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.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Oughties. Worth a damn? No. 6

THE BRAKE BROKEN Shortish short story (946 words)

She made it easier than he’d any right to expect.

She came into his office quickly, a bright look on her face. Took both his hands  and said, “Frank, please, please don’t apologise. It wasn’t even a shock. Once Space went belly-up the contract was finished. I was last on to the shop-floor, so I’m first out.”

A saw cutting twelve-millimetre tubing went wee-oo-er.

He gestured her to the chair, its straw guts showing. “You worked your own ticket, Terri. You deserved better.”

“Worked my own ticket! I travelled first bloody class! You didn’t even know I was sane when you took me on. An act of charity. A horrible gamble. You taught me the press brake when I didn’t know press brakes from a hole in the ground. And you were so patient. All that five-mil sheet I wasted.”

“Sold for scrap,” he said, then laughed at her liveliness. “I hated what the courts were doing to mothers back then. Jailing them, for Christ’s sake. Their babies dead. I suppose you eased my conscience. Mind you, I wasn’t all that certain press brakes were a feminist gesture.”

She was indignant. “They’re the ultimate gesture. A free pass to the lion’s den. All those glowering males.”

“Well, you had the last laugh. You learned quickly. And not just press brakes, either.” He leant forward across a desk strewn with invoices and quotations, many black-thumbed. “One thing pleases me. Any fabricator with a vacancy would be pleased to hire you.”

“That’s why Terri’s such a useful name,” she said, giggling conspiratorially. “I could be a chap.”

Now he looked at her as a woman rather than an ex-employee. “Not so sure there.” Took in the skin-tight jeans, the breast curves over the tee-shirt. The cleanness! How did she stay clean working with metal? “I did you one favour. Forcing you to put your hair in a bun. That’s a very sexy hairdo.”

“Now you tell me.” She picked up a Tesco bag she’d brought in. “There’s these.”

He made space on the desk and  received two sets of overalls, a vernier gauge, the little toolkit he’d bought her, two pairs of industrial rubber gloves. “Keep ‘em,” he said. “Certainly the overalls. You unpicked them so they’d fit more snugly. I wouldn’t like anyone else wearing them.”

Suddenly he didn’t want to prolong things; felt he was in danger of showing his feelings. He handed over the paperwork with the cheque in a separate envelope. “Two months’ pay,” he muttered, slightly embarrassed. “It’s all I can run to. But I’m sure you won’t need it. You’re employable, Terri. Anyone that thinks you aren’t, have them call me. And don’t be scared of CA systems. Just a morning, that’s all you need. A month and you’ll be programming the damn things.”

He stood up rather too abruptly, stuck out his hand. She rose more gracefully. “Don’t be such a damned Brit, Frank. We can do better than that.”

The desk wasn’t the barrier he’d imagined. Being kissed across it was shockingly arousing as she arched her body forward.

When the door closed behind her he needed time to himself. It was some moments before he realised he was still standing, that he had to instruct himself to sit down. Lunchtime came but his sandwiches stayed untouched. An hour before he’d glanced through the window overlooking the workshop – just between the Favourite Tractors calendar and an imperial-metric conversion chart – a view that took in half the press brake. The machine was unmanned.

He was like a ghost the rest of the week. Unrelated to the world around him. On Friday he decided to resume his routines and called Beryl, as normal, asking if she’d like a drink or two at the British Legion. They sat together, she a widow, he a widower, an asymmetry that the passage of time might resolve. He forced himself to chat but it wasn’t working. She said comfortably, uncomplainingly, “I half-promised my niece I’d take over her baby-sitting.”

“Sorry I’m such a dead weight. I’ll drive you where you need to go. But we’ll go via the workshop. I’ll pick up my laptop.

Not wanting to open the car-park gates he parked on the road. Approaching the flat-roofed building he saw the door was ajar. Spotted a flash of light from within. His office door was wide open.

The laptop stood on the floor beside her. She squatted, her legs nicely angled, working the dial on the small floor safe. He’d made no sound but she sensed him. Turned with a wintry look.

“It’s Friday,” she said, “you take Beryl out on Fridays.”

“I bore her, it seems.”

“I wish to hell this hadn’t happened.”

He nodded. “Two months’ pay wasn’t enough, then?”

“All gone. Paying off debts. My ex left me screwed.”

“You don’t need this. You’re employable.” He paused. “Also, fabrication’s a man’s world. Chances are you’ll find another impressionable manager like me.”

“Not like you, Frank.”

He shrugged. She said, “I wanted this to be an anonymous robbery. I need the money and you were all I could think of. Now you and the money are in hell. Even worse, you won’t call the police.”

“I won’t?”

“Not the way you feel. Whereas I… no, I’d never convince you. I could prove it, of course. Cut my throat. Stick my head in the milling machine. Futile.” Her expression was still wintry, quite hopeless. “But I’d do it, kill two birds. Prove the point, solve the problem. You’re a decisive man, Frank. Guide me.”

“The combination’s 26-53-74-19.”

“Shit, Frank, is that good news or bad news?”

“You’re pretty clever. Work it out.”


  1. Ooh, good twist! Did not see that coming. I think you've found your short-short voice!

    Let's have another one, Robbie!

  2. I enjoyed this, as I have the others too! More, please.

  3. Even better read a second time.

  4. Should it be "We can do better THAN that"? or is it an Eng thing? I don't think you need "You're a decisive man Frank. Guide me." It would fall quite nicely w/o that, and it seems unnatural after "killing two birds....have it over.." Do you think Frank needs this prompt? The paragraph is full of problem solving. Great imagery as usual.

  5. All: Doing short stories is more like crossword puzzles than writing; getting everything to fit, taking out everything that can be dropped, and then some. What's marvellous is raising my head and having you respond to the story - the thing that gets sort of lost at my end. Is it interesting? Are the people real? Only others can answer those questions and I appreciate even just a few words.

    MikM. I have read this story two dozen times. Cut out 30% of what I originally wrote. Still my eyes slid over that missing "than". It's only an English thing in that the English are frequently incompetent.

    You're right in one sense. "You're a decisive man. Help me, Frank." could be cut without losing any sense. This is a judgment call and counter-intuitive when it comes to short stories where the instinct is to cut, cut, cut. It's in there to ensure I don't dehumanise Terri, reduce her just to snap dialogue. In particular, she uses his name. I'm stingy with Christian names; unlike many American writers, it seems, I have to force myself to insert them. Here was an opportunity to make the name do two things: humanise T and identify the other one not speaking at this time. I'm a novice at short stories; if someone with a bit more experience said "Junk it." I'd probably bend at the knees.

  6. Good. Convincing. You even managed to fit in a surprise cinematic thriller ending, all in that short space. Her character could be interpreted in different ways (if it was acted, that would be up to the actress and director) - she could actually be sincere, or she could be faking the sincerity and had been scheming to rob him all along. The ambiguity is good too.

  7. As Natalie says, the ambiguity is good. Admittedly dense at times, I had a very hard time with that last long paragraph. I probably missed clues along the way, but I'm uncertain why Terri was making suicide references in that para....to convince of her desperate love or of her desperate need for the money? The two birds are finding Terri at the safe AND his infatuation with her? And I don't understand "the point". Again dense, I'm sure, but still bamboozled by that paragraph. PS. do not ever EVER consider junking anything due to a review by me! I think it's an excellent story, but it got too puzzling for me in that para. She was babbling incoherently, yet still manipulatively? The ladies here seem to understand it where I don't....quite a common situation for simple me.
    had ideas in the night for the short you suggested...I hope they return to me.

  8. Natalie: Or she could have been sincere to begin with and then changed her mind.

    I should explain that I'm not a great believer in ambiguity for ambiguity's sake. It's far too easy for the writer - I noticed this when I edited this last section. However what I have learned - and delighted in - is that readers are entitled to make whatever they like of a story (or a novel) once it's presented to them. It is no longer the preserve of the author.

    Having said that, in effect acknowledging the sovreignty of the reader, let me add this: the only ambiguity I genuinely intended occurs in the final line. MikeM (below) says he doesn't "understand the point" but then nobody does. Neither me, nor even Frank. Frank's reaction to finding Terri in front of the safe is (deliberately) never made clear. Even at the end. Ironically he is inviting Terri to recognise the impossibility of his position. To demand or impose a yea or nay invokes a moral insoluble

    MikeM: In fact there are problems for foreign readers too. Are you confident that you understand why Frank gave Terri the job in the first place? There are allusions to the unfortunate way in which our judiciary interepreted parental responsibility after cot-death but the reference is deliberately unspecific (though not deliberately ambiguous). Simply because fictional dialogue is only as specific as it needs to be; it is rarely 100% explanatory.

    Suicide. Not suicide as such. Terri says Frank would never call the police because of the way he feels about about her. "Whereas I..." (implying her feelings for Frank), she says, then she breaks off. Realising that, given the situation she is in, she would never convince him of her feelings. But, she says, she could PROVE her feelings (a subtle but vital distinction) by cutting her throat. The ultimate Pyrrhic victory.

    All: As the French say: Qui s'excuse, s'accuse. I should never have done this. The reader is King (or Queen), so there is no Court of Appeal

  9. Bonjour RR
    My greatest pleasure in reading your posts is to score my understanding of your writings. When reading comments
    I am continuously pleasantly surprised by my score. It's a shame that I am too old to work on my self esteem. My findings will be helpful in my next life though.

  10. No....I don't understand "..the point..." as Terri refers to it, but no need to fill me in on this. Hope you don't regret your explanation too much, I really appreciate it. I'd forgotten that the dead baby reference left me wondering. Interrogation over. I await Sir Hugh's comment.

  11. Belated comment from me. Busy with broken down car, leaking caravan, Geocaching, compiling a new self publish book of this last summer's walking exploits, and researching for my Readers and Thinkers class.

    By giving her the combination Frank may be giving her a test to see whether she will continue or not, and he would then make a decision based on the result, but I suspect that he would still be in a quandary whatever she did. His feelings for her could be tarnished because of this situation, and I think he would just want to let her go presuming the safe is not opened. Frank has another problem though. Beryl is waiting in the car outside.

  12. One more thing from me: I thought the implication was that Terri had been in prison, sentenced (perhaps wrongly by unfair judiciary, or perhaps rightly -we'll never know) of having killed her baby. And that Frank had given her a job when she was released. For which she is grateful. But for some reason, I didn't trust her.
    See how the reader keeps on inventing?

  13. Sir Hugh,thank you. I had noted the Beryl fact, but had not allowed it to gain significance. I had not considered that Terri might have just closed the safe when she was interrupted. I needed help with this one, and I've gotten it. Well....more of it.

  14. Just quickies. Do you all realise: I've probably written more in re-comment form than I did in the story itself?

    Ellena: Welcome back. I've said it before, I'll say it again. You have a writing style: slightly laconic, slightly enigmatic, always personal. A writing style is worth more than rubies.

    Sir Hugh: Those are only a few of the possibilities. If I wasn't so constrained by the mathematical implications of infinity (I've just finished a biography of Dirac) I might say the possibilities are infinite. And that is the point. No one can be sure.

    Natalie: My short story hopes to give everyone a little push; thereafter the momentum is the reader's concern. Glad you picked up cot-death and thereafter weaved (wove?) more bed clothes.

    MikeM: Beryl is, I'm afraid, a device, a prop on the writing stage. Vital but as inanimate as a press brake. One thing before your reflections catch up with you again: that photo is of a very sexy press-brake. It's unlikely Frank's operation would have run to anything that expensive. Wait for: Oughties. Worth a damn? No. 34. Frank Prices A Numerically-Controlled Laser Cutter. But don't hold your breath.

  15. Beryl of course is what we make her. She is ours now!

  16. MikeM: Save your smart-assing for your own patch.