Issue 2 submissions are open! Check it out:
[This is supposed to be a character created using one of Novakovich’s four methods – ideal, autobiographical, biographical, or mixed. I’m not sure the writing is particularly successful (it probably doesn’t help that I’m half asleep) but I found it an interesting exercise.]
He stared at the job application on the screen. He’d arrived at the ‘relevant experience’ and ‘education’ section. Well, that was just great… He let out a weighty sigh, stroking his stubble pensively. It wasn’t long enough to qualify as a beard, and wasn’t short enough to qualify as stylish stubble. It was just facial scruff, brown fading to grey.
The job vacancy had pointed out that relevant experience was preferable but not essential. After so many years of filling in these kinds of applications, he thought he’d know better; or even know what that meant. Yet since he’d never been hired in cases where he’d indicated no relevant experience, he had no idea what someone in the ‘preferable but not essential’ category looked like. Maybe younger? Better looking? Better educated? More driven?
Lifting a beige coffee-containing mug to his cracked lips, he reread the job vacancy.
“Translator for a press office, m/f, fluent in English and French. Any additional languages welcome. This is a customer-facing role, therefore good interpersonal skills are required. Experience preferable but not essential.”
How on earth was he supposed to demonstrate all that? He had no official experience in translation, no education relating to translation, and his people skills were declining by the day. But that was because people were annoying, not because he couldn’t be friendly or cope with them. Surely that was a plus? It wasn’t like he could put that on the form, though! He chuckled to himself as he imagined the cover letter:
‘Dear sir or madam,
I am an annoyed yet amiable 50-something with no chance in hell of getting this job. Nonetheless, I have lived in France for several years and speak the language, as well as my native English, fluently. Furthermore, I firmly believe I would be a great addition to your company. Please hire me. I am in dire need of money.’
The thought entertained him briefly when he suddenly remembered a great Dadaist who used to write letters of rejection to various companies advertising vacancies. They appeared formal, and were written to sound like cover letters, only instead of the man asking for a job, he listed the reasons he would never apply for it. It was hilarious, yet also quite sobering to think people actually did apply for such abusive ‘opportunities’.
Oh, if only he had the guts to do that! But at his age and in his unemployed state, he’d be lucky to find a part-time job, let alone a proper one. Besides, the prank had already been masterfully played once; undoubtedly, it would be less funny and much less original to repeat it. Frustrated by this flurry of thoughts, he looked back at the screen.
“Relevant experience,” he repeated to himself for the third time in five minutes. He just couldn’t focus. Eventually, he slammed the laptop shut, tossing a resigned “You’ve got to be joking” in its direction before heading out for a walk to clear his head.
[This was an exercise intended to get us to play with stereotypes, and try to build them into more complex beings than just 2D, flat characters]
“You never listen!” he yelled, marching out of the kitchen angrily. The phrase was underlined heavily by his black lipstick. He raced up the stairs to his room, slamming the door for effect. This was no mere feat in baggy trousers and heavy goth boots. Still, the effects of his rage were felt; those boots may not have been made for walking, but definitely for stomping. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he looked around his bedroom as if that would provide answers for the multitude of questions in his head.
Nobody understood. Nobody ever understood. Sure, he was an anguished, tormented teenage soul – like millions of others around the globe – but that didn’t mean he didn’t know exactly what he wanted from life. His age gave them no reason to treat him like they knew better. He hrmphed at the silence – just because his parents were going through a mid-life crisis and wanted to move didn’t mean he had to. His life, friends, and dreams were all here.
To soothe himself, he flicked on the cd player and inserted a disk with appropriately angry music, switching instantly to a track relevant to the strong betrayal he felt. Plopping down on his unmade bed, he stared at the ceiling while the sounds of Tosti’s Non T’Amo Piu washed over him, passionately performed by the grand master Luciano Pavarotti. He closed his eyes, mouthing the words silently. God damn it, this was beauty. This was poetry.
As the aria drew to a close, he leapt out of the bed, turning the volume up as the next track came on. E Lucevan Le Stelle from Tosca sorrowfully seeped into the room, this time by another one of the greats: Placido Domingo. Without hesitation, Mario sang along, his voice falling and rising in tune with Domingo’s. A sharp banging at the door and “Keep it down in there! I’m trying to study!” prompted him to pump up the volume, drowning out his sister’s cries of protest. He heard her stomp off to confront their parents.
One day he’d be rid of this life, this family. One day he’d be like Pavarotti, Domingo and all those other great tenors. One day.
[Using everything we’ve learned so far, I was supposed to look over past notes to generate a new idea. In my search through my Word files, I uncovered something I wrote a few months ago, which I’ve edited for your reading pleasure, though it needs quite a bit more work before I can build it into a complete story. Quite arrogantly, I’ve titled this excerpt ‘Analog in a digital world’.]
Being the leader of the entire expedition, sometimes he felt he carried all the doubt and darkness of the world in his mind. His head and heart felt heavy with guilt. Why did these people continue to trust him with this mission? How could they forgive him his trespasses and fatal errors when he could not forgive himself? It consumed him from the head down, robbing him of ordinary functions, like listening when being spoken to. By the time words landed on his ear drum, his thoughts were miles away, racing to avoid the weight of the responsibility, while his body remained. This was the semi-mesmerised state Pietà found him in.
“Oy!!!” A whack over the head and a sharp shaking of the shoulders snapped him back to the present. “Pay attention!”
Any other person to attempt such an interruption would have swiftly been dismissed as rude but Pietà was not just anyone.
He lifted his brown eyes from the map on the table to look at his dearest friend. He smiled as he absorbed every detail of this mish-mash of organic nerves and mechanical wiring he’d come to respect. The external appearance was certainly pleasing: black curls like wire coils that bounced off the skull in every possible direction; piercing, feline green eyes; chocolate skin. Each time his gaze fell upon Pietà’s exterior he could not help but remain awestruck for a few moments. Already a war veteran at twenty seven, he had seen many things in his life, ranging from the terribly traumatic to the tantalizingly beautiful. Pietà fell into a category of their very own, beyond the shallow aesthetics of superficial beauty and traipsing into the realm of the miraculous.
All analyses of the crash had concluded it was impossible for anything or anyone to survive the force of such an impact, let alone recover from it. Yet, in defiance of all logic and reason, Pietà stood there, alive, with him, now. The surgical reconstruction and enhancement of facial features was one thing; the true miracle lay in how the doctors had salvaged Pietà’s brain, heart and entire left side after the crash. It often made him wonder whether the marriage of mechatronics with biology had been perfected such that Science had achieved the restoration of a soul. Not that many were familiar with the term in this advanced technological age.
“So what do you think?” Pietà asked, with the stern look a teacher gives a daydreaming pupil.
“I think…I think we should reconsider this whole endeavour,” he replied, striding purposefully towards the window. “We cannot spare the resources.”
[Prompt from C.S. Wilde: THEY LOWERED THE SMALL COFFIN INTO THE EARTH. SHE SHED NO TEARS.]
“Let us pray,” she murmured, bowing her head earthward as the tiny box continued its downward trajectory into the soil, a cruel wind whipping at her brown hair underneath a steely sky. The hole itself wasn’t quite six feet – digging that deep to bury their pet grasshopper in a matchbox seemed like an unnecessary luxury the children couldn’t afford.
[The prompt we were given for the beginning of a story: ‘A woman on a bus today carried her Pekinese dog inside her handbag. It had a red bow on its head that matched her sweater.’ It’s possible I skipped a step – having just looked at the next exercise…Oops.]
Ever since I can remember, Miss Daisy took the number 7 bus from the stop outside the Bakewell house. Her chestnut brown hair had begun to fade into greyish white, yet she refused to surrender to the graceless inelegance expected of her age. On the contrary, her stylish attire often highlighted her vibrant personality and bright smile. Every day without fail, at 7.34 a.m. precisely, she pottered past the house, her Pekinese dog Gigi in tow. I tipped my dusty black cap to her and bowed my head slightly in greeting, a gesture she always responded to with a girlish giggle.
On this particular day, the canine’s head was crowned with a tiny scarlet bow – the same colour as its owner’s cardigan. Red was a bold choice of colour for such an old and seemingly frail creature, but it suited her and her purposeful stride. Meanwhile, the dog had been combed meticulously and currently resided in her black handbag, unintelligent eyes surveying the surroundings curiously. I never liked that dog, although it seemed to display a peculiar affection for me.
I leaned against the low wall, glancing back at the house cautiously. It wouldn’t do to be caught lazing around but she’d always shown me nothing but kindness, despite my low station in life. It was just a chat. What evil could come of that?
“Special occasion, Miss Daisy?” I asked.
“Oh yes, my dear boy!” Of course, to her I was still a ‘boy’, despite my thirty two summers. “Must dash! Gigi and I are to welcome my sister at the station!”
In all the years I’d known her – or rather, known of her – I had no idea she had a sister.
This disease, this… this thing! It’s taken away my ability to travel. Not physically. No. It’s not one of those diseases. I can function as the privileged, abled human being that I am. The only difference is I drag my heart around in a box on wheels, that includes a compressor and pump, with two batteries.
I’ve met other people with the same condition and attachment, some more and some less abled, and I know I’m seen and counted as one of the lucky ones. I’m one among the few that got a second chance because I made it through the artificial heart surgery.
When you carry your heart in a mechanical box on wheels, and people tell you ‘you look good for someone with heart disease’, what can you say? What exactly did they expect? Did they expect me to share a tale of woe with every human being I meet?
On the outside, I’ve lost a lot of weight – the water retention that goes hand in hand with this condition had me bloated like a balloon. I probably smile more and laugh lots when I’m out and about. If you ask, I will talk about my failing heart and the condition, as well as probably give you loads of info you didn’t know – I mean, did you know that one fucked up virus could exhaust your system so much that you’d need heart medication? Neither did I, until it happened to me.
I keep getting told I was lucky my body lasted as long as it did. My heart was on the verge of giving out when I went to a doctor who sussed what was wrong. Prior diagnosis by a different doctor had focused on a symptom – the inability to digest or eat anything. He kept insisting I take more pills to cure acid reflux I didn’t have. I guess I am lucky; lucky to be alive considering I had no idea about the severity of the condition.
As an otherwise healthy, abled 26-year-old, myocarditis isn’t exactly a word you expect to hear from a doctor. Not that you’d know what it means at first.
Here, it falls under the ‘cripple’ or ‘disabled’ category, and somehow the words are always used in the most pejorative manner. You’re meant to either feel sorry for the people with disabilities (usually the visible ones, as far as I can tell) or you’re meant to feel inspired and in awe of them for managing to go about their day at all. It’s a load of bollocks. This incredible need for people to pity and/or patronise someone who isn’t abled in the traditional sense of the word, pisses me off big time. I can get dressed by myself, I can make a meal (if I’m really bothered to) by myself, I can keep my room tidy by myself (again, my innate laziness often prevails, but that’s not the point!). Just because I’m not allowed to be left alone for a long duration of time (in case the machine breaks down) doesn’t mean I need you to stand over me like a fucking guardian.
I mean… I’m still me, right?
Admittedly, I thought it wouldn’t change me. But I can’t function like I used to. Obviously, partly because I have to lug around an 18 to 20 kg ‘heart’. But also, I can’t do what I used to. Tonight we were planning on going to the movies, and my major concern related to the noise my ‘heart’ makes. By now, I barely notice it, but I’m certain film-goers or theatre-goers would definitely be irritated.
Actually, that’s where I was wrong. I thought persisting against the downward spiral that comes with this disease would mean I don’t really change much. I thought it would mean I get to go back to ‘me’ and my lifestyle when I get a transplant and get out of here. All I would have to do was take a few extra pills, and be careful about sanitation and personal hygiene. But I was wrong… so wrong.
Aside from the physical dimension of getting around, I realised this fucking disease – that I am now determined to beat into the ground – has gifted me with a terrible dark passenger: the Fear. It’s not something I can justify or quantify; I don’t even know when it happened. But it did. I can’t roam and rove carefree like I did before; there’s rules and regulations and things I have to consider before I go somewhere. I’m not talking about ramps and shit… although they (or their absence) are quite a problem of their own. I’m talking about the fear of being in a crowd for fear of catching something – even the simplest cold.
Me! The fellow who used to thrive on Fringe frenzy and festival-going in Scotland. Afraid of being in a crowd!! Who’d have thunk it?
Still, I reckon I’m doing better than the guy who didn’t leave the house for two years because he was so scared of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Yet now, I think twice. And I’m not a hypochondriac. I go out whenever I can, instead opting for excitable caution. Caution which I’ve realised I won’t be able to shrug off after a transplant. Then, I’m supposed to be doubly cautious about being around people and circulating in public spaces.
This is ridiculous… they’re fucking public spaces! Why shouldn’t I be able – or even entitled – to go out when I want to? (Childish argument, I know) The rage boils hot like lava sometimes.
I hate the Fear.
Oh, and the ‘best’ advice for this situation? Be patient.
[This was supposed to be an intro to a story – or a complete story – up to 350 words. I realised I forgot to give it a title… oh well.]
I sit and stare at the screen, glaring at the thin blue line. The retro type underneath the flashing bar tells me it’s at 95%. It has been there for the past hour. How on earth can it still be loading? What could possibly be taking so long? The internet speed is the same as it always has been, so why am I treated to this agonising wait? Why now? Why today? Does the universe know something I don’t about the content of my email?
The government censorship is a possible explanation, but not a plausible one: there’s no way anything risky or risqué has sneaked in there. I’m the kind of person nothing exciting ever happens to.
Unless the seismic activity has caused a power cut I don’t know about. Yet again.
I look over at the modem. Nope. All lights are green and blinking. It’s clearly working, so what’s the holdup? What is the problem???
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM, OH MIGHTY INTERNET?!
Of course, due to the capital letters in that sentence, I sound like I’m yelling. Yelling across the infinite darkness of the Internet where only a few fortunate can hear. Fortunate because they have not lost the means to communicate with others. Few because not everyone is privileged enough to have a computer with an Internet connection. The earthquakes took out most of the terrestrial network. Even if a wireless network can transmit, it’s most likely broadcasting into nothingness. Echoing across a void.
Now there’s a thought.
In my mind, I can imagine the words bouncing, rebounding, falling together and then being torn apart letter by letter until there is nothing left. And then, it occurs to me that phrase doesn’t make sense – sound needs a medium to travel through; a void describes the absence of matter, therefore it wouldn’t contain the particles necessary. Or is that a vacuum? Does that then mean if a tree falls in a vacuum, no one would hear it?
I’m considering abandoning the entire endeavour. But I need to check my emails. There might be one from her.
The heavy black and blue winter sky groaned awfully with rain clouds that at any moment were really about to fall crashing heavily down upon the street where, because it was rush hour, so many people, wearing all manner of different clothes, hats, shoes, boots, some of them carrying bags, suitcases, briefcases, scampered and strolled about the place as though oblivious to what was just about to happen over their very heads. One of these people was called Hilary and concealed inside her voluminous coat she carried the loaded, snub-nosed gun, and she also seemed to be the only one looking upwards into the tempestuous thundery heavens.
One of my edited versions:
The stormy sky groaned above the congested street. Hilary was one among the throng of rain-oblivious commuters, concealing a loaded gun inside her large coat.
[Apologies, been busy with other creative projects, but I’m still writing, which is good! No idea where this plot is going yet, but it seems to be turning into a series of small stories so far.]
Time: who knows
Place: a cupboard
“You little ingrate! You brat! GET BACK HERE!” screeched the woman, her face reddening with rage. “I feed you, I clothe you, I give you an education… And this is the thanks I get?!”
The child darted out of reach, cowering in the corner of the cupboard as the adult ranted and raved. This was a safe place…this was a safe place.
Safe place. Safe…yeah.
What was Dorothy’s thing again? Close your eyes tight, think of a place, click your heels twice, and you’re there. Or something along those lines. But there were no magic ruby red slippers for this particular individual, just a tattered teddy clutched tightly to a tiny chest. If there was a God, they were surely away on holiday. Oh, there was no chance of a beating; the child knew that. Still, the screeching and screaming was enough to rattle the fragile innocent nature into a state of constant terror.
Blue eyes stared at the darkness that enveloped the small body, minuscule ears listening out for every sound, listening for silence, for safety. Not daring to breathe. It was almost certain that the adult – like sharks – could smell the stench of fear, and hear the speedy, terrified heartbeat that was going to break through a rib and out of the chest soon. A shiver galloped down the spine.
There’s no place like home…No place like… No place. Even as the young lips silently mouthed the words over and over, they began to fade into each, blurring swiftly into jumbles of letters until they danced around in the dark, moths around a flame.
It’s a closet. There’s no place to run. Only place to hide. The young mind tried to retrace the discussion, tried to work out what had gone wrong.
What did I say? What was wrong with…With me? Am I a mistake?
Tears threatened, the lower lip quivered. The knobbly knees bent skywards, while stick-man arms wrapped around them. It was an effort to occupy as little space as possible. Tears wouldn’t come though; pride wouldn’t let them through. How could parents – even if they were adoptive since birth – not love a being that tried to stay true to itself? A creature that wanted so much to be loved, it shared every ounce of itself unguarded and unbridled by Society’s constraints and conventions? Perhaps it was a dark jealousy that gave words to the anger, green envy of the young freedom and carelessness that spouted violence, external violence harnessed towards an inner betrayal – the betrayal they were asking the child to commit, as they had, following in the footsteps of their ancestors before them. Betrayal of the self, of the mind, of everything true.
I want to disappear.