It is fun sometimes to write something condensed. Micro, flash and other short forms are popular. They are not as easy as they appear, of course. There is a negotiation with language that allows a writer to make things shorter, and shorter, yet still retaining something that could be thought of as a story. Some say that short and short, short fiction it has more to do with poetry, I am not so quick to label and categorise, as this brings a pile of other baggage to distract and confuse. And besides, writers are not theorists beyond a certain point of usefulness (not if they value their creations!). A short story perhaps has to maintain a coherent narrative from a ‘storyish’ aspect, and not be all to do with language. This one is 450 words – not that short. It could be shorter, but I think it is OK as it is. About the right size for an open mic event. I read this one in Cockermouth last year at the Kirkgate.
A For Alice
Alice was writing a letter whilst the soup heated… not considered suitable… better qualified candidates… The words came out like a shower of splinters… We feel that it is unreasonable for you to expect…Her fountain pen caught the paper, snagging it. This was not her best writing paper, of course, but the pen was a good pen, an expensive pen – a gift from her father when she qualified. It encouraged words; ink flowed fluently from the handmade gold nib…in consultation with other senior members of the committee, I must regretfully…
The soup did that bumping thing when lots of bubbles rise at once making a noise like a peremptory knock on the door. Alice rushed over to the stove, pen in hand, to stir it – her very own celery and chicken… homemade stock from bones, organic celery. The spoon stood in the soup, the liquid seething around it. Still holding her pen, she took the handle in the tips of her fingers to test if the soup had caught on the pan. But the spoon was hot, and burned her fingers, causing the lovely pen to slip from her hand into the liquid, plunging beneath the surface like a small torpedo.
Her expensive pen; the present from her late father: the pen with the marbled casing and the rolled-gold decoration; the pen with the beautiful handmade nib – the pen that was now in the soup. The soup boiled up, turning blue as in some school chemistry experiment. She imagined the taste of it – savoury, delicate, with a warm hint of nutmeg, now dashed through with the sweet inky blue blood taste, colouring her tongue like her words.
She picked up the pan and poured the contents into the sink, steam rising in a flush, condensing on the windows, soup splattering. Alice yelped at a small scald on her wrist. The pen lay in the sink, blue still running from the nib. She poured a deluge of cold water from the tap, soaking her clothes.
The pen appeared intact, solid as ever, but somehow smaller, less imposing. It had developed a slight bend, a little drunken lean over her thumb. She dried it in a tea towel, rubbing the pen as if to bring it back to life and rectitude, staining the tea towel with ink. But the pen was still bent, now cool and seemingly harder to the touch. Surely something could be done?
The pen’s undamaged cap almost fitted, but popped off slyly after initially seeming to clip on.
The letter, unfinished, begged a signature. It must be posted this afternoon.
Her name was lost a pool of blue, the ‘A’ was just about discernable; but ‘A’ for Alice, clearly.