I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Oughties. Worth a damn? No. 1

Economy On Turn, Says Osborne
Short short story (931 words)

      
UNTIL NINE the pub had been empty. Friday night! Maisie had busied herself rearranging the glasses, straightening the bottles in the chill cabinet. His pint was long gone but he hadn't dared talk. There'd have been only one topic - the pub's emptiness.
      
Just after nine the battered fifty-year-old came in and ordered her light ale. An old-fashioned drink for someone who wasn't of this era. Perhaps a prostitute at the very end of her career. Taking a break, resting her feet. The black dress stretched tightly over her buttocks and the garish lipstick both pointed that way.
      
She never stayed more than ten minutes. After her the old man shuffled through the door in carpet slippers and a baseball cap splashed with paint. As always he carried his half of mild to the bar's most distant corner. Took out a copy of the Sun, furry with folding and re-folding, and started on the sports pages, his lips moving as he did so.
      
When the old man had gone Maisie said, in a neutral voice, "I'm closing now." Half an hour early! On Friday night! He opened the door marked Private behind the bar and went up the bare wooden stairs to his room.
      
THE COMPUTER was seven years old. Booting up lasted an age but he'd learned patience over the years, was childishly pleased by the rotating symbol. Thought it represented activity, evidence of life. Down below a door banged as Maisie closed up. The email inbox flickered with new entries, none of them spam: six genuine replies, not bad. But he wouldn’t read them from the inbox; he’d switch to blog comments. More logical that way, more intimate.
      
 Most were brief, casually complimentary and from foreign parts. They thanked him for his persuasive portraits of Britain in 2013. Only the woman in Frantschoeck provided more. Born in England, she’d married a South African with one of those blunt Boer names – Voortrekker or some such. Had two children. Reading between the lines he sensed she was unhappy. His posts made her homesick, she said. But in a nice kind of way.
      
He decided to postpone his responses until tomorrow before he left for work. The local newspaper lay untouched on his tiny table and he flicked through the classifieds without hope. Nothing under Professional except for conveyancing solicitors. Oh, and an intern for the human resources department of the local authority. What sort of qualifications, he wondered? Good at photocopying?
      
HE WAS UP early. Since moving into this room he’d never been tempted to lie in. The bed was fashioned from angle-iron, typical of jails and the armed services fifty years ago. In any case it was too short. He shaved and drank orange juice as the computer ambled into action. A couple more comments in the inbox but last night’s keenness had ebbed away. His answers were perfunctory, lacked imagination and left him mildly ashamed.
      
At the department store the number of customers had increased but only marginally. Yet it was Saturday, the first day of an “Up to 50% off” sale. Times were hard which could mean more work for him. Temporary work, ignominious work, work he was lucky to have. In Women’s Clothing he watched a teenage girl wander backwards and forwards for a couple of minutes holding a loose-knitted scarf she’d picked off the rack. He moved closer only to see her hand it to an older woman who walked straight to the pay desk. Half an hour later another customer in a cashmere coat, surely Country Casuals and therefore bought elsewhere, dropped a similar scarf into her shoulder bag and began edging towards the escalator. But he felt no sense of triumph when he confronted her outside on the pavement, passing on the bad news in a quiet voice. Seeing the tracery of lines round her eyes contract into a look of horror. Too many of his arrests had involved women of her age.
      
THE STORE manager came by in the afternoon, passed on a civil compliment. Shrugging nevertheless. “I wish I could say equally nice things about your prospects here. Or mine, for that matter. If this is what a sale looks like… “
      
Back at the pub his room could only be approached through the bar. It was seven in the evening and a handful of teenagers were drinking cider. They wore beanies and occasionally pushed each other. But without energy.
      
Far too early for him. Upstairs he switched on the computer and opened a new file in Notebook – better for drafting than Blogger. His fingers moved quickly
      
Fridays are big at the Marquess of Granby. The draw stood at three-hundred pounds and Maisie got a novice girl pop-star to pick the ticket. Called Dagbert and into garage-rock, I was told. Amazing how people are happy to see others win prizes. Clapping, whistling, makes you proud to be human. And a pint of Young’s helps.
      
But that wasn’t the high spot. Kevin the Second (the sales rep I’ve posted about) arrived at nine and it was drinks on the house. Cost him sixty quid I believe. He’d totalled a car he hated. Will now get something sportier – ‘more of a tart trap’. Look, these aren’t my words, I’m just your humble recorder.
      
Do I make it sound as if it’s all youth? It isn’t, it’s a strong mix. Oldsters join in too.

      
The words had spilled out in a rush. He stopped to read them through. Made a correction:
      
Lots of oldsters join in too.

      
      

12 comments:

The Crow said...

Now, that's a good short-short! Complete, held my interest all the way through and left me wanting more - another chapter or three.

You paint scenes and people, their emotions and lives, so well. I enjoy reading what you write. Thanks for this one.

Roderick Robinson said...

The Crow: Hi, stranger. I joke - I know you've had your problems and I'm pleased the story interested you. There may be more but not of this guy. I had in mind to write other pieces of similar length about people who are suffering through bad times in 2013. I have a fuzzy picture of a nineteen-year-old girl but it needs bringing into focus. What was the worst thing about being nineteen for you?

marja-leena said...

I enjoyed this very much too. A start of a series of short-shorts, I hope.

Sir Hugh said...

A good tight story. You have sometimes suggested that I may use some blurring of facts to create more interest. Your character here has certainly indulged himself along those lines, presumably to make his posts more attractive and to win friends. Perhaps he could have earned a bit by writing the truth, with a political slant for a "serious" left wing periodical?

The Crow said...

Had to come back and re-read my favorite sections, phrases. Loved the imagery of the "furry" folds of the old man's paper - so telling of his life, his sadness really. Made me feel compassion for the poor soul. (I'm sitting here in my carpet slippers at the moment - made in China, worthless.)

I liked your description of the 'working girl' long past her 'girlhood.' Couldn't help but feel I should come to her defense a bit: just because her customers thought her past her prime doesn't mean she sees herself that way - perhaps I'm projecting, here, eh? About how she sees herself at this age, not about her customers - never went down that path myself.

Himself, at his computer, thinking he'll get back to answering comments the following morning before work, then not having the desire as he'd thought he would the day before.

I connected with this story, the settings, the characters - so familiar, yet not, at the same time.

Yep, this was a very good one.

As for what I felt at nineteen...I'll get back to you (email) when I remember. Probably later this evening; my time, that is.


Roderick Robinson said...

M-L: I have tried regularly despite the threats issued by Kaspersky AV. Risked my very cyber-life to link up with Tone Deaf's representative on Canada's west coast. I'm offered space, lots of space. The trouble is that's where the text and pix used to be.

Sir Hugh: Blurring of facts is somewhat pussy-footing. These are downright lies. His motives are up to you - and, of course, to me. Other than to say lying is a form of refuge.

The Crow: He's merely guessing, isn't he? And not really judging. Or is the form the description takes a type of judgment? Be careful, this is only 900-plus words; the bough could break. I'm glad you got "furry".

Natalie said...

Liked this very much indeed and the surprise twist at the story's end -sad reality presented in rosy fiction to charm the few readers of the old man's blog - brilliant. And making him a blogger is an inspired touch too. But I have a couple of pedantic quibbles:

1. "battered 50-year old granny" : she may well be battered and a granny but, for gd's sake, 50 years old is the new 30! Either make her much older or tweak the sentence. I'm agreeing with Ms Crow here.

2. "totalled" : isn't that an Americanism? Does it fit the character?

Worst thing for me of being nineteen? Nothing.I wish I still was.

Voila, that's my contribution today.


Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: The "grannie" has gone, it was a careless substitute to avoid using "women" too often. But not the fifty-year-old. If I made her older it would invalidate the speculation that she might be a prostitute.

"Totalled" started out in the US (as did the even better "tee-boned") but was long since adopted by people associated with the UK motor trade. Also by people like Kevin (a sales rep).

Thanks for your comments - all of them. If I except my brother (Sir Hugh) you were the first to spell out the narrator's delusions. The fascinating thing about a 900-word story is what one is compelled to leave out. This makes the writing immensely exhilarating (far more so than the novel) and encourages the reader to fill in what they feel is necessary. At no point do I say that the narrator is old, for instance, yet you have made that assumption. Which you are perfectly entitled to do. While I sit here and delight in the fact that for a brief period you ran away with my story and made it your own. Excellent. This happens even more with verse and I have a quite short verse "exercise" coming up in a couple of days which I hope you are able to glance at. And, I hope, run with.

Joe Hyam said...

And you say that you don't understand the short story! Well,well. I too liked the furry fold of the old newspaper.

Natalie D'Arbeloff said...

Well, Roderick, I should apologise for a slip of attention. My picturing the narrator as an old man was because I had assumed that the old bloke in slippers and baseball cap WAS the narrator and that he was the one who goes upstairs and writes his blog! And that he has a no-hope job because he's old and broke.
Like I said, a slip of the attention. Re-reading soon after your comment, I saw where I went wrong.
But at least my error was imaginative.
Thanks for your reply.

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: I am beginning to arrive at a definition of a short story but it's still incomplete. And, alas, I suppose it only works for me. Applying the methods I used in putting the above together I am close to finishing another under the same headline. The aim being to arrive at a rigorous formula that allows me to turn them out likes bowls of popcorn.

Natalie: No, no, no. No apologies necessary. In fact undesirable. Both our views on this can co-exist; in fact it's a close-run thing deciding whether the consumer eventually becomes more important than the author.

mike M said...

5 of these shorts in 5 weeks, and every one is a beaut!