On Thursday nights I run a writing group called Rattlebrook, at Tom Collins House, Swanbourne, WA. At a recent session we had some fun with a creative writing experiment, and I thought I’d post my own version of the exercise on here. The following are two very raw first draft chunks, forming a loose proto-story. I’m including it on here because it was an experiment in theorising, and taking a story in a new direction, based on writing exercises. I love it when a story goes in an unexpected direction. To read more about the writing exercise at Rattlebrook, go here. The following story is original content, please do not reproduce it without permission. Thank you!
By the time they got to the club they had slowed to a trot. John bento over, spat on the sidewalk while getting his breath back. Merrel held onto a bollard for balance and checked the stacked heel of one of her boots. “Look what you’ve gone and made me do,” she said.
At the entrance to The Slow Easy Club was a cross-armed door man with a chest the size of a Volkswagen. The sound of muted applause came from inside the closed doors.
“Listen, it’s already bloody started!” said John.
“Well, so what. We missed a song or two. My boot’s busted and they cost me half my pay cheque!”
John fumbled deep into the pockets of his wool overcoat. “Don’t worry about the boots” he said. “Take them off if you have to. No one will notice. Hey, listen to that, It’s Samba Pa Ti!”
Merrel sighed, adjusted her makeup in her compact mirror and straightened her coat. “Well, all I can say is, I hope it was worth it.”
A vacant look crossed John’s face as he felt his inner pockets, and, again, the outer pockets of his coat. The look changed to desperation as he felt the back pockets of his jeans, and the front pockets of his shirt. He called out to the door man, “Hey, man, are there any spare tickets?”
The man shook his head as the song finished off to wild clapping and whistling. John felt through his pockets again. “Look in your purse,” he said to Merrel. “You probably put them in there.”
Merrel checked to console him, but of course they weren’t there. She could guess where they were, sitting on the bench of her kitchenette, two long walks and a train ride away. “Never mind, she said. “There’ll be other concerts.”
John turned on her. “No there won’t! Not like this one! This is history in the making! I’m supposed to be in there!” He turned to the door man and said, “Hey, look. I’ll give you fifty if you let us in.” The door man’s head moved slightly, but distinctly, sideways. A no.
“John, leave it,” said Merrel.
John ignored her. “A hundred! I’ll make it a hundred dollars. Come one, no one will know!” He walked up to the door man, stopping an arm’s length from him, staring him in the face. “Come on. A hundred dollars.” He pulled out his wallet and removed five twenty dollar notes. “I just got paid. A hundred bucks. It’s all yours.”
Merrel held her purse tightly. Inside Black Magic Woman was starting up. John and the door man were standing very close together. She put her hand to her mouth. An uneasy feeling in her throat made her want to shout, to tell John to stop, but she couldn’t say a thing.
Participants at the group session made theories about where this story was going. I read them with interest because at this point I had no idea myself! Some of the theories were:
“Someone turns up and gets in using tickets they found in the park fifteen minutes prior”
“Bouncer reacts badly. Police are called. Wife slips into the concert. John spends the night in the lockup.”
“The door man lets Merrel in as a flirtatious gesture and to piss off John. Merrel gets back stage and gets to have groupie sex with the band. She accidentally ‘pocket phones’ John”
“The couple had found a way to get into a concert by pretending to have lost their tickets”
What’s your theory?
When I started writing the second part I wanted to start at a different place rather than continuing a narrative that I felt had lost steam by this point. I took it to the apartment, and this is what happened.
Merrel adjusted the chenille bedspread covering the couch, tucking it in under the cushions. She sighed and sat down, crossed her legs and pulled a pack of Rothmans out of her purse. She lit up, being careful not to smudge her recently refreshed frosty pink lipstick.
John was late again, his plate of sausages, peas and potatoes, covered with foil, had sat in the oven for hours. She’d tidied the kitchen and washed her stockings for work the next day, hanging them to dry over the shower door. There was nothing left for her to do but go to bed, or sit up and wait.
She picked up the worn weekly magazine from the coffee table and leafed through it again. It opened at one dog eared page, showing an outfit she’d lusted after for some time. A short skirt and jacket outfit with long cream coloured boots of creased leather, and matching pony cap. She drew on her cigarette and considered clipping the picture out and taping it to the fridge door. That was how you got what you wanted in life, wasn’t it? Goal setting. Being clear about what you were aiming for. At least, that was what Mr. Maher was always saying to the sales reps. “Visualise the end result. Make it like you’re already there.” Merrel closed her eyes and summoned the skirt, the jacket, the cap, the boots, snug around her calves, the backdrop, a London street. Walking along with a vague smile on her face, like the girl in the picture.
She must have dozed, and woke up with a start to the jar of the front door opening. John came in, bringing with him the stink of beer and cigarettes. Behind him Chas and Lenny were grinning in the hall. Chas had a slab of beers on his shoulder.
“John, it’s late. Your tea is in the oven. It’s half spoiled by now,” Merrel said.
John glanced at her, and at the table where his knife and fork, folded serviette and glass of water were still neatly laid. “Never mind,” he said. Turning to the others, he said, “Come on in, pull up pew.” Chas put beer on the kitchenette bench and John started to clear the table. They took off their coats and threw them over the arm chair and sat in to the table, and in a moment resumed a half-finished conversation about music, something about a concert.
Merrel listened for a while, then said, “What band is that? Is it one I’ve been to?”
They stopped talking and glanced at her. John turned back to the table and took the top off a beer. “Nah,” he said, “No one you’ve heard of.” They went back to talking about the band.
After a while their talk became more exuberant, louder, with wide gestures and another round of bottles opened. They spoke about riffs and frets and wah wah, and other things she didn’t know anything about. As they talked they were becoming more and more alive, and it puzzled and alarmed and excited her, at the same time as making her feel small and separate.
When there was a lull in the conversation she interrupted. “John, do you want me to serve your dinner now?”
He didn’t respond at first, it was possible he hadn’t heard her quiet voice, so she asked again. “John, do you want your dinner now?”
He didn’t turn to look at her. “No,” he said emphatically. “Forget about it. I’ll eat later.”
She sank into the corner of the couch and lit another cigarette. The heat of the smoke filled her mouth with softness, like a cloud of soft words she blew out in one long lingering breath. She picked up the magazine and paged through it absently. In the dining area bottle tops skittered across the melamine table top. Her table, the dining table her parents had given her when they’d bought a new one. The maleness of their laughter occupied the room, laid claim to the space, the air, the table. Their jokes and language took shapes and textures in the room, like animals with dark fur.
She stood up and carefully stubbed out her cigarette in the cut glass ash tray. Without telling the men she was leaving she walked slowly to the bedroom. Dressing for bed she relived again the words John had said. She cringed, feeling his tone of voice physically on her body, like rough handling. She thought, to herself that when John was on his own he would never have spoken to her in that way.
Copyright 2014, Karen Dixon, aka Burinsmith