December 21, 2007

The world in general and my story, Em.


Life appears to be happening in very small ways. Decorations of the house are, as far as can be said, officially over. That's it. No more. The trauma of trying to put fairy lights on the tree were too much for me. If someone asks you to do that sort of thing, make sure they understand that you are in charge. Before you ask them how it looks,  make sure it is nigh on perfect, otherwise you spend a lot of time being told, 'That bit needs to be higher / lower / better spaced,' after every run at replacing the lights.

  That is my only trauma this week, however. Everything else is fine. Writing of Cassandra is going well, and considerably better than I thought it would. I have introduced one of the best epic figures ever: Agamemnon. He is very fun to write for: he builds himself up so much, refuses to back down, then collapses like a broken deck chair.

There may also be a Christmas story in the pipeline over the next few days. I know, late starting, but I'd really like to do something seasonal for the end of the year.

Really not much else to say, so here's that 3 1/2 page story I promised a while ago, Em. It's not too bad considering that I don't write nearly as much prose as I should. Hopefully you like the ending: I try my best to make those pesky endings make sense.


  I was nine and a half when I found out Mr Slake had lost green. I know that cause I was thinking about what I wanted for Christmas, which usually starts around October for me. I knew what I wanted back then, and I thought I could always get it, because I was the most patient guy in school. I could stare down Jim Porter from 5Q for minutes and beat him, even though I was just nine. Nine and a half, I told him.

   It was the year I wished for a train set, one of the ones with a little blue Hornby train, with three of those chocolate brown carriages all those sets came with. I didn’t get it after all. Dad said that Santa can’t always get you everything. I knew about Santa though, the truth. Cause I was nine and a half.

  Mr Slake was – back in October, nine and a half – my Santa. He never did much of what a real Santa would do, thinking about it. I guess I thought that he was old and cheery, like you imagine that red fat man to be. Most old people are like that anyways: no time to be all those cruel things normal people are. It was just-

  Well, it was just the way he will be in my mind now.

  Anyways, normal day was that I would be walking by and he would be out mowing his lawn or trimming a bush or jusst sitting in an old chair he’d brought out. I would talk to him on Thursdays, cause I didn’t have to run home and could take it easy. All the kids did it, and my mum and the rest didn’t think he was a bad man, so that was it as far as it went as far as the street cared. The thing was, he was inoffensive. He liked listening to people, and no one complains about an ear. He was interested too, in anything you wanted to talk about, which is an even greater thing for anyone to say. Sarah – my girlfriend – keeps on reminding me of this when I tell this story. I do my best, but it takes a lot out of you, especially when it’s easier talking about your own problems. I guess that means that Mr Slake had more energy than the rest of us combined in that sleeping street. And if it’s that good when you are grown up, try and picture how excited I got back then. A person who wants to listen to what ever you had to say? That’s a power trip when you’re nine. And a half.

  I suppose I have been more careful around him back then. They still tell you in school about the smiling stranger you shouldn’t trust. Especially if they give you candy. But these were before those times when single, older men talking to little kids was very suspicious. Right now, the police would get a call and Mr Slake would be told to please leave the children alone. Back then of course, nobody thought about those things. He was just a sweet old man who lost his wife a few years back. Natural death. Sad, but not tragic.

  Anyway, I found out about Mr Slake in that October. I was talking to him about how my teacher Mrs Matthews was dull in the mornings, and her nostrils flared when you dragged your seat or breathe sharp when you cut her up in the corridor. He laughed about that. Turned out he was in school with Mrs Matthews back when they were younger. I said that, looking at Mrs Matthews, it must have been ages ago. He said it must have been, by the sounds of that.

  After Mr Slake – well, I’ll say about that later – I found out about how they were an item when they were younger. If you have ever thought about what your parents or any older person was like when they were young and free, you know that its very strange to imagine them doing things in their teens. And Slake and Matthews spent their teens in the summers of love. Trying to imagine the both of them being young and having sex makes my brain shut down. But I suppose all people think like that. At least, all young people.

  But soon I started talking about Mrs Thompson down the road, and how she had got this new green car parked on her drive. It was a vile green car that her husband sometimes washed, and everyone thought it was vile but couldn’t bring themselves to say it out loud. A few years later, the car would get trashed by someone. Mrs Thompson and her subjected husband went round the houses asking if anyone had seen who had done it, but no one had. Got to love Neighbourhood Watch. She always thought it was was me or one of my friends, but I swear I never did. I mean, I hated the car but not that much. I swear she still thinks it’s me: whenever I come round to see Dad, Mum and the cousins, she’s there twitching the curtains.

  I didn’t know what ‘wistful’ meant back then, but I guess that’s how Mr Slake was looking when I was telling him how vile Mrs Thompson’s car is – was. Mr Slake said he wished he could see how vile it was.

  I asked him why. I said it was just down the road. Anyone could see it.

  He said it was nothing. Don’t worry about it. How was school?

  I wouldn’t let it drop. I hadn’t learned anything about how civilised adults talked, waiting till someone had an opinion then leaning towards it like a daisy, and I didn’t like to be left out of something. It’s not fair when you’re the only one who doesn’t know.

  I’m not keeping it from just you.

  So it’s a secret?

  Yes, it’s a little secret.

  Tell me.

  You are being a little nosy today.

  I promise not to say anything.

  You do, do you?

  I won’t tell anyone, not Mum or Dad, not anyone.

  Well, with a promise like that, Mr Slake could trust me with his little secret. He was probably trying to shut me up in some sort of roundabout way that you never work out until you are one of them, these adults, but he was going to tell me and I was happy with that. That is when he laid it on me that, for some reason, he could not see the colour green.

  In hindsight I was a pompous bastard when I was nine and a half. I said it was really stupid and that green was stupid as well. Eloquent, wasn’t I.

Anyway, it didn’t look cool. I wore, or rather was forced to wear, a green v-neck jumper to a family gathering when I was 6. Mum still brings out the pictures of Gran and Grandad’s leathery smiles, cousins who were caught on the way out for a fag, and me. I was roasting underneath 60 watt lights in a too-big v-neck with the sleeves bunched up around my elbows. Ever since then, green is and has always been a menace which I avoid whenever I can. Sarah thinks I look sweet in that picture, and is trying to reconcile me with green. I will not lose this battle.

  Mr Slake laughed at the little me. I’m sure he would laugh at old me, too. He said something like, ‘I can see why you’d hate it. But you can’t just cut out a colour from your life. A colour is important. You can’t just say, “This part is bad and I don’t want the rest of it.” Green is important to everyone, even me.’

  I think I said something about green being stupid again. That’s probably the earliest proof I had that I would never make the debate team. I’m sure I said that because Mr Slake said more about green.

  ‘Green is a big part of… well, everything. Think about all the grass out there. What other colour could it be? Would you be able to walk on, say, blue grass?’ I laughed. I remember that. Don’t be silly, I said. ‘Well, if it’s not green, then it must be blue or red or even purple. Everything has a colour. And what about those trees on the corner down the road? I heard that those trees look beautiful in the summer, coated in leaves. Can you imagine them being otherwise?’

  I imagined very little at nine and a half, and was proud of it, so I said no. I liked to think I was grown up and didn’t need an imagination. But I did ask him, because I was curious, what he saw instead of the green. Like he said, if it wasn’t green, what colour did he see. I thought it would be black. I thought it would be like that, a midnight black like space in those films from the eighties. Or maybe see-through, except you’d be able to see the edges, like a dotted line or something.

  ‘No,’ said Mr Slake, ‘It’s grey. Grey like your school sweater. Only this grey is more dull.’ Although I couldn’t see what could be duller than any school sweater, I let him go on. ‘Even when the sun shines on it, it’s still dull. It’s like someone’s taken a tap to it, put it on the green and let it run. All that’s left is that grey,’ he pointed to my sweater, ‘that doesn’t get lighter or darker but just is grey.’

  I asked him, had it always been like that?

  ‘No. The green was there all my young days, and even after my wife passed on. Then one day it just went. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with my eyes, and my brain has no water in it. I’m just fine, except I can’t see green. I wish I knew what happened to it, but for the life of me I don’t know and no one can tell me. I don’t feel bad about it, but all the same I miss it. I miss it when I go out walking, and when I trim the hedge and just sit around.’

  ‘But it’s not like the colour’s gone away,’ I thought. ‘I can still see it, and I’m pretty sure other people can. Maybe you’ve just lost it. My mum says you can find anything if you keep trying. It’s true. Even if you don’t know where you lost it, it usually turns up. Maybe if you keep looking, it’ll turn up too.’

  I think that’s what I said. I can’t remember it all that well, and maybe I’ve touched up my memory as I got older. Things have been getting vague now, and I can’t remember as much of my younger days as I could. I can’t even remember what Mr Slake said then. I’m sure it must have been a ‘Thanks, you’re such a nice boy’ or a ‘You’re welcome,’ or something along those lines.

  Can one memory write itself over another? It’s not weirder than someone losing the green in their life. That’s probably what happened, because I can’t remember what he said, but I do remember that it was the day after when Mr Slake disappeared. He must have gone in the night: nobody could say where he had gone. His car wasn’t on the drive and he wasn’t anywhere in his house or garden. Someone called his relatives and, no, he wasn’t with them. They hadn’t heard from him at all the last few days. Was something the matter, they asked? They came down to look for him, but he wasn’t there to be found.

  I thought it was funny at the time. All these grown up people running around and worrying. They thought they knew everything, but I knew where Mr Slake went. I told them, too. ‘Mr Slake’s gone to find his green,’ I told them. People laughed at me and told me I was silly. Even though I was nine and a half and knew more than they did. I was so sure, even when they called the police to tell them he was missing. A month or two later, when the searches for him turned out to be useless, I was one of the lot who tidied up his home. I helped sort his letters into one box, his bills another and keepsakes one more, and sealed them all away with final-looking brown tape. I felt daft doing it, knowing what I did. I didn’t believe he was gone for one minute, not even when they held a not-funeral remembrance service for him. I almost laughed in that marquis when they solemnly played songs he might have liked and people stood up to say how Mr Slake was a good man and every man’s friend. There was always the thought in the back of my head that at one point he’d leap out and say ‘Got you! Just went out to get my green back. What did I miss?’

  He didn’t, though. He stayed missing and has never returned to this day.

I wished I knew where he was. He wasn’t dead, I knew that, but I wanted to know where old Mr Slake had got to. I thought that he was running around some great hills in the country, or maybe meditating like Buddha in the middle of a field.

  It’s a shame he never came back, because I would have given anything to have shown him his house. Around March, a week after my birthday, Mr Slake’s house was coated in thick ivy that sprung up. Nobody noticed it when it first started growing, and some were surprised to see the house dressed in an ivy-fur coat. It was such a shame: it wasn’t long before the new neighbours moved in. After they settled in, the smiling couple carelessly cut out all that abundant green as if they had no idea.

Hope you enjoyed.

- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Rachel

    Yes, I enjoyed your story. I liked the relationship you built between the two main characters, it was quite touching and I liked the daisy reference. Personally I don’t like imagining anyone having sex, or watching them have it for that matter, as in “porn” films which I refer to as “bad acting” films. But it was a shame that Mr Slake never got to see the ivy on his house.

    01 Jan 2008, 15:00

  2. Rachel

    Of course it’s quite different if they’re having sex with me, then I like it.

    01 Jan 2008, 15:20

  3. Good concept and the writing’s very solid, but you take a long time getting there. I think this could probably be half it’s current size. Using direct speech, together with a few descriptive passages about emotional expressions might reduce it a lot. And I think you can launch straight into the main “action” of the piece. It’s tremendously sedentary anyway (and I do like the idylllic peacefulness, although it doesn’t thrill me), so you don’t need a run-up. You launch straight in with “Mr Slake lost his green”, but then you meander through various of the protagonist’s thoughts before you get back to that main theme. You seem afraid to bowl straight in with your sleeves rolled.

    It might also be interesting to change the perspective, and write it from the 9-and-a-half year old’s point of view. It would make time-hopping a little more difficult, of course.

    22 Jan 2008, 17:29

  4. Hi, Tim.

    Forgive me for the pedantic nature of the piece. I wanted to have a go at expressing character through the writing: not just the character of Mr Slake, but that of the narrator. I’m not very trusting of the omniscient narrator, the one who knows everything about everything. I wanted to create something that sounded like a person talking to you in the pub. I wanted a fallible account that meandered a bit, like a real person would. And I personally don’t think that the main ‘action’ as it is would stand so well on its own without some of the background.
    Thanks for the suggestion too. Maybe it would have been better to write it as the nine year old. But I don’t think it would have been the same story. If I wrote it as the nine and a half year old boy, it would be a story about misunderstanding. The part I tried to convey in this story is the element of a man who looks back and thinks on what his conception of a full and content life.

    Feedback is much appreciated, and I hope to improve my future writing. Please forgive me, but I think I’ll leave it as is for now.

    28 Jan 2008, 15:09

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