I want to get into the habit of writing more fiction, and I feel being held to account by a weekly blog entry will help with the quantity, and also the long-term quality of my writing, although maybe not the short-term quality.
The aim is to post a mixture of new stories and stories I’ve written over the years. To begin, here’s a new story I wrote one evening last week as a response to some of what I’ve been reading about mindfulness, and some other stuff that’s been floating around in my head.
I find that writing fiction is incredibly cathartic for expressing feelings that you wouldn’t want to write down nakedly and for which you might be struggling to find the literal words anyway. I don’t know what it says that almost everything I write is simultaneously about love and death.
Maybe I should have started with a lighter story. Hmm.
I’m gonna tell you what I know ‘bout a broken heart, but you gonna have to listen, ‘cause I always take a while to get there.
They say the mind be like a busy road. Be all manner of cars out there, poundin’ the dust. Mine whizz by so fast it seems I ain’t hardly got time to see ‘em, and they represent all the things I got clogged up in my brain, just speedin’ around and swervin’ out the way of each other.
So the idea be that I got two choices. I can wade on out into that road and try to grab my thoughts and jump on and follow ‘em. But it’s gonna be dizzyin’ for sure, and maybe I’m gonna cause a car crash, even a pile up, and my thoughts gonna get even more confused than what they was. And if I do jump on and I’m ridin’ one thought, I sure as hell ain’t gonna see the others.
Second choice be this: I’m gonna sit myself down at the side of the road, and just gonna watch. Not gonna run after anytin’, not gonna try and change anytin’, just gonna watch my mind go by. And this ain’t gonna fix everytin’, you feel? This ain’t gonna magically make all the traffic go away. It still gonna be speedin’ by. But now I ain’t runnin’, now I’m sittin’. Now I got time to look, smile wide, be calm.
That’s the mistake I made all the time, see. I’d look at my mind and Hell-on-Earth! there be so many thoughts and they be complex and painful and dirty as shit and straight-up crazy. And I think: how the hell anyone gonna fix this, least of all me?
But now I realise: I’m a goddam kangaroo and I gotta stop bouncin’. I gotta stop tryin’ to fix my thoughts. ‘Cause when I stop tryin’ to fix ‘em, I start seein’ ‘em properly, as if the traffic slowin’ down.
Course it ain’t slowin’ down, just I’m payin’ more attention.
So now I look at my thoughts, just look, just look, just look.
And then they ain’t so scary. They just me.
Tell you what, this works better sometimes than other sometimes. Works when you scared of your first day of school, or when you gotta stand up in front of your boss and impress. Works good enough when you angry at your mama, or you worried you ill, or you get kicked out of your house ‘cause your landlord’s king of the assholes.
For me, don’t work so well when I think ‘bout the girl I love.
Soon enough I tell you why, but first I tell you a story.
I knew I’d marry her the secon’ time I saw her. First time, just wanted to hit her in the face.
We was at university (And you thought I’d barely a brain cell, didn’t you? Ha!) and I met her at Stomps. Stomps was what we called our football practice, because we couldn’t play football for shit, so we’d just run, always run, always stompin’ around, see? She turned up for practice and she weren’t the only girl, but she were better than all the girls, and she were better than all the boys, not just fitter, but stronger and more skills. Did our heads in. I tried to tackle her but she ran rings round me, and then I tried to talk to her, and she did the same.
“I’m Cody,” I said.
“Jenny,” she replied.
“You been playin’ football long?” I asked. “You’re good.”
“Nah, I ain’t good,” she said. “Just you bad.”
I stared. “We could be worse,” I said.
She laughed. “I could be worse,” she said. “I could put on iron shoes and I’d be worse. But what’d be the point of that?”
“I guess you also good at jokin’,” I said.
“Nah, I ain’t good,” she said. “Just you bad.”
See the rings she ran? Ain’t no wonder I wanted to hit her, although she’d have hit back and been better at that too.
I thought she wouldn’t come back, but next day, she turned up first, already runnin’ laps before we got to the pitch or the sun got to the sky.
“Thought we might be too bad for you,” I said when she finished her laps.
She weren’t even breathin’ hard. “I like bad,” she said.
The sun were risin’ behind her. That’s when I knew I’d marry her.
She weren’t perfect, but she were perfect for me. Long legs, long hair, brightest smile in the world. Smarter than me in all things ‘cept how to make friends. I did that for the both of us. She taught me how to make spaghetti, how to recognise birds, how to touch her so that she’d beg me not to stop. How to walk across the whole world.
It were a long journey to our wedding, but we reached it, thirteen years of walkin’ and we got there. Unlucky, but not this time, for sure. All good, all right, I were gonna marry the woman of my dreams, and most everyone else’s dreams too.
I proposed to her in Oz, a place we both loved. We was gonna honeymoon there also. And our invitations? Shaped like kangaroos.
Wedding in a friend’s garden. Grey clouds but dry and warm. Red streamers everywhere. Green grass, white chairs, red streamers everywhere. I stood at the front, heart leapin’ wit’ pride, stomach leapin’ wit’ nerves.
I remember odd details, ones you only see wit’ a microscope. A stone toad sittin’ calm by the pond. A guest’s shirt missin’ a button. A pink han’kerchief stuffed in a glass. Stray cheerin’ makin’ me think: She’s arrived! And red streamers everywhere in the wind.
She never did arrive.
The breakin’ of my heart happened in two parts, and each part snapped it clean in half, so I guess there are four pieces now.
First a phone call. Then a letter.
Police told me she’d been killed by accident at a bus stop. Gangs been fightin’ ‘cause it was a warm day, some child pulled a gun. Barely a teen. His shots severed a rope holdin’ a battered, makeshift sign. It said: Garnell Road, buses heading West. It hit my girl on the head. The most straight-up pointless death you could ever try to imagine.
I didn’t fathom why she were at a bus stop till I read the letter they pulled from her jeans. Yeah, her jeans. Her wedding dress lay on her bed at home.
I can’t marry you. I’m so, so sorry. If I leave today, I’ll hurt you for a while, but if I stay today, I’ll end up hurting you forever.
I will always care about you, but I think you know I don’t love you any more.
I will always wish I still loved you.
Turns out she hurt me forever anyway. I have to smile ‘bout that, smile wide.
So there’s my story and you can take it wit’ as much salt as you want but every word’s a true one. You wanna know how old I be now? Shit, even I don’t know. I got no hair, and I got glasses the thickness of the Great Wall of China. And still I ain’t never let go of that girl. Every time she drives through my mind, I gotta run out into the road. She the one thing I can’t watch go by.
I tell you why I always chase her. There I be, sittin’ all calm, watchin’ my thoughts roll on. Then she shows up, the way I remember her from Stomps, and suddenly the road changes. Now all the other thoughts are the same, all sadness. The only good thought be her. And I can’t sit idly by when all my thoughts been hijacked like that. Ain’t no use to stand back and watch, ‘cause ain’t nothin’ to watch but an endless convoy of grey. I wait, and I wait, but every car be draped in as much sadness as the one before, so eventually I got no choice, ‘cause my mind ain’t nothin’ but a funeral procession.
I wade out into that road, ‘cause I gotta reach her somehow, gotta reach that one thought that’s still got colour and life. Like maybe if I reach her, I can still change her mind or save her life. I bounce from thought to thought like a goddam kangaroo. And course soon I’m surrounded by that sadness, and there ain’t no escape, and I get run over and mashed in the dust.
So yeah, I know what you thinkin’. Maybe I ain’t got my mess of a brain all figured out yet. But I still got time. I ain’t done yet and I ain’t gone yet. And sometimes, on a very rare occasion, on a very rare occasion indeed, I see what I need to see.
I’ll be outside my house in my big wicker chair, watchin’ a sunrise that shines clean through my heart. Watchin’ my thoughts. And then there she be, and the sadness follows, but wait! I’m still sittin’, I’m still watchin’ from the side of the road. Sadness fillin’ my mind but I’m still, no bouncin’ around.
Like I’m learnin’, you feel? Ain’t nothin’ to be scared of, ain’t nothin’ to make go away. I love lovin’ that girl, and that’s who I be, and the sadness just be part of it.
Be part of it all, be part of that beautiful sunrise, be part of me.