So I have just completed my online writing course, Start Writing Fiction, run by FutureLearn and the Open University. I highly recommend it – they’re running it again in January – and it’s free! ( I did pay for the certificate of Participation at the end, but it isn’t obligatory). Here’s the link if you’re interested.
Over the last 8 weeks, I have learned about characterisation, how a plot can be born from a character, and how to edit. Something I have always hated doing. ‘Tighten it up’, I’ve been told, and haven’t had a clue how. The course culminated in a short story, and we were given no more than 1000 words. By some miracle, I hit that 1000 word limit exactly (after a couple of edits).
Due to the constraints of the limit, I couldn’t delve into Mary’s character too deeply, or her past, or her relationship with her husband. Or indeed what was used in the end. But I think enough is said.
I hope you enjoy reading it – any constructive criticism is welcome!
THE CHINA CUP by Vicki Bowles
Mary picks up the broken remains of her cup, careful not to cut herself on the shards of fine china. She tries to match up a piece to the pattern, but there are tiny slivers missing from the letter ‘U’, painted on with such love and care. She smiles wanly, remembering her daughter Megs’s little face, watching as she had unwrapped it from the purple tissue paper, pride and love shining in her enormous green eyes. Mary had drunk from this cup ever since. But now it lies useless in her hands, broken beyond repair. A flash of anger flares in the pit of her stomach, and she carefully wraps the pieces in yesterday’s newspaper and places the package in the bin.
As she turns away, she catches her reflection in the kitchen window. The darkness outside amplifies the hollows in her cheeks, and casts a shadow across her temple where the latest bruise has already begun to flourish. She picks at a dried trail of blood from her forehead where the mug had smashed into it. She pulls at her greying fringe in an attempt to hide the wound.
She gazes at the shadow of a woman looking back at her, and a feeling of disgust rises like bile inside her. Anger twists itself insidiously around her gut, branching out and spreading its fingers around her organs. With this anger comes a growing sense of resolve.
She hears the toilet flush in the bathroom above her, and the heavy footsteps thud against her heart. She steels herself for the sound on the stairs, but it doesn’t come. Instead she hears the rumbling of the shower pump overhead, and she slowly releases the breath she realises she has been holding.
It’s now or never.
Mary has had enough of him now. Enough of his continuous eroding of her spirit. She is tired of him taking out his frustrations on her. All these years, he made her think she was worthless. That it was all her fault. That she deserved all he gave her.
Mary knows now.
She was not worthless to her daughter, or to her son-in-law and their children – her beloved grandchildren. They have given her purpose in life again. She has a job, where she is valued. Her colleagues enjoy her company, and she theirs; particularly David, the head librarian. She owes him so much. She looks forward to the four hours she spends in the small town library two days a week. She looks forward to the human interaction.
The children love her reading to them at Story Time. Her help and recommendations are welcomed and appreciated. They plead with her on a weekly basis to do more hours, but Mary smiles and tells them she has other commitments.
It’s a lie really. She only has one – a great big large lump of a commitment, who gets jealous of her spending time anywhere else than at home, where she should be concentrating on his needs. He doesn’t know about those eight hours.
But next week she can go into the library and she can tell them she can do more.
She loves the company, but also of course the books. She loves being surrounded by so many stories, but she has found the doorway to a different life. Since David kindly showed her how to use the library computers and set her up with an internet account, it has changed her. Or rather, it is allowing her to take control of her own life. There is so much information out there; one can learn how to do absolutely anything. And Mary has.
After his shower, when he is ensconced in his chair with his laptop, she hands him his mug, which he takes without a word. She waits for him to take a sip, but as he puts the mug to his lips, it stays there, hovering. But Mary remains calm because she knows the inevitable will happen, he will drink eventually.
And he does. For once the sound of his slurping as he sucks the liquid into his mouth doesn’t bother her, for she knows that she will never hear it again. He doesn’t notice her regarding him, his eyes fixed on the screen, his pride and joy, his fat fingers clicking incessantly on the mouse beside him. But the click-click-click no longer bothers her.
Not much longer now.
She stands in the doorway as he starts to splutter. The spluttering turns into a harsh cough, and his pudgy face turns a violent red as he tries to catch his breath. His rheumy eyes widen as he sees her watching him.
‘What have … you done, you …’ He cannot get the words out.
‘I’m sorry, Michael. Is your tea too hot?’ she asks.
The laptop falls to the floor and the mug in his hand shakes, spilling the liquid death onto the carpet.
‘Oh now, Michael, don’t you worry about that. The carpet’s due a clean, I have them coming in tomorrow morning. That stain will be gone. Not that you will have to see it, of course.’
He drops the mug and clutches at his throat, a horrible wheezing sound coming from his foaming mouth. His lips are puffing up, his whole face inflating. He bangs his hand on the table beside him, wildly gesticulating to his brief-case.
‘Ah – your Epi-Pen? Oh I’m sorry dear. Your brief case is locked. I don’t know the combination. You always keep it locked so I don’t find out your secrets.
His eyes widen in horror, as Mary watches him fighting against the anaphylaxis coursing through his body.
She shakes her head sadly. ‘And I forgot to pick up your spare from the chemists.’
She kneels on the floor in front of him, and takes his hands in hers. ‘I’m sorry Michael. I’ve just had enough. You are not going to hurt me ever again.’
And so as his life ends, now hers can begin.