Well that was fun.
If you’re just joining us, this morning we asked for very short stories, of 250 words or less, inspired by that playlist up there. That playlist chosen by Eimear McBride to accompany her just published, deeply wonderful second novel, The Lesser Bohemians.
So many of you sent in so many brilliant stories — but after much discussion in the office, we’ve managed to choose our winner.
Also, we’re having two runners-up this week. Because we can.
RUNNER-UP: Bikram Sharma
I answer the phone in Norwich and am beside you in Bangalore, listening to you explain you are leaving, this time for good. You mistake my silence for disbelief and tell me about the packed duffel bag—your clothes rolled up and compressed tight so that you can carry as much of your life as possible. The rest will be for me to pick at, like a vulture and its nest of bones.
The table will be mine. Why would you want it after I slammed your head against its edge? Six stitches and a broken promise of ‘never again’.
The tea-tree-oil moisturiser will be mine. Its smell will always remind me of your calves, dotted red from mosquito bites.
The love letters will be mine. I will go through each one, marveling at how much ink I poured into you and you into me.
The carpet will be mine. Our first purchase together as a couple; our first commitment. Its seams will unravel and stitching fray, but I will keep it on the floor of my study, warming my feet on its worn surface.
Ninety-three days and I will return from my degree abroad to an apartment of dust. By then you will have severed ties, snipped kite strings, moved, disappeared, transformed into hushed whispers on friends’ lips. I will clutch at your possessions but crave most the empty spaces of your duffel bag. For only through your absence will I discover the meaning of ‘home’.
RUNNER-UP: Paul Jenkins
Twelve steps to the counter. Six days a week.
“Sex shop don’t open on the Sabbath, ma’am”, I say to an imaginary customer.
I’m almost there when I hear it land.
The shop’s called Unknown Pleasures. Opened by my uncle, before his accident. He asked me in hospital to mind the gaff. Ten years later, I’m still here. I don’t know if that makes me sadder than the customers but I think that it might.
The girl came in wearing a Joy Division t-shirt. But she didn’t turn and run. She pretended to browse awhile then walked up to the counter, cool as you like, and asks what the song playing is.
I‘ve been asked the worst things in the world. Never this.
I made a CD for the store, something appropriate for a dimly lit gateway to the fantasies of our grim clientele. Morphine, Tom Waits, Lee Hazelwood, stuff like that.
“Could you do me a copy?” she says in a voice that changes everything, seemingly indifferent to the novelty restraint gear between us.
“It’s just a job”, I want to say.
I hand over the CD. Mumbled something about a coffee sometime.
That was yesterday. Now there’s a tape on the doormat.
I scan the sleeve. Nice handwriting. I put the cassette on and wait.
A familiar organ refrain fills the room with beauty and hope. Loss and shame, our most regular customers, vanish from the store.
I flip the sign to Open, then to Closed.
WINNER: Justine Taylor
Do You Love Me
We smell of sweat, of cheap tequila; we smell medicinal.
Onstage Nick Cave punches the air and we throw our arms up high. More, we cry out, we want more. He sings of sex and death and love and death and desire and death. This is how we know we’re alive.
I want to take my medicine. I want to wash it down with something sweet.
He is our black-suited saviour. He preaches of our dark desires, he lays them bare. He is our saint. Saint Nick.
We run through the dark streets, rain fizzing off our skin; we are wired, we are electric. Street lamps burst in our wake. We are a blinding flash of light in the dark.
We throw open the windows. Our ears are full with music, our bodies beat to its rhythm. I lay you down, I stretch you out. Your body is as ripe as a peach, as bruised as fruit. I kiss you, I make it better. You taste pharmaceutical.
Our dark preacher stands in the shadows, his lips mouthing the words of the song ‘Do You Love Me’—
—until our bodies ring with it, chime with it. Until we cry it out. More, we want more.
Our light cannot stand the morning. We fade, we dissolve. There is only you and I, separate and distinct.
We say, see you later. We say, until next time.
We say goodbye.
Congratulations, Bikram, Paul and Justine! And thanks to everyone for their brilliant stories. This was fun. Let’s do it again some time.
In fact, let’s do it again next Friday – same time, same rules. New prompt.
A wonderful, word-filled weekend to you all.