Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Flash Fiction: The Idyll

She left home that morning with a suitcase full of clothes and a vague idea in her head about where she was going and what she was looking for. She left home that morning and she drove towards the rain, and at each village she reached she thought she would stop. But when she got there, she decided she would go one further, just a little further, because she wasn’t quite that tired or hungry or thirsty or finished yet.

And it wasn’t right. That was the main problem. Each village she reached she passed because it wasn’t right. What was she looking for exactly? If only she knew. The drive had done nothing to clear her mind, and the only thing she was sure of was that she was done with the place she lived in, and needed a fresh start. But it was some sort of idyll that she wanted, some kind of perfection. A little village with a shop and a pub and a post office. With a school that held ten pupils and a playground that held many more. No graffiti, no litter, no crime. A house with a view and an open fireplace and a creaky old staircase. A village green on which cricket was played in the summer and where on May Day the villagers gathered round the maypole to watch the children dancing. A place where people said hello when they passed one another in the street and were pleased to see you when you popped in for a cup of tea.

As she drove, the rain beginning to pitter pat on her windscreen and the day beginning to darken. Her eyes closed of their own accord and she whipped them open in fright, still on the road but only just. The next village would have to be the one.

She stopped the car outside a pretty little cottage with a dark wooden front door, a cosy glow curling from inside where, no doubt, a fire was blazing in the inglenook fireplace. Across the quiet street was a village green, a cricket pavilion on the far side. Further down the road a pub was playing folk music, the strains of a fiddle just reaching her ears, teasing her, not loud enough for her to hear the tune.

She knocked on the door of the cottage, wondering whether anyone would be in, and if they were whether they would mind a total stranger asking for food and shelter. The door opened. “You made it,” said the man inside, a man she recognised as her father, even though he had been dead for many years now. “We were worried. Come in, get dry by the fire. We’ve been waiting for you.”

She smiled. She had found heaven.

©Lisamarie Lamb 2011

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Flash Fiction: Are We Nearly There?

Stuart sat, silently and sullenly, in the back of the car, gazing out at the nothing that wasn't moving all around him. He was bored, he was tired, and he was hungry. Not a good combination at any age, but at six it was just the right mixture to cause fidgets and generally annoying behaviour that was beginning to escalate into something more.

He tried again; “Are we nearly there yet?” He knew they weren’t. But it didn’t stop him from asking. In fact, it was the reason for the question. If he was irritated and uncomfortable, they all would be.

Stuart’s father gripped the steering wheel tighter. He gritted his teeth. He knew his son well and he knew that the questioning was intended to get at him. Stuart’s mother patted her husband’s knee, squeezed it, said nothing. Her head was pounding and her stomach was growling. They should have been at her mother’s over an hour ago, but now they were stuck in traffic inside a tunnel because of an accident up ahead. She supposed she should feel something for the person who was causing the trouble – anger, frustration, pity, something – but instead she just felt tired. She rested her head against the window and breathed deeply, trying to stem the nausea that was reaching up from her stomach into the back of her throat.

“Daddy?” needled Stuart; “Dad? Are we nearly there yet?” He kicked the back of his mother’s seat, scuffing the leather with his dirty trainers.

“No, Stuart, we are not nearly there yet,” said his dad. “We’re still where we were the last time you asked, and the time before, and the time before that. You can see we haven’t moved. Or are you stupid?”

That did it. Stuart was always top of his class, always the one the teachers praised above all others, and he knew he was intelligent. And he hated being called stupid. “No!” he yelled, his voice screeching in its vehemence.

His mother winced at the sound, and rubbed her temples. His father smiled, feeling he was getting somewhere. “Well then, you know there’s no need to ask that question over and over. Once the traffic starts flowing again, we’ll be about twenty minutes away. Until then, I have no idea.” And with that he was able to nudge the car forward a tiny bit, perhaps two feet. Before Stuart could comment, his dad said, “And this is clearly not the traffic flowing, Stuart, so don’t ask.”

Stuart shut his mouth, still kicking his mother, but without much enthusiasm. After a moment’s thought, he opened it again; “But Dad,” he said in his best whiny voice, “Can’t we just turn around, back the way we came? There’s nothing on the other side of the road. I think it’s stupid just to sit here.” The extra emphasis on the word his father had used to get at him won the point. He smiled smugly and crossed his arms, waiting for the explosion her knew would come.

Before his father could say anything, Stuart’s mother twisted as best she could in the confinement of her seat and tried to diffuse the situation. “Stuart, why are you being silly? Daddy doesn’t want to have an argument with you, so why not just be friends? We’re all stuck here together, so let’s try to get on, shall we?”

Stuart frowned. “Friends is boring.”

His father slapped the steering wheel with meaning and growled angrily. “You see? You see what he’s like? Oh, he’ll be all charming at your mum’s, all perfect and darling, but you must see what he’s like! He clearly hates me.” He stopped talking to his wife and focused on his son, locking eyes with him in the rear-view mirror. “Do you hate me, Stuart? Do you really hate me?”

The boy, shocked by the sudden question and the fear he could hear in the back of his father’s voice, was silent. No words would come although he desperately wanted them to.

Stuart’s mother, her head pounding harder with every beat of her tired heart, unclipped her seatbelt. She removed her bag from where the strap had tangled in her legs and set it to one side. She opened the car door. Without a word, she got out, crossed the barrier in the middle of the road, and began to walk away.

Neither Stuart nor his father tried to stop her. They were either too shocked or surprised or otherwise confused by the whole thing. When his mother was finally out of sight, going who knew where and returning who knew when, Stuart found his voice. “I love you, Daddy,” he said.

©Lisamarie Lamb 2011

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Flash Fiction: Supermarket Weep

Just the thought of the supermarket made her shudder. She knew she had to go, but imagining what it would be like as she stepped through the automatic doors, as the swish of too warm air hit her in the face like an over friendly slap, made Lucy want to get back into bed with the duvet pulled up as high as it would go without leaving her feet out in the cold.

She knew exactly how it would be. The lights would be too bright, so she would get a headache immediately, before she even worked her way through the fresh fruit and veg. There would be too many people, all thinking that they were the only ones with the need to buy their weekly shop and getting irritated to the point of exploding when they realised they weren’t. By the time she reached the hot food counter at the back of the supermarket she would have been pushed, glared at and run over by numerous trolleys.

She groaned, contemplated forgetting the whole thing, and then begrudgingly slipped on some comfortable shoes for the ten minute drive. She didn’t bother with a coat. From house to car to shop and back again meant only a couple of minutes in the open air, if that. Less if she managed to park near to the entrance.

All hopes of that were dashed once she drove round the corner, past the petrol station, and ended up at the back of a queue for parking spaces. She could already feel her temperature and blood pressure rising. Breathe, she said to herself, repeating it over and over until she felt calmer. She realised everyone was trying to get into the main car park. Idiots. Didn’t they know there was an overflow? She smiled to herself, glad to get one up on the savage hordes, and turned left as soon as she could. All right, so the walk to the shop would be a bit longer, and she might wish she’d worn her coat after all, but at least she’d get parked with no problems.

Well, almost. There were a number of spaces left, but the fact that the selfish people who had parked their before her had assumed they had the right to take up two spaces when one would happily do, or leave trolleys abandoned in the middle of another space meant that easy parking was not to be. But she did finally manage it, squeezed between a massive truck like thing and a van. She just hoped they were both gone by the time she escaped the place. They probably would be – this was not a quick in and out sort of chore.

By the time she reached those dreaded double doors, Lucy’s hands had turned a funny shade of blue, and she was almost glad of the over friendly slap. Almost. It was still bloody uncomfortable and really unnecessary. One day she might even mention it to someone, but it always seemed like such an effort, and she never wanted to spend any more time here than she had to.

Before she could take another step, the shop’s internal speakers started shouting in a nasally voice that sounded incredibly bored; “Could a manager go to customer services, customer waiting.”

No please. No thank you. Lucy looked around. No one else seemed bothered. She sighed and pressed through the masses to the customer service desk. She saw the woman waiting, her face ready to argue, clutching a tattered receipt and a banana.

“Madam? How may I help you?” Lucy asked.

©Lisamarie Lamb 2011

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Church in the Field

There is a church in the middle of a field with no road leading to it or from it and no footpath either. And yet every Sunday the most beautiful singing floats from within its sturdy old walls. I know this because every Sunday I walk past it.

The first time I saw it I found it by accident. Sunday lunch in my house is a big affair, family come from all over and descend on us for a day filled with loud discussion, lots of food and a reasonable amount of alcohol, and in order to hold onto my sanity and my temper I leave just after they get there. It’s not that I don’t enjoy seeing everyone – I do, of course. I feel proud when my family are around me, I’m the patriarch, I’m the reason they’re all there. But on a Sunday there’s no room for me in the kitchen, I’m just told to get out from under their feet, and the living room where I would like to sit and read the papers is suddenly full of small people with noisy toys and sticky fingers.

Me getting out of the house is the best for all of us. It makes for a happier day all round. I come back for lunch refreshed, hungry, and ready to join in with the rest of them.

It was on a beautiful April Sunday when the weather was just warming up enough to wander without a coat and the smell of spring was firmly in the air, the birds were back from wherever they’d been and the whole world was coming back to life that I first saw the church. My usual route took me through a patch of woodland, across a little meadow, and round the housing estate before circling back to my full to bursting home. But on this April day the meadow was out of bounds. There were big notices up telling me that a film crew was using it and that I’d need to find another way round.

I’d lived in that area for almost ten years at that point and yet I had no idea of any alternative route. I stood pondering this for a moment before deciding that the safest option was to turn back the way I had come and go home. But reversing a well known path is more difficult than it might seem, and I emerged not on the track that led down to the main road, and my house, but in a completely different meadow to the one I had tried to cross earlier. It was beautiful. It was still. It had a church in the middle of it.

The church was a stone building with a big gold cross above the door. The roof looked to be in good repair, and the windows were intact. It didn’t seem abandoned although there was no way that I could see for the congregation to get there, other than through the woods that I had just walked through. I imagined the elderly and infirm traipsing through the undergrowth for the weekly sermon and wondered whether anyone bothered.

I walked nearer and could hear singing. Beautiful, choral harmonies and soaring melodies. Stunning. When it was over I looked at my watch and my heart jumped as I realised how long I’d been standing in that one spot. Without looking back, I trotted back home, preparing myself for the family that would be there.

I didn’t tell anyone about the church.

The next week I abandoned my old route and attempted to find that field again. It took longer than I had expected, and I only had a chance to listen to a little of the music before regretfully turning back for home.

Now that I knew where it was and how to get there, even if the journey was a little arduous, I made my way straight to the field on the Sunday after that. The singing was as beautiful as ever, and I slowly made my way to the front door, desperately wanting to go inside, to join in if I’m honest, but scared, not wanting to disturb anyone.

I couldn’t do it.

It took me another three weeks to work up the courage to push open the door and go inside.

What I saw took my breath away.

The church was empty. No, more than empty. It was nothing. It was a shell, just a fa├žade, just a front and a side of a fake building propped up with strong planks of wood. My head instantly started to throb, my stomach began to hurt, my disappointment was so great. I had imagined so much and there was nothing. Just more meadow and more blue sky.

And even though I know this, I can still hear the singing.

©Lisamarie Lamb 2011