The rules for this month were:
500 words or less.
First word must be ‘new’.
Story must include a list of some kind, and the words ‘present’ and ‘desert’.
For more info on Furious Fiction, go here: https://www.writerscentre.com.au/furious-fiction/
And here’s my little story:
STRAWS by Denise Newton
“New wife, new life, New wife, new life, new wife…” I mutter the words from Ed’s email like an evil mantra.
His new partner, his new life. I’m stuck here in this endless loop of single parenting, unless Ed stoops to the occasional visit; grocery shopping (also endless); laundry and housework (ditto). Nineteen years of marriage and guess who drew the short straw?
“Where’s the list?” I ask Elsie now. She’s wriggling in her seat belt like she wants to escape. It’s hot, the temperature gauge tipping 42 degrees. The Saturday morning traffic belongs in one of Dante’s circles of Hell. The backs of my legs are sticking to the car seat. A mistake to wear a skirt today. I thought it’d be cooler. But no, my legs are in their own special desert under the dash, manufacturing sweat like we truly are arriving at Inferno Central.
I grit my teeth.
“I’m thirsty, Mum,” she says again, in that particular tone that is like pressing on a bruise. “Can we stop at McDonald’s for a slushie?”
“Elsie, have I ever taken you to McDonald’s?”
A small silence.
I pull into the car park and let out a quiet groan. The only free space is a long walk from the cool of the air-conditioned shopping mall. I rummage in the messy back seat of the car, retrieve the shopping list, grab some bags, turn to Elsie.
Grit my teeth again.
“Come on, let’s go in and get this over with.”
She scrambles out, a little monkey in her purple shorts and blue Peppa Pig T-shirt.
Forty minutes later we are through the checkout, shopping bags stacked in the trolley. I stop at the automatic door, turn to look at my daughter.
“Hey, before we go out and get hot all over again, what say we get milkshakes at the cafe?”
She gives me a huge smile.
We order chocolate milkshakes and I lean back in my seat, looking at Elsie.
“You know Charlotte?” she says to me through the straw. I nod. Charlotte is Elsie’s third best friend. When you are in Year One, there is a strict pecking order of friendship that must be observed.
“Charlotte’s birthday is in three days and she can’t stop talking about the presents she wants.”
“Oh?” I know where this was leading – a wish list, a none- too- gentle hint for her own upcoming birthday.
Elsie says, her mouth all chocolatey, “I told Charlotte that I don’t want lots of presents for my birthday this year. I want to have a day with you at the mall, shopping and stuff. And milkshakes.” She beams. “I really like shopping with you.”
Now I know who got the short straw.
This is a short story I submitted in the ‘Furious Fiction’ at the Australian Writers Centre in August 2018.
The prompts for that month were:
The story had to be 500 words (or less)
The sentences “The door was locked” and “It felt familiar” and “She laughed” had to be included.
To find out more about Furious Fiction, go here: https://www.writerscentre.com.au/furious-fiction/
It’s free, fast and fun.
Here’s my story.
I didn’t know what to do. The door was locked. I rattled the handle, twisted it hard. Emma, behind me on the step, jostled my elbow. I turned to her, scowling.
“We can’t get in,” I muttered.
She laughed. “What’s it matter?” she called as she bounced back down the stairs, landing on the pavement with a “Ta da!”
Emma always found the laughter. It’s what most people love about my sister. She is slow, and a bit chubby, and her face has that flattened look. And she knows how to be happy.
“Emma, it’s not funny.” I tried to scold, and failed as usual. Emma never allows words to penetrate when she is in her happy place.
She said “Let’s go to the park!”
“We promised Dad we’d clean up this afternoon,” I reminded her.
“We can do that later!” She was off, running down the street towards the park; one of her favourite places.
Sometimes, Emma can be very tiring.
Mum’s house was too far to walk to, and she wouldn’t be back to pick us up for another two hours – which would’ve been plenty of time to clean up the mess in Dad’s kitchen that we – or really, Emma – had made yesterday. He’d been angry when he got home. I could understand why. It couldn’t have been great, getting home after work to find Emma, dusted head to foot with flour, looking like a walking snow cone, with egg shells, vanilla essence, mixing bowls and dirty spoons scattered all over the bench tops. The look on his face… poor Dad.
Mum had arrived then, and the tension between them was a razor blade, invisible but deadly. It felt familiar. I’d said, quickly “We’ll come tomorrow after school, Dad, we’ll clean it up, promise!”
And now, here we were: locked out.
I heard the low throb of Dad’s car and spun around, grabbing Emma’s elbow to steer her back to the house. She beamed at Dad and rushed to him, her little arms hugging his legs as he tried to get out of the driver’s seat.
“Hey, Daddy!” He put his hand out to smooth her hair, his eyes meeting mine above her head.
“Hey, baby,” he said softly. I could tell he had forgiven her. That felt familiar, too.
Here is another of the short stories I entered in the Australian Writers Centre ‘Furious Fiction’ short story competition. For this one, the guidelines were: 500 words or less, the topic was “The Lost Hour”, and the story had to include one sentence with three colours mentioned, plus the phrase “It is lighter.”
As always with this competition, it was great practice for thinking imaginatively about a prompt and writing to some guidelines – and good fun. Here is my story:
The Lost Hour by Denise Newton
Splinters of light stab at my eyes. I try to open them. The right eye opens. Can’t see much, but it must be nearly morning. Darkness lifting: it is lighter. My left eye stays closed. I try again, concentrating. Jesus, it’s stuck. What the freaking hell? My mouth is stuck – I can’t open it, either. My tongue feels huge, like a thick furry lizard inside my mouth. I try to lift my head. Someone groans nearby. So close to me. Who is that? I try to lift my head again. Shit, it hurts. I hurt. That dude groans some more. Carefully, I roll my head to the right and open that eye a crack. I can’t see properly. Pieces of something green and shiny scattered about. Glass? Roll my head back to the left. Another moan. There’s no one there. Is it me making those noises? What the hell?
OK, try to sit up, Luke. Slowly, slowly, like an old man, I roll to one side and push myself up to sit, hunched over like a turtle. My left eye is screaming now, throbbing. God, my head. There’s a piece of broken green glass embedded in my left palm. Blood oozes around the sides of the wound. Looks deep – but what do I know? I can hardly see properly. I try to focus my one good eye on the wound, staring hard. It’s all blurry: a pink, green and red palm. I can feel it now. Maybe because I’m looking at it. Stinging, where the blood is leaking. I turn my hand over. The knuckles look grazed and swollen. Like something hard has hit them. Or… like they’ve hit something hard.
Jesus. I’m scared now. What happened here? I search my mushy brain, trying to remember. Flashes of the night before: Jason’s big party, his buck’s night at The Royal. All the guys there, I remember that. A big night. Huge. Then nothing. Jump to now. Sitting here with a triangle of green glass in my palm, a swollen eye and knuckles that have seen some action. The rest of the night lost to me.
I try to stand up. Sit down again, in a hurry as the concrete under my feet rises, threatens to slam into me. My head drops between my knees. I’m trying to think the nausea down; I want to look up but the bile rises. So I lean one ear on my knee and send my gaze out. To my right, on the other side of the broken glass, something lies crumpled on the pavement. Oh. Jesus. A body, lying there, very still. Concentrating, commanding my right eye to focus, I make out a pale green t shirt and jeans, a bearded face turned to me, eyes closed. The top of the shirt is splotched with stains. A dark red trail of liquid oozes from the ear above.In the distance I hear a siren.
This is the printout of my first draft…it’s probably 10,000 words too long and needs a great deal of tender nurturing and care (also known as word whittling, re-writing, re-drafting) to become a second draft, then a third…and so on. Still it is comforting and reassuring to see the pages in front of me. Proof that I didn’t just imagine all those words!