Friday Story: 3) Orange juice

Orange juice

Illustration for Inktrap Magazine by Sue Gent

 

Looking back, I can see how it started. Two ten-year-old boys, bored in the too-long summer holidays, complaining to our mothers that we’d nothing to do.

Our mothers, exasperated, overworked with the constant round of cooking, cleaning, washing from which they could see no means of escape, willingly gave us ours. Packed us off with egg sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper, an apple each and bottles of orange juice. Yes, glass bottles. That’s what we used then.

We headed off into the promise of the July day, kicking at stones on the road, not caring a fig that we scuffed our shoes, not caring that our mothers would care and would ask us if we thought money grew on trees. It might as well have done, for all we thought about it.

Cynan dropped his bottle before we even reached the river, the orange liquid spurting across the tarmac path like the blood of some rare primate. We kicked the sharp shards of the broken bottle into the grass, not caring that some tender-bodied creature might crawl over them and be cut, even mortally wounded. We didn’t think. We didn’t think about anything that day. Didn’t plan anything. Didn’t mean any of what happened. Going down to the river was just something to do, a way of passing another long boring day.

We found sticks in the long grass and threw them into the river, seeing which of us could get his the furthest, but we got bored. Cynan said we should build a dam. It was something to do, but it was difficult. Others boys had dads who helped them with things like that. At least we thought they did, and that made us both sad, though we never actually said so to one another. We didn’t have dads. If anyone had asked us we’d both have said we didn’t care, though of course we did.

We walked on down the river, picking our way through brambles and nettles, getting stung and hurt but not saying. Then Cynan saw the dead cat. It was lying half under some twigs, as if someone had tried to hide it, but couldn’t be bothered to do it properly.

“Or maybe,” I said, “it wasn’t completely dead and it wriggled a bit.”

It wouldn’t have been able to move much. Its back legs were at funny angles and its head looked as if it had been screwed right round. Cynan poked it with a stick.

“Don’t do that,” I said.

“It’s dead,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to it now.”

I don’t know why we didn’t just leave it there, or bury it, like other kids would have done, but we were bored. Dissecting it was something to do.

I had a penknife. It was a bit blunt, but I managed to saw through the cat’s sternum and pull out its heart. It was the same colour as the orange juice. I turned it over in my hands and we both gawped at it. I remember Cynan saying,

“We’ve got hearts like that.”

And me saying, “We haven’t, we’ve got red hearts.”

What happened next should obviously never have happened. But I was ten years old, it was a summer’s day, the sun was getting hot even though it was still morning and after days and weeks of boredom I was suddenly excited.

I lunged at Cynan and stabbed him with my penknife, hard, straight into his sternum. He screamed and twisted away. I shouted but he was gone, thumping through the undergrowth like the wounded creature he was. I didn’t follow him. I don’t know why I didn’t. I suppose I thought he would come back. I carried on dissecting the cat. It was something to do.

When I’d finished I washed my hands in the river. I remember the blood. The red and the orange and the dark blood, mingling with the water, turning it brown. And then it ran clear again and I got out the sandwiches and ate them all. And both apples. And drank the remaining bottle of orange juice.

Then I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up it was shady in the wood and I was cold, in spite of the heat of the day.

Then I looked for Cynan. I found him quite quickly, and I covered him with sticks, the way someone had half-covered the cat, but better, because I knew he wasn’t going to move. His face was red and big and it scared me. There was something coming out of his mouth. Something orange and sticky, like the juice and the cat’s heart.

Then I walked till I couldn’t see him any more and I lay down and covered myself with sticks and leaves, because it was going to get really cold and I didn’t know how long it would be before they found me.

 

First published by Inktrap Magazine on-line, July 2015

Republished by Idler.ie, March 2016

New genre, new anthology

Cli-fi anthology blog tour

Climate change is a huge challenge for our world. It has inspired a new genre of fiction – cli-fi.

This is launch week for the new climate fiction anthology published by Retreat West Books, Nothing Is As It Was.

I’m proud to have a story in this anthology, all profits from which will be given to the climate change charity Earth Day Network.

I also wrote a piece about the inspiration for my story for the blog tour for the launch, which you can read here. Why not follow the whole blog tour and, even better, buy the book!

 

Support weird stories!

I have a story forthcoming in an anthology of weird stories – #Normal Deviation

I wrote my story, Conjuring Tricks, in response to a strange picture. We were asked to discard our first and second ideas and go with the third. I really liked this approach. My third idea was for a story about two characters waiting to audition for places in a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

The anthology is all set to go, but first there’s a crowdfunding campaign underway. Your chance to support weird stories!

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Reflections on writing (No 2 in an occasional series)

It’s been a long winter. Helped by the support of other writers – those in my local writing group and others at a distance – I’ve carried on writing stories through the dark days. I’ve submitted some of them here and there. I’ve had some acceptances, more rejections. I am grateful for those acceptances, believe me. But I’m always striving for more.

Sometimes I feel like a cat going round in circles, never quite able to catch its tail – or in my case, tale. So it’s good to come across a new writing exercise. Here’s one I came across on twitter courtesy of the writer Kathy Fish. I tried it this morning with remarkable results – and now have ideas for ways to start at least half a dozen new stories! I think the exercise gives you access to a free-thinking part of the brain. Perhaps this is what the Surrealists did with their automatic writing. Follow the link to Kathy Fish’s post and try it yourself.

 

 

Reflections on writing (No 1 in an occasional series)

Like all writers, I read as much as I can. I do this primarily for enjoyment rather than as an academic exercise, but of course it informs my own writing.

As I embark on a year’s mentoring I’m learning more about so-called ‘rules’ of writing, or at least recommendations. One of these is that dialogue is good. It breaks up the text, makes it easier to read. I’m a (fairly) diligent student and I’m currently sowing dialogue through the short stories I’m writing.

Another recommendation is to use the active voice. Passivity distances the reader. Yes, I’ve bought into that one.

Don’t jump from one point of view to another. Very confusing for the reader. Okay, must bear that in mind.

I am greatly encouraged when I read other people’s work which breaks these ‘rules’. I’ve just devoured Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 (2017). I have followed Jon McGregor’s work since his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002). This book became a success by word of mouth. Since then McGregor has gone on to become ‘a prize-winning author’. I put that phrase in inverted commas because, affirming as that may be, it’s just one thing about him, not for me a defining characteristic.

After I’d finished the book I looked up some one-star reviews, curious to know why anyone would not love this book as much as I did. Criticisms include it being boring, that nothing happens, difficulty of keeping track of multiple characters and, interestingly, lack of dialogue and the use of the passive voice. I think the problem is that people have certain expectations of a book, instead of reading it on its own terms. A cursory glance at the blurb on the back will tell you that this is not a conventional murder mystery story.

The comment that ‘Anyone could write a book like this’ is, frankly, crass. If one day I can write something that is halfway as compelling as Reservoir 13 I will be a very happy person. I’ll never write in the same way as Jon McGregor and neither do I want to do so. I want to use my own voice, and while I will think about writing ‘rules’, I will also feel free to break them.