Wednesday, 24 March 2010

One Hour Fiction: Trapeze

“No, Cecile.” I slumped down onto the stool and rested my elbows on my legs. My shoulders were heavy, rounded in tiredness. We had only a few minutes.

“Why?” she practically spat at me as she spoke, “You always say no.” Hands on hips and wearing a comical yellow leotard and tutu, nose painted red, Cecile did not at first glance appear to be much of anything. A small angry child, perhaps. Somehow, however, she had the ability to get inside me and break down my defences, not in love but by force.

“It’s too dangerous,” This same conversation had been reoccurring with increasing frequency over the past weeks. Cecile wanted us to perform our routine without a safety net. It wasn’t that I was scared, or anything. I wasn’t scared, and just wasn’t confident. Of her, of me. Of us.

We had met 5 years ago, in Berlin. Me, the young upstart trapeze artist in the circus and her fresh from ballet school trying to make a name for herself. Me a young buck and her a gentle fawn, both wandering lost in the clamor of what we used to call “Showbiz”. I suppose I had given her her first big break, comparatively. They had asked me if I would tutor her and partner her, get her ready. It was good back then. We danced, performed, drank and, well, we lived. Who wouldn’t want that?

“It’s not too dangerous and you know it,” she replied. Like I said, I disagreed with her on that point. She pierced me with her eyes and I hung my heard, staring at the floor.

“Cecile, I -”, I what? Everything seemed to be going wrong and I knew we were going with it.

“Is it me?”

“No.” Yes.

“What is it then?”

“I don’t know.” You.

Trapeze is not easy, of that much I’m sure you’re aware. Split second timing, reaction, instinct. Anyone becomes frail when they are soaring through the air one hundred feet above the ground, doubly so when another’s life is in their hands. If you cannot trust, or do not like, your partner then trapeze is not worth doing. It’s a death sentence, even with a safety net.

Perhaps we had gotten old, fat, lazy. Metaphorically, I guess. Old and fat and lazy when it came to each other. There was the money and the success and the attention, and they were a seductive cocktail. When was the last time we had had a day together away from the circus, from Charles - our boss and mentor and friend and constant thorn in the side – from life? I couldn’t remember. We made excuses, mostly. Oh, I have an interview with such-and-such. I promised to have dinner with my sister. You know what I mean. Easy excuses. The crime of it all was that neither of us cared enough to catch the other in the lie, the evasion.

Do you want to spend time with me?

I do not.

And so, in the most sepia over-exposed cliché, we grew apart.

“Well you’d better find out,” she said to me, her words clipped and pointed. I suppose I had.

“We’re not good enough, Cecile.”

“What are you talking about? You’re the best in France and I’m not far behind you.” Her eyes softened slightly as she remembered the first couple of years, “We’re a team. We’ve always been a team.”

“I don’t mean our performing.”

“Then, what?”

I paused.

“We. Us. You and me. We’re not good enough.”

“What has that got to do with it?” Exactly.


Was this it, was this that time, the boundary that, once crossed, cannot be returned over?

“2 minutes Monsieur and Madame Sebastien!” came the call from the other side of the curtain. Neither of us said anything for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than a few heartbeats. At last, I raised my head.

“I can’t do this any more,” I said at last, almost in a whisper.

“Well you’re going to have to. Come on.” Had she understood what I meant? I couldn’t tell.

She turned and pulled the curtain back. The roar of the crowd turned from muffled white noise to the roar of a great waterfall, surrounding us and hemming us in. She was right; I really did have to. I stood up behind her and walking forward, grabbed her hand. Slightly taller than her, I looked Cecile in the eyes and she stared defiantly back. We lingered for a moment and then she pulled away. Was she embarrassed by the tenderness of a gaze passing between husband and wife? Did she feel it to be somehow inappropriate?

We walked slowly hand in hand, rounding the corner to the ring. The crowd was deafening and the spotlights were blinding, we were trapped in a cavernous tunnel of light and noise. Smiling now, as we always did, Cecile looked at me and I looked at her, and then as one we surveyed the crowd. They welcomed us and we welcomed then. We threw our arms high in the air in triumph and the cheering grew even louder. Almost imperceptibly, I felt her right hand squeeze my left and her arm rub mine as she pulled me in closer.

Perhaps, after all, she did not hate me. And perhaps I did not hate her.

Monday, 22 March 2010

One Hour Fiction

At the moment, I don't have loads of time for extended periods of writing, unfortunately - Getting married at the weekend (which is not in any way unfortunate!), and busy with lots of things at work, too. However I'm trying to keep writing anyway, hence the "One hour fiction" idea. I'll take a topic and after an hour, be done with it. In one sense it's a bit wasteful - am I relegating great ideas by "using them up" in a tiny piece of throwaway fiction? I hope not! If nothing else, the shorts can be used as platforms for ideas and longer, more worthy pieces.

So, I ask you: What shall I write about? Think small, contained scenarios that can be adequately explored in 1000 words or so (probably not going to get further than 1000 in an hour!).

If you have any ideas, stick them in the comments. I'll blog the results.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

One Hour Fiction: Rain Patrol

For days, it had rained. He had forgotten when it had started and forgotten what being dry was like, becoming accustomed to the mud, the constant companion of damp and the sheer brown of his existence. And then, as suddenly as it always started, the rain had stopped. The clouds parted just long to let the twin suns of this barren, forgotten rock peek through to remind him they did in fact exist.

"In The Rain" © Vitaliy Smyk

Three stinking months. That’s how long he had been here, this time round. He still wondered quite why he had signed up to return, knowing that the promises of forging new worlds and bringing hope to oppressed peoples were nothing but empty marketing drivel. Instead, all that awaited him was foot rot, tepid meals consisting mostly of rainwater and a near statistical certainty that he would return in one or more body bags.

His company of men lived in what seemed to be a plughole for the whole planet. How did all the water drain here, from both the ground and the sky? Last week a mobile command post had been washed away. Three guys now missing – dead, really – after the building had been torn from its moorings and swept down the valley. He had heard them yelling for help on the radio, but what could be done?

Now, the rain had been absent for maybe five minutes, all told. He had been so used to its constant hammering on the thin shell of his living unit, demanding to be let in, that the quiet was eerie and almost unwelcome. A company of forgotten troops, each man separated from the next by the dreary slog through the wet, brought together for an instant by that simple distilled silence.

He stepped outside and stood on the step. It might as well have been a World War 1 battleground, just like they’d told him. He’d seen old pictures of it but had never really understood or believed them. Now he could all but see the flooded mud planes, troops sinking in filth, retching and choking and drowning.

He smiled and looked up at the suns, shielding his eyes. Glorious.

The rays from the two suns beat down on his sodden face, bleaching the streaks of mud on his cheeks into primitive war paint and evaporating the raindrops that clung to his eyebrows. The crust of salty tears remained.

For a few moments he stayed still and imagined what it might be like to own his own farm, to step out on the porch after a downpour and look across the fields. He thought about owning cows and horses, having a wife and maybe a kid. That wasn’t really too much to ask, was it?

But he had wound up here. So perhaps it was too much to ask, just for now. But a man can dream, can’t he? Sometimes that’s the only thing he can do.

Whenever the rain stopped, it was time for patrol. He knew this of course, and knew he couldn’t feign ignorance or surprise any longer, or even be allowed to enjoy the light from the suns and their brief warmth. A respite from the rain just meant more time for work. He pulled his backpack on and picked up his rifle. Looking for his helmet, he saw it was exactly where he had left it the night before, and was still filled with water. Damn. He tipped it out and placed it carelessly on his head. Immediately, his hair and face were wet again – The rain might as well never have stopped.

He began to walk, joining the others. They marched mostly in silence, the platoon spread out over a quarter of a mile. Through a shantytown they trudged. Somehow buildings still smouldered, all twisted metal and shattered corrugated iron. One of the Natives scampered through the wreckage, trying to forage for something to eat. He didn’t know what they ate or how they survived. Maybe they were actually aquatic and liked to eat mud. There seemed to be nothing else on this sorry moon.

Smiling wryly he thought back to his farm that didn’t exist. One day, all this will be yours, he told himself. One day.

Foot followed foot as they slogged pointlessly onwards. His thoughts continued to wander and he tried to keep reality at bay with thoughts of sheep and hay and harvest. He was brought sharply back to the present as the ground underneath him gave way and he found himself knee deep in a pothole filled with liquid mud. Damn. The mud poured into his boots. So much for being dry.

With a sigh he slung his rifle over his back and searched for some firm ground so he could get free. The mud sucked and clawed at him and the more he tried to escape, the stronger its grip seemed to become. His buddies either didn’t notice or didn’t care, and slowly continued past him as he struggled alone.

He turned his face to the sky, mouthing a silent prayer to an unseen god. Please save me from this hopeless misery.

By way of a reply, a single raindrop patted him lightly on the cheek.