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.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Placid's better

Stereo's twin channels
Shortish short story, 982 words


“You’re so damn calm,” she said, moving her brand-new suitcase nearer the front door. “No, that’s giving you the benefit: calm can be noble, placid’s better.”

Eye-shadow, too.

He said, “I don’t want you to go.” Ravishing, that was it. “But I’m not such a fool as to stop you.”

“Perhaps you should.”

“That’s bollocks. Worse, it’s conventional.”

She laughed harshly. “Conventional! You read too much.” Now she glanced angrily at her watch. “What are your plans? You don’t have to tell me.”

“Sell the house.”

“Far too big for one. Or for two. Buy a semi, get a nest-egg.”

“There’s that.”

She caught the dying fall. “And…?”

The light in the hallway had a Tiffany shade. It caught his attention, perhaps for nothing other than that she’d bought it. He spread his hands, “Memories. Good memories.”

Briefly she was still.

He was left looking at the door that closed behind her. The stuttering in his throat gave way to tears. Not wanting to move he dried his face on the door curtain.

IT TOOK months, perhaps because he didn’t really want to sell. Semis, he discovered, carried signs. A trampoline in the back garden, a BskyB dish, both enemies of tranquillity. What swung it were fortyish neighbours who lacked dogs and children and who garaged their Audi at night. Crankily he’d taken against couples who filled their garages with cardboard boxes and unwanted furniture.

More time passed, including two weeks in a motel. Then he moved in. With only himself to please he could triangulate his easy chair with his two Quad loudspeakers. One Sunday, having seen Number Fifty-Four drive away together, he played Bruckner and Ives at full stereo. When the Audi returned at seven he switched to chamber music with the wick turned well down.

He nibbled fruit as he listened; meals had become erratic. When Bartok’s fifth came to an end he heard argument through the dividing wall, she sharply monotonous, his voice rising and falling, lurching, it seemed, towards defeat.

That meant they must have heard the quartet. Would the next step be complaints? Life without music was unthinkable and he’d move if necessary. But perhaps it would be worth talking first, to test their reactions.

The man appeared jowly and probably laid down the law in pubs. The wife he had never seen close-up but she had to be more congenial. Monday she was hanging out washing and he walked towards the fence, his mind unprepared, not even knowing her name.

“Er, I say.”

 She shrugged as if irritated.

“I’m Paul Cazalet. Your… neighbour.” He flamed with embarrassment at having stated the obvious. She went on picking pegs out of a basket hanging from the washing line. He said, “I thought I’d introduce myself. And there’s something else.”

She stopped what she was doing but remained in the centre of the lawn. He said, “These modern houses. The walls are so thin. I played music last night. Did I disturb you?”

She held a striped beach towel at odds with her fixed, discouraging expression. God! A matched husband and wife. When she sauntered forwards it wasn’t out of politeness but to scrutinise him as his wife had. To confirm his defects?

Close-up her angular face was hard and full of certainties. The curls in her dark hair were tightly contrived. No hint of friendship. “Isn’t it the other way round?” she said.

“I don’t understand.”

“You heard us.”

“I heard talk, true. It didn’t worry me. But the music might have worried you.”

“You keen on music?”

He nodded and she glanced back at his house. “Music a comfort?” she asked laconically.

He nodded again.

She shook out the towel as if talk were at an end. “We can live with what you play.”

“Live with? OK. But will it be a pain?”

“The lot that had your house were mad on sport.  Telly on most nights. Sport, music – it’s all just noise. We’re used to that.”


“We’re not complaining,” she said, slightly irritated.

He still didn’t know her name. Not that it mattered.

But that was then. At midday the post brought a note from his wife about a shared insurance policy, a fiddling matter. But the curves of her handwriting were painful, evoking the last time in the hallway: seeing her dressed and groomed for someone else. That night, unable to sleep, he passed time idealising his unnamed neighbour’s appearance and manner, knowing what he was doing, knowing what it might lead to. Turning her brusqueness into moral strength, her coolness into sympathy, her tightly permed hair into proof she was sexually aware. Pure fantasy but fantasy was what he needed there and then.

On a hunch that evening he put away the Bartok and played a Schubert trio. Just that. No sound through the dividing wall but mid-morning the following day she knocked on his door, requiring coffee. Noise came in different forms! As he expected, his bedtime fantasy had disappeared completely. Her smoothed-out face had reverted to hollow cheeks and a narrow – now crimson – mouth. The imaginary warmth had cooled. There was only speculation in her brown eyes.

But not for long. Briefly she looked around at the shelves of CDs then finished her coffee quickly. “I won’t stay. No point at the moment.”

“At the moment?”

She smiled thinly. “You’re besotted with music. Convinced it will compensate. When you know it can't, well, we’ll see.”

He was appalled she was so far ahead.

“You seem bloody confident.”

“You’re so obvious. It doesn’t have to be with me, except I’m close at hand. And I’m not shy”

“I don’t even know your name.”

“Why not try Hedda?”

Sheesh! He let her out, saying nothing. Saw the funny side later. But couldn’t see playing Schubert trios day in day out. Felt sure the Brahms sextets would be a goer.


  1. Layered genius. Making me late for work again. First thoughts: dissonance and harmony, experimenting with people as notes in a composition(life), the (mostly) subconscious male instinct to bait, call and hunt. The man is as attuned to disharmony as he is harmony. I'll try to find something wrong with it later, but I'm not optimistic.

  2. We talked recently about my erstwhile naive concept of a short story demanding a surprise ending, or at least some kind of twist in the tail (that was way back when I was a nineteen year old intellectual).

    Well here we have it. Her using that name in consideration of Paul’s refinement is brilliant - she is obviously more well read than he could have hoped, and she knows how to appeal to her man - he wont be able to resist. Just a pity his musical taste had not been more demonstrably Russian, or perhaps you avoided that deliberately for some reason.

  3. Better on the second read, and probably will be on the third. "Perhaps you should" is currently my favorite line, and I have enlightened myself further as a result of Sir Hugh's comment. From Wikipedia/Hedda Gabler/critical interpretation: "there is a secret, sometimes unconscious, world of aims and methods — one might almost say a secret system of values — that is often much more important than the rational one."
    uh-oh....new favorite line: "She caught the dying fall."
    Killer piece RR.

  4. Your short stories are beginning to define the short story which I still maintain requires no definition. If I have one small criticism of this one it is that it might perhaps have been longer. More room for shadows. But once completed no need: it works.

  5. I loved this story, and cringe for poor Brahms.

  6. MikeM: All those things - and I didn't have a clue they were there. But it's as I said and as you've agreed: the piece becomes yours and anyone else who reads it. Your reactions are just as important as the impulses that drove me to write it in the first place. There's a philosophical parallel: if a tree falls down in the midst of a forest and no one sees it happen, can it be said to have happened? In the case of anything written, does it exist until someone has read it?

    Sir Hugh: Your concept isn't naive. But ending with a poorly chosen punchline can trivialise what went before. The twist ending must be organic not just tacked on. I'm not sure I should reveal that the present ending is the fourth or fifth I came up with - all quite different.

    MikeM: Beth, who makes an amusing but telling comment here, once commented that I seem keen to write about powerful woman. Here it seems is yet another though to begin with she was merely thuggish. Things just got out of hand.

    Joe: I appreciate your comment. But to lengthen a short story (in my bumbling analytical view) actually changes its nature. This one started out (potentially, at least), much longer since I felt compelled to explain why he was at home during the working week. Very reluctantly, since I'd spent much time devising a plausible backdrop based on market research, I dropped over a hundred words and set it at the weekend instead. This might seem obvious but in making the cut I lost material which shed light on his character. But, for the moment, I'm committed to the 1000-word story since it allows me to compare the present with the past and see if there's any progress.

    Beth: Oh, very verb. sap. Are you implying there's another mini-step between Schubert and Brahms I should have used? No, that way madness lies.

  7. Oh no, just that poor old lumbering brown Brahms would be embarrassed, and since I love him so much anyway, I feel compelled to defend him. Schubert, I think, could handle it.