change from this year's uncomfortable summer heatwave. For me, September is all about new beginnings.

When it comes to goals, many people are all about January. New Year's Eve, when the world is united in the promise of beginning anew. We leap into January with a fresh set of goals, the warm feeling of starting a new chapter, often fuelled by the haze of ambition at seeing the fresh pages of a calendar - and perhaps a tad too much champagne.

For me, however? I remain fully in the camp of September. January is great and all, and yes, I too am one of those 'new year, new start' people, but really, there's nothing like the shifting of the seasons, darker evenings, cosy nights in, probably invoked by that back-to-school nostalgia, when a new term would begin, new stationery would be bought and a fresh feeling would hang in the chilly air.

This year, September is even more exciting; not only will I be starting a new job next month (yay for new challenges!) but also - and this is the best bit - I am writing my third book.

I've had this book in my head for a while; it began as a little idea which then grew bigger, and soon enough I was writing a synopsis, getting everything down and ready to go. I managed to get 20k in, but am now starting from the beginning and rewriting what I have.

The trouble is, when I begin a new project, I get so into it, engrossed in that little world, that it soon takes over. Suddenly when I'm not working I'm writing, and even when I'm at work I'm jotting down notes and scenes in stolen minutes and lunchtimes, my mind venturing to the novel at all times of the day. I write whenever I can, and spend hours in my office getting that latest chapter down. Until I have that draft, until I've typed those two all-important words - THE END - I can think of hardly anything else. I don't want to do anything else until it's done. And that's the way I like things to be.

Unfortunately though, it means I don't take the time to do other things. Such as sketching, relaxing, writing other things that aren't novel-related (noticed that my blog posts are scarce? Well, there ya go), going to the gym as many times as I should. My art supplies are in a box, waiting for me. My personal trainer emailed me just an hour ago to check in because I haven't seen him in a while. No, I'm not dead, or lazy. I'm still active. But I'm also writing.

When I'm writing, nothing else matters. And inevitably, when the promising beginnings of a novel moves into 'middle' territory and, at around 40k, the Inner Editor pops her head round the proverbial corner to tell me everything is probably shite, and that perhaps I should consider scrapping the last ten chapters I've written, perhaps have some of that red wine after all and start again, THAT'S when I need the sketchbook, the running shoes, the things that help me step out of the bleary world I've seemingly glued myself into, and fully focus.

If I don't, it will just happen again. And again. I already have ideas for books four and five.

So that's what I'm doing - changing. Beginning anew in more ways than one. As well as writing my third book, from this point on, I am going to DO MORE THINGS. I have taken a couple of days away from Scrivener to work through my synopsis and the ideas are already flowing. Despite wanting to get book three finished quite soon, I'm not going to set a strict timetable. Instead, I'm going to allow not necessarily more time, but better time.

Things are already happening, and I can't wait to write this book and shape it into something I love even more. And there's no better time to do it.

Old New Ideas

Sometimes we have a story inside us that really needs to get out.

And if it doesn’t, it lingers; not forgotten as such, but instead slowly expanding. Ideas working their way in the background, changing and forming with time and experience, twisting and edging ever closer to escape. Until it insists on being acknowledged, once and for all.

I’ve had a story in my head for quite some time – okay, since I was around eighteen, to be more accurate – a story fuelled by my lifelong obsession with ghosts, and exploring old cemeteries. I love long graveyard visits; walking slowly along age-worn paths, the ground crunching beneath my feet, feeling the chilly air on my face as I stop to read the markers, searching for symbolism in the carved stones. Wondering about the people that existed before me. Who were they? What were their lives like? And what happened to them?

My story was a strange idea, and it’s probably that which made me put it aside. But I’d written many notes, and drafted almost ten thousand words before life took over and I simply didn’t return to it.

Isn’t it nice how seemingly forgotten things can suddenly reappear and invoke excitement again? I’d been thinking of the book again recently. A good friend who I’ve known for many years, and who is the only person who knows about this story (and loves it), has always asked me when I’m going to finish it.

My reply? "One day. Maybe."

His attempts have always prompted me to reconsider, but again, I’ve simply thought it’s too strange, nobody would want to read that mess, and away it goes again, back to the bottom of the pile in my brain, because there lies the problem – I have other books to write! I CAN’T WRITE THAT ONE YET.

So it was lurking for years. It had been so long since I did anything with it that I couldn’t remember much of it besides the general plot and characters. And then recently, whilst packing for a house move, I came across a folder which happened to contain the earlier notes and draft, shoved haphazardly into a box. I didn’t even realise I’d kept it all, although a while back I grabbed a box of old files and art supplies from my parents’ attic, so it must have been in there. I just never thought to look.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be either.

I’m thinking of going back to it, that once-shelved book, the novel I’d loved but had never finished. It’ll need a total overhaul. But I already have ideas. Once my next two novels are complete, I might start work on it. (Hopefully next year). I’d like to write it, even if nobody else sees it but me and my friend.

After all, when it comes to writing, one of my personal rules is ‘write what you love’. So I’ll try and take my own advice for once.

Obligatory First Post

So I've started a blog. I should really make some kind of introduction, so I'm sitting here trying to think of something witty/sassy/generally interesting to start it with. And it's not happening.

In fact, it feels weird. This is the internet equivalent of nervously entering a room and going, "Um, hi?"

It reminds me (ugh) of those work meetings, or training courses, that anyone who's worked for a large organisation will be familiar with. The ones where you, along with an assortment of other reluctant colleagues, are gathered together in a room and forced to work in groups, but not before writing your name on a sticker and standing up to tell everyone an 'interesting fact' as an ice-breaker.

Despite being a generally confident, normally outgoing individual (translation: am wholly competent at faking it), doing this is, strangely, terrifying. I mean, I'm totally fine being around other people. Even when I'm at my most anxious, I can still put on that air of confidence and chat to a stranger at a party or ask someone for directions. If we were all sat around a table in the pub, telling these guys any 'interesting fact', would be simple. But it's the forced friendliness of the situation that makes it all kinds of awkward.

One; because I hate ice-breakers. And what am I supposed to give as an 'interesting fact'? Do I tell them I write novels? That I once went to Harvard*? That the superhero I relate to most is She-Hulk, or that according to a quiz I took once, out of all breeds of cat I'm most like a tabby?

It's amazing how everything vanishes once you're put under that spotlight. All the words disappear from the forefront of your mind and you struggle quickly to choose something that won't make you sound a bit of a show-off/tosser, yet also not as boring as magnolia paint.

Not one to naturally ham it up or revel in my own awesomeness, I tend to verge on the safe side. 'I write novels' is usually my go-to fun fact. Because I do write novels. I enjoy many other things, but writing is my big passion. Which is why I'm sitting here, starting this blog.

I wanted a place to share some, well...stuff. Posts, some additional writing outside of my novels if I ever have the time. I wanted an outlet, a little corner somewhere in which I don't feel as though I have to write entirely for an audience, because this corner is just for me. If you've found it, then that's good. Enjoy, or don't. It doesn't really matter too much.

If you decide to stay, however, then that's awesome. Make sure you grab a drink. Welcome to the Seventh Circle.


*Like, once. For the day. As a well-concealed tourist. You can't visit Boston without stopping by Harvard.