Monday Project: An agent of change

Audrey was alone, but sleepy and warm. She moved her lips over her gums, getting used to their fleshiness, sans dentures. She remembered, suddenly, having watched her own grandmother do the same thing.

She pulled the blanket up under her chin, neatly folded the top sheet over it so it wouldn’t tickle her, and closed her eyes. The darkness behind her eyelids was heavy, and her bones seemed to sink deeper into the mattress. A deeper heaviness than sleep. But she wasn’t ready for this yet. She wasn’t ready for this change, and so she fought it like she had every night for the last three months.

With her eyes still closed she drew her attention around the room she was lying in — her room, she had to keep reminding herself — repeating a journey she’d made physically many times that day, and for many days before that.

On her day trips around the room, she would touch the trinkets she’d brought with her to this place when she’d moved out of her last home, trying to recall the story behind each of them. Some days she would remember; some days not. Some days seeing a particular object in this place would bring to her an image of it elsewhere — an old house, the hands of one of her children, the store in which she’d bought it. At times she was not sure how many of these trips she made in one day. She’d look back around the room, trying to match the small new memories — a fingerprint in some dust, the way the light fell on a picture of her husband — with what she saw now. But she could never be sure if those memories belonged to another day, or to half an hour ago.

When she made the trip in her mind’s eye, warding off sleep and that bone-heaviness, it was like all the day trips became one. She saw each object a thousand times. The memories — old, new, real, invented — crowded inside her head, keeping her awake for what was probably hours. She floated around the room, and through the many years of her life, until she eventually went towards sleep.

Tonight, however, the heaviness loomed. It sat at the edge of every memory, cast a shadow on every object, every photo in the room. For the first time, the room in Audrey’s mind felt small, and she found herself wanting to go elsewhere. Not to escape the heaviness, rather to find a way to let it in.

For a moment she thought of all the faces looking down at her from the frames on the walls, and how what she was about to do would change them. She hoped they were ready.

~

This is my response to this month’s Monday Project theme. There’s been a bit of delay this month, but we should have the other responses up later today, along with the new monthly theme.

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Theme: An agent for change | the monday project

In case you missed the new Monday Project theme yesterday, here it is. Responses to this theme will be due Monday 4 July.

Theme: An agent for change | the monday project.

An Agent for change

I’m really not sure where I’m going to go with this one… I’ve used the last couple of themes to explore some characters I’ve had kicking around in my head for a while now. I guess I’ll probably find myself doing the same thing for this month’s theme.

Come play along. You know know want to.

Monday Project: “They grouped under the lamp post, alone.”

Lamp Post

He didn’t smoke, but he’d accepted the offer of a cigarette from the pale man shuffling his feet in the waiting room. Outside, they’d shared that brief intimate moment, leaning in to light their smokes from the same lighter flame, but now they ignored each other, just as they had inside.

Jonathon could only assume the pale man was here for similar reasons to him: waiting for his girlfriend to emerge from somewhere deeper in the clinic, not sure what to expect — from her or from himself.

The pale man coughed, ground the stub of his cigarette into the ground with his foot, and lit another. Jonathon was glad there was no offer of a second for him; he was struggling with the first. He shivered; the pale man did too. The sun had disappeared suddenly, taking its warmth below the horizon. The street lamp overhead flickered on, and the two men moved closer to it. Standing under the shower of light, the darkness seemed to deepen quicker. Jonathon ground his own cigarette stub into the cement. Hands buried deep in his pocket, he rocked back and forth from his heels to his toes.

The pale man finished his second smoke, and dropped it on the ground.

“Good luck man,” he said, and wandered back towards the clinic. Jonathon looked at the butts the man had left on the ground and suddenly felt ill.

~

This is my response to this month’s Monday Project theme. The new theme (due at the beginning of next month) will go up later today. Come play along!

[The new theme has gone up — check it out here. New players are always welcome.]

Monday Project Theme: Beach Baths

The water on the cement is cool between her toes. She tries not to think about the temperature of the water in the pool as she pulls her goggles down over her eyes. The suction on these goggles isn’t great, and the last few mornings water has seeped through; when she gets out out of the water her eyes feel as though she is still mostly submerged, peering along the water line. In at attempt to avoid this today, she pushes the goggles firmly into her eye sockets, then steps up onto number six.

This moment, before she dives in, is her favourite part of the day. Looking around at the world she’s about to forget for an hour, anticipating the shock of the cold water.

She stands up tall, her spine long, chin tucked in slightly. Her arms come up over her head, palms touching. She chuckles at her own drama, drops her arms and dives in casually. Her arms and legs feel it first — the tingle. Then her scalp, as her limbs grow numb to it. Even with her tied back the cold manages to find its way in and around every hair folicle. Some days she can still feel the scalp-tingle several hours later, post-shower, post-breakfast.

The first few laps she swims quickly, more quickly than usual. With each new stroke comes a new thought. There is barely room for pause, and she realises she is forgetting to let herself breathe. A breath. A snippet of sound from the world outside, then back to the muted heaviness of underwater.

After lap five, she slows down, allows herself to feel the frustration rather than swimming away from it. She doesn’t know where it’s coming from, and that somehow makes it worse. With her next inhale — a big one — she realises her lungs feel trapped by her ribs, like she could breathe deeper if only her skeleton would get out of the way.

Another breath. Later, she will recognise the sound as a scream, but now it only registers as something harsh; she notices the relief when her ears are blocked with water again.

~

This is my response to this month’s Monday Project theme. The next theme went up yesterday — you can have a look here.

I cruelly forced my writers’ group to respond to the theme on Sunday, when we all got together. I’m hoping some of them will send me what they wrote. We did share with each other on the day, but it might take a little more prodding to get some of their words here.

Monday Project submission: Redux

For my response to this month’s theme, I returned to some of short pieces I wrote last time I made a big move. Since most of my energy in February seemed to be taken up with moving house, it seemed appropriate somehow.

Unfortunately I was unable to get it together enough to actually put the story together into something that made sense. But then perhaps that’s okay, since it’s really about the chaos of packing up a life. I thought I’d type out what’s in my writing journal pretty much verbatim. I’d love to hear if you think this is going anywhere.

~

Her fingers were dry from handling all the cardboard and she had a collection of bruises on her legs. But before her stood a pile of brown cardboard. It sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by the absence of her furniture and the trails of dust and cobwebs that had been hidden beneath it.

The curtains were freshly washed, still a little damp and slightly crushed. The space around the box mountain looked smaller than it had when the contents of the boxes had been spread around it.

You stand next to her in the doorway as she looks around again and sighs.

“Why do I own so much crap?” She doesn’t want an answer.

Another box marked ‘books’. There have been thousands of these already, you think. Your daughter’s reading habit doesn’t quite keep up with her book-buying one. She sighs again, running her fingers over her own handwriting on yet another box of books, then follows you downstairs with it.

~

You worried vaguely about having an accident as you drove through the city, thought maybe you should pull over until the tears subsided. But then you knew you’d only turn around if you stopped, and that wouldn’t help anyone.

She’d looked small in the rear vision mirror as you drove away. Not at all grown up. You knew she was probably crying too – and that her ridiculous new boyfriend would have no idea how to handle it. He’d helped her find the dingy flat that was to be her first home away from home, and in doing so had proved to you that he had no idea what your daughter might need.

The place was filthy, for starters. Your daughter’s new housemates had layers of newspaper on the dining table so they could just throw away the top one after a meal, rather than wipe down the table; the drain in the bathroom was full of hair; everything was covered in grimy dust. Your daughter’s bedroom was full of someone else’s furniture. Even with some of the knick knacks and books of hers that you’d brought down with the rest of her clothes, she looked out of place in the room.

You told yourself, as you continued to drive away from her, that you’d only thought all that because you were being overprotective – that probably also explained why you thought her boyfriend was an idiot. The thought wasn’t comforting though. It only made you cry more – you felt sorry for yourself. And it wasn’t true anyway.

~

In your garage there are three boxes with her name on them, and several bags that aren’t labelled but that you know are hers. About once every six months – or more often if you haven’t heard from her in a while – you wake up early, pad down the internal stairs and stand in front of the small pile of her things. Both you and her mother are guilty of reminding her a little too often that these things are taking up space in your garage, but if she came to take them away you’d be upset.

The boxes are labelled in her neat handwriting – their contents described in brief detail on the masking tape that keeps them shut. They are mostly full of old things: high school and university books, photo albums, knick knacks, CDs. One box is simply labelled “special things”. Many times, as you’ve stood in front of her boxes and bags, you’ve wondered what constitutes “special” to your daughter. What would she pull out of that box? Undoubtedly it would be a collection of things that mean nothing to you, and whose story you will never know – trinkets from old friends and boyfriends, from far-flung places; letters from people you’ve never known, photos of people you’ve never met.

One day she’ll come back for these boxes – she might even open the “special things” box. The extra space in the garage would be good, certainly, but you’re not sure you could bear watching her going through them. You like the idea that you have a part of her here, neatly contained and labelled, and somehow mysterious.

Often, as you look at the boxes and run your fingers over her handwriting, you wonder what she is doing now, all those plane-hours away. You like to imagine that she is sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea, or reading to her own small daughter.

~

You don’t understand why, but she feels she needs to do it. She’s packing up again – this time leaving him, when it’s always been him leaving her. The him has changed over the years, but it’s been pretty much the same story every time. Being in a relationship with your daughter, you imagine, is very intense.

But no, this time she’s leaving him, and that’s at least half the reason why you think maybe he’s the right one. She’s determined though; packing boxes, taking things that are definitely his, leaving things that are definitely hers because she’s unsure in her frenzy. As she packs she babbles at you, her voice so close to tears. You should really be packing in another room, to speed the process up, but you can’t bear to leave her alone when she’s like this.

Even a little girl she was prone to working herself into a frenzy. Never over nothing, but always over something that didn’t really deserve all the energy she was giving it.

And there is the other half of the reason you think he’s the right one. Determined as she says she is, every part of her seems to be fighting against her own decision. Her hands shake, as if saying no to the words that are coming out of her mouth.

In a Name

In some  reading completely unrelated to last month’s Monday Project theme, I came across this article on onomastics. It’s funny to think that the way in which we organise people names now is not how it’s always been, and it’s not even how it is in all the cultures that exist on this planet right now. Maiden names, at least in the way we think about them, are mostly a Western society concern.

I remember writing an essay for uni a few years ago (well, okay, probably five years ago) for a subject called something like ‘Mass Media in Asia’ and getting very confused about how to correctly site a Chinese academic. Which of the names on the page was his family name, and which was his given name? I know that in a lot of Asian countries the order in which those names appear is different, and I was concerned about committing some kind of citation faux pas, especially because my tutor was Chinese. I probably should have been more concerned about getting the essay written, really, but that’s another story.

I ended up emailing the tutor to ask. He was helpful and kind in his response — but he probably thought it was hilarious.

I’m not sure I have a point here, but I have a feeling that this theme will continue to run around in my head, and I might find myself reading more about anthroponomy than is probably healthy.

I’m being a little lazy, so I’ve also posted this on themondayproject.com.

Monday Project: ‘Marrying left your maiden name disused’

“I would’ve had something more exciting for you if I’d known you’d be home,” she says. Click, click, as first one side of the plate’s rim hits the table and then the other, louder than she’d planned. He looks up at her. For the first time she sees their age difference in the small lines around his middle-aged eyes. He looks odd surrounded by his tiny children. He tries to catch her hand, but she moves to sit on the other side of the table.

Bella slides Sally’s peanut butter sandwich across the table on its plate. Their hands touch on the side of the plate and Anthony’s fingers find the crease at the centre of her palm. He frowns at her, a question, and she forces a smile in response.

“Is Charlotte still coming over Mummy?” Thomas says.

Her hands freeze, halfway to her mouth with her sandwich. “No darling.”

“But it’s Wednesday.”

Anthony looks up from feeding Sally. Bella puts her hand on Thomas’ head. Quick learner, already ready for school, his preschool teacher had said. “Yes, it is. But Charlotte can’t come today. She has to work.”

“Will you go to the library another day?” Bella’s eyes feel dry, she didn’t know how he knew — he must have overheard her and Charlotte. Thomas feels the extra weight in his mother’s hand and looks at his plate, sensing he has said the wrong thing. Bella feels sick for him, even as she wishes she could feed his words back into his mouth.

“The library?” Anthony says.

That enormous wooden table with the olive-green leather top, the librarian’s matching favourite cardigan; the spines of books paving a seemingly endless path for her walking fingertips.

He blinks at her slowly. She smiles.

“Must be nearly time for you to get back to work.” The scrape of her chair on the kitchen floor is loud. She lifts Sally from him lap. “Don’t go back hungry.” Anthony’s sandwich is still untouched.

They sit in silent, Thomas looking at his plate. Anthony watches Bella feed Sally the rest of her sandwich, his chewing slow, automatic.

Late again! Sigh. But this is my submission for this month’s Monday Project theme. This is obviously incomplete — it’s a very small part of a short story I’m working on at the moment. The story is far from finished (unfortunately, I have to hand it in for uni next Tuesday) so I’m only sharing a tiny piece. Any feedback would be more than welcome!