Luck Has Nothing To Do With It – Patti Jurinski

Elsa Larsen carries lightning in her pocket. A small, bedazzled key chain in the shape of a bolt. Silver and blue rhinestones catch bits of sunlight and throw rainbows across the room. It’s her lucky charm, I overheard her tell Scott the second day of school.

Scott likes shiny things.

“Have you gotten to know the new girl?” My mom asks at home. “I think her name is Elsa.”

I shake my head and bend over my math homework. Forget the new girl, everything is new. And exhausting. Two months into the year, the only thing more tiring than sixth-grade is talking to my mother about it all. I want to finish my homework and text Scott.

“You used to love dressing up as Elsa.” My mother slides a glass of milk and a plate of Hydrox cookies under my nose like I’m still five. “I think she moved here from Norway. Imagine that. Our own little princess in town.”

“God, Mom, she’s not a princess.”

“Who’s a princess?” My dad joins us, his gray hair at all angles like it lost a recent battle with a Roomba. He’s wearing his usual post-shift clothes: sweat-stained t-shirt half-tucked into baggy pants.

I groan around a cookie.

“A new girl at Jenny’s school. Elsa Larsen,” my mom explains.

“A guy named Larsen joined the company a few months ago. Some big-wig from Sweden.” He pops a whole cookie in his mouth.

“They’re Norwegian, Dad,” I mumble.

“Same difference.” Cookie dust clings to his jaw. “Another suit in the corner suite with a lot of sh—”

“Yes, we know,” my mom gives him a push out the door. “Scoot. Jenny has homework.”

My dad works at Gentype, the international biotech firm in our town. “I’m in the Waste Management department,” he says to people curious what he does. “May not be fancy but somebody’s gotta clean up the shit.” That’s my dad, Gentype’s ass. Scott spit out his soda when I dropped that line last summer. Worth getting Sprite in my eye.

My mother takes a seat and a sip of her newly poured drink. Five o’clock, then. Ice cubes knock against the glass while she knocks her shoulder against mine. “I heard Elsa’s quite the hit with the boys.”

I grip the pencil hard, suddenly unbalanced like the unfinished algebraic equation on my worksheet. I don’t want to talk about Elsa. Elsa who never sits in the cafeteria alone. Or, gets tripped in the hall. Non-princess Elsa with the super cool name and lightning key chain everyone wants. She wields it like Zeus enchanting the entire sixth-grade.

Including Scott.

My mother lowers her voice like we’re in church giggling at Father McKeon white tube socks. “I also heard your Scott may ask her to the Holiday dance if he gets the nerve.”

My pencil snaps.

*      *     *

I’m dripping November rain in the back hall when I hear my parents in the kitchen. It’s three-thirty, and there are two empty glasses on the table. Day-drinking is never a good sign. My dad still wears his company-issued jumpsuit.

“What’s going on?” I drop my soggy backpack on the bench.

“Company’s closed,” my dad says into his empty glass. “Maybe for good.”

“Why?” My voice cracks and splinters like our back stairwell my dad promised to fix last summer. Like the window in my bedroom duct-taped in place. “What happened?”

“Anton Larsen got arrested for embezzlement.”

“What’s that?” The word buzzes like an angry hornet’s nest.

“He stole money. A lot of money.” Dad pours another drink. My mom doesn’t stop him. “Gentype’s broke,” he mumbles to the liquid.

Embezzlement. I mouth the word, stretching out the z’s until they get stuck in my throat. Stretching them out until they resemble an unlucky lightning bolt key chain tucked at the bottom of my bag.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Patti Jurinski writes flash fiction and is working on her first novel. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in SickLitMagazine, Ellipsis Zine, and formercactus. She lives in Florida but will always be a New Englander at heart.

 

Image: matreena via pixabay
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The Box – Linda Walsh

‘My condolences.’

I pocket the priest’s condolence and usher him into the crowded living room. My pockets are full. Full of ‘sorry for your troubles’ and ‘I’m so sorrys’. I find a shoe box, ‘Size 12 Brown Brogue’ and tip the sorrys into it.

Placing it on the laden table, I re-join the mourners offering them tea, coffee, whiskey. People circle the coffin whispering. An old woman touches John’s waxen face; pats his frozen hand. The mood lifts as the whiskey hits. The chatter bubbles as people reacquaint… and speculate.

More people arrive. I accept their sorrys, moving my hand over the box each time, a slight wave, a silent drop.

There’s a commotion as a woman crashes in, her cries stilling the mourners.

Judith.

Shrouded in black; lines of mascara trace a waterfall down her face. She touches my arm.

‘Sarah, I’m so sorry.’

I don’t put her sorry into the box. I flick it into a soiled saucer. Jameson sears a path of fire down my throat.

When the mourners filter out, I put the box in the coffin at John’s feet. I pull his letter out of my sleeve.

‘Sorry,’ it says.

I crumple the note; push it into the box.

A movement in the garden; Judith is leaning against the wall, one hand clutching her stomach. Snatching the box, I step outside.

Drowned eyes mirror mine, I see the friend she once was, the wretch she is now.

Touching her arm, I hand her the box.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Linda Walsh lives in the Dublin mountains beside a library and has written stories in her head since childhood. She is finally putting pen to paper and has fallen in love with Flash Fiction.   Twitter: @francaisanna

 

Image: via pxhere

As Far As We Can Go – Paul Thompson

7 miles from home

A sign in reception reads – smile, you are on at least 2 CCTV cameras.

We check in with a fake address, using the surname of a teacher we both hated at college. The receptionist believes our every word, pushing a key card across the desk, smearing our secrets into the wood.

Our room is on the third floor and lacking in furniture. Minimal, but not modern. Our sex is immediate and functional, as in keeping with the room.

Twenty minutes later we do it again, getting it out of our system.

16 miles from home

A new hotel, further north on the southbound carriageway.

Blossom and litter swirl in the car park. People stand outside smoking. A familiar greeting comes from the receptionist, typing as he speaks.

In our room a bed takes up at least eighty percent of the floor space, our clothes taking up the rest. Television plays in the room next door, canned laughter and applause at all the wrong moments.

25 miles from home

We continue north with a clear agenda. Our agreement is to keep moving, to use a different hotel every weekend, obvious and convenient to follow the motorway.

With this clarity our sex improves. We still fit together well, our protrusions interlocking, a perfect fault line down our centres.

37 miles from home

We park in the shadow of an exhibition centre. Delegates hustle in the reception area, dressed business casual, their real names on badges.

When the receptionist offers us a loyalty card, the idea is both practical and impossible.

48 miles from home

A three-week gap. A deliberate attempt to disrupt our pattern, to become strangers once more and return to the random.

It is the first time we stay together for breakfast. A wedding party takes up most of the restaurant, the couple centre stage looking pale and tired. Over pastries and fish we rehearse our story, a tale so convincing we almost wish someone would ask.

63 miles from home

A long journey, marred by traffic disruption. A serious incident somewhere ahead of us.

In the room we make hot drinks. Discomfort and fatigue slows our progress, our foreplay unfocused. Corporate branding on the bed linen reminds us of our pattern, our blueprint somewhere on a data warehouse, itching to be discovered.

91 miles from home

Four hotels remain. The end is now tangible, an achievement parallel to our intention.

The imbalance sits on our shoulders, a need to complete our pattern, to stabilise our universe. Our anticipation is now the physical, the progress, and the simple pleasure of being a guest in a hotel.

Comparisons and reviews, posted online by our anonymous selves.

91 miles from home

A hotel opposite on the southbound carriageway.

Our previous room is visible across the motorway. We imagine another couple in our wake, finding the things that we leave behind us.

Sex is our last thing before sleep, our stomachs full after dinner, our bodies ill-fitting and stubborn.

In the morning we skip breakfast, to remind ourselves how careless we have become.

132 miles from home

The journey is two hours long, and against our initial agreement, we try a conversation.

I still miss my Dad, you say.

For the rest of the journey we listen to the radio, songs from our youth, filling the space and finding our corners.

160 miles from home

The penultimate stop. Soon we have no future, a conclusion made for us by the infrastructure of the roads. Only now do we go through the pretence of formality – bringing a suitable change of clothes, dressing for dinner, taking leaflets of the local area.

197 miles from home

The end of the motorway, splitting into threads that weave through the hills.

Our hotel is an oversized log cabin, peeling and windswept. The reception area is dimly lit. Keys hang on a board behind the desk, with rooms named after local areas of interest.

A receptionist confirms we are the only guests, and declines an offer to join us.

As we unpack, we agree to drink the contents of the mini bar, and leave without paying in the morning.

132 miles from home

A midweek business trip brings me back.

The receptionist is unfamiliar, the hotel one of many. All these rooms compete for space in my mind, a four-dimensional image that shivers whenever examined.

The room is functional for an overnight stay. Everything lacks attention. A cobweb hangs over the window, in it a chrysalis waiting to die. Instead of unpacking I check out of the hotel. The receptionist completes the transaction without a single word. Using some complimentary mints, I clean my teeth, and spend the rest of the night awake in my car.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Ellipsis Zine, The Cabinet of Heed, and recently featured in The Drabble’s ‘Best of 2017’ list.

 

Image: ming dai via pixabay

Unperson – Sudha Srivatsan

Amidst throngs of intense showers
A deafening applause
Ivory black clouds anneal
With their ilk in titanium white
Right in time to smother
Lingering strands of ochre and crimson
The envy of clouds trickling through
Downy feathers of an odd sparrow
Then gushing viridly in torrents
Tessellating the wilderness
While bearing down haughty heels
Furtive winds, otherwise acerbic
Tonight, subtle
Foretelling my being
Discernibly barren
Wrenching me dry
Into an Orwellian unperson

 

Contents Drawer Link

Sudha Srivatsan’s works have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Commonline Journal, Tower Journal, Corner Club press, BlazeVox, BurningWord, The Stray Branch, inbetweenhangovers, the Pangolin Review among others. Her works have been translated into French and also selected to be part of Storm Cycle’s 2015 Best Of anthology.

 

Image: free-photos via pixabay

 

Ithaca Road – Debbie Robson

They collapse into my cab in a bouffant of net petticoats, tight bodices and Dior perfume.

“Ithaca Road, please,” Miss Powder Blue says.

I glance in the rear view mirror and marvel at my cargo of female beauty. Hasn’t it always been so? We men are defenceless.

Miss Pink Sateen is the prettiest but I rather like the brunette in broderie anglaise. She speaks and I am struck with that old familiar feeling. “I think we are too dressed up,” she says softly.

“It’s Elizabeth Bay. We are not too dressed up,” her friend hisses.

As I pull away from the gutter, the gum trees rustle and the late summer sun kisses the top of the houses in Lavender Street. The harbour bridge hums and the girls whisper in the back seat. I can feel the heat of the day ebb from my cab. I want to close it up after the girls jump out. Trap this moment to live off for days. As I drive I remember Ithaca Road as it once was. The cool, square houses and the blue water. In particular a deep garden and a verandah with a small return that I used to kip in for the night. I breathe out my Peter Stuyvesant and watch the fare tick over.

“Brian Paignton is going to be there,” says Pink Sateen.

“I’ve got my sights set higher than that,” remarks Powder Blue.

“We’ll have to contend with the Kambala crowd.” All three groan.

“I’m determined to meet someone tonight,” declares Blue. Not when she expects to and not if I can help it, I decide. I park the cab not far from their destination, inches from an FX Holden in front and a blue Zephyr behind. Pink pays me and they stand for a moment looking up at the balcony of the old house, the steep rise of flats behind and a Cook Island pine shadowing both. Laughter drifts down as the girls begin to ascend.

Up, up you go girls. Your destiny awaits. I pause and let things settle. Count the minutes for the hostess to get through her introductions, for the hors d’oeuvres to be served and the years to fall away.

“Zach! Is it really you?” Mrs Hungerford studies me. I can tell she is wondering what to do with me. Where can she put a taxi cab driver? In with the bankers or the doctors? Maybe the poet won’t mind. I look around but can’t see him.

“Can I steal your balcony for a few hours? I’ll just sit and contemplate your view.”

She is confused. “If someone needs…”

“Of course, I’ll drive them.” She is immediately relieved. I am here as a standby taxi driver. Nothing more. Never mind the night, twenty three years ago, we spent in her bedroom. I wonder for a moment if it is still painted white, the curtains like Scheherazade billowing gently on us. Do they still billow? Does she?

Suddenly her face brightens. “Can I send one or two guests to you if I’m desperate?”

“The lost ones?”

“Yes.”

“Of course.”

“There are not so many of them now, thank God.” She pauses. “Time passes,” she comments blithely but frowns when she studies my face. My hostess doesn’t wait for my reply.

I spend about an hour on the balcony. For most of that time Miss Broderie Anglaise is a smiling wallflower. No accounting for tastes. She is worth all the others together, rolled up in a Persian carpet. I can’t stop myself from turning and observing her. She drifts beautifully. Young men in grey suits with baggy legs drift towards her but don’t stay talking long. I can see this happening for years. Most of the time I let things take their course. Just simply watch the patterns unfold and tweak here and there. I’m not as old as Methuselah but I have the luxury of the long view.

The problem is, keeping my enthusiasm up. I’ve grown tired of marvelling at how small the points of divergence are. The difference between two people meeting, finding they have something to keep them together and then staying together. The last part, of course, is a challenge but at least it is grounded in the everyday. The first part is the stuff of dreams and where I do my best work. A wrong address, a crossed line, a missed flight. A sudden remark that lifts an eyebrow. A mood that is uncharacteristic and suggests the unexpected. A spilled drink. Sometimes it is just one word.

The sky is black now and sprinkled with stars that wink in the bay. As I stand up and stretch, my hostess brings me a White Russian. She hasn’t forgotten. I smile at her and take a sip. Before I look up again she has disappeared back inside. So I may not be in luck tonight, although I know her husband has been dead since ’44. It was a bad year to be with the RAAF. So many lost and nothing I, or others like me, could do about it.

I put my drink down and think about that one word. It’s not sky, or luggage or moon or rose. I close my eyes and see a beautiful stretch of coast road, a headland and a smashed car. An officer and his dead wife. I hold the word in the air and then glance at Miss Broderie Anglaise. She is at the table helping herself to some punch when he walks in. Late. Nervous and adjusting his tie. He is the man who holds that word inside him; who has been cutting his teeth on it for too long. It is just as I thought. She glances up as he arrives but he quickly looks away. I know what he’s thinking. She’s too pretty. She looks as though she’s rich and beyond his reach. He hasn’t realised yet that she is standing alone.

She is aware of him though. His country boy looks complete with cowlick and broad shoulders, only a year or so older than herself. As he looks in despair around the room, Broderie spills her punch and curses. He turns with a handkerchief like a true gentleman.

“I’m so clumsy.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Thank you.” She pats discreetly at her chest.

“You look really nice.”

“Thank you.” She pauses. “Can I get you anything? The smoked oysters are really nice.”

“I’ve never had them before,” he admits. He moves closer to the table.

“There they are,” she points.

He sees them on the platter.

“They’re wrapped up in bread.”

“Yes.”

“I’m not good at these things.”

“It’s hard when you don’t know many people.”

“I meant the oysters,” he says as he struggles with one. He curses to himself. He has nearly lost the moment, but luckily she is looking at him sympathetically. He pauses. “Yes, meeting so many people too.”

She smiles at him and he feels a little more confident. “My mother is a friend of Mrs. Hungerford,” he says.

“She’s got a lovely house, hasn’t she? I went to high school with her daughter.” Broderie points to a vision in scarlet.

“Wow.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “My name is Lucy.”

He takes her hand. “Sorry, I should have said. My name is Charlie and I think you’re much prettier.” He is relaxing a little and has helped himself to some punch. “So you grew up in Sydney?”

“No. I grew up in a place called Lorne, on the coast.”

And there is the word. That one simple word. The blood has drained from his face. He turns away for a moment and she believes he has lost interest. People always seem to, I can feel her thinking. But he rallies.

“It’s in Victoria,” he says numbly.

“Yes. Do you know it?”

I wait for him to choose the right answer for the two of them. The carpe diem answer. And he does.

“It’s where my brother killed himself during the war. He was on his honeymoon and the tyre blew out on their car. She was killed instantly.”

I glance in to the crowded dining room again. They are in the corner nearest to the balcony and she has moved towards him. Suddenly she straightens up.

“My dad never got over the disgrace,” he continues, but she is only half listening.

“Was it at the Grand Pacific Hotel?” Her mind is racing ahead to the past. “My grandparents still run the hotel.”

“What?” He’s confused and says for the hundredth time, “It was a cowardly thing to do.”

“No, it wasn’t.” She has gripped his arm. “It was because of her luggage.” She pauses. “He sort of rallied after it happened and then there was the mix-up.”

He moves closer to Lucy and grips her other arm. “You need to tell me what happened!”

And she does, whilst food is eaten and more drinks are poured. They are alone in the elegant drawing room. No one else matters. No one else will ever matter but children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The lamps and the chandelier have extinguished the stars. I finish my White Russian and leave.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Debbie Robson loves to write fiction set in the first sixty years of the last century. Zach is a relatively new character in her short fiction and she is enjoying getting to know him. This is one of six short stories featuring a disgraced angel caught between two worlds.

 

Image: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Funeral Buffet – Steve Campbell

“It’s important for any business to know when to adapt, and that’s what we did. We saw an opening and we took it. Grabbed it with both hands. We had to. People are living so much longer than they used to and our work started to dry up. Everyone is much more health conscious nowadays. No smoking, no drinking. Low-fat this, low-fat that, sugar-free, salt-free, caffeine-free. Enjoyment free more like. And where did that leave us then, eh? Less funerals is less income. We couldn’t just increase our rates to make up for the shortfall. It’s a competitive market. We had to do something to shore up our business. We had to diversify. Obviously, we handle everything with the utmost respect. We even have a tasteful range of black paper cups and plastic cutlery – it’s those little touches that people remember. And by including catering with our usual services, we actual save the deceased’s family a reasonable amount of money. And I won’t lie, we’re doing okay out of it. Racking it in in fact. Our turnover for the last six months has almost tripled compared to the same period last year. And while the family are wishing that great Uncle Bernie was still with them. Well, he actually is – for anyone who’s had the pork rolls. They’ll be closer to Old Bern’ than they’ve ever been before. For the next 24 – 72 hours at least.”

 

Contents Drawer Link

Steve Campbell has short fiction published in places such as Sick Lit Magazine, formercactus, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk and MoonPark Review, and on his website standondog.com

 

Image: 90051 via pixabay

Three Replays – Elaine Dillon

1.

They sit in rows. The boys with their legs crossed; the girls with their legs to the side. Because that’s how ladies sit, Mrs McCarthy had said. Wiry carpet fibres puncture Marie’s tights and she scratches at the prickles. There’s a thin grey fur all over the black nylon and Marie longs to wet her hands, to wipe them down her legs and make the fabric very black again.

Mrs O’Connor and Mrs McCarthy push-pull the TV into the room, edging the tin stand past splayed fingers. A rubber wheel whines softly, and Marie thinks it sounds like a please, please, please, but it doesn’t cut through the crisp packet rustle of the others. One of the teachers flicks the lights and Marie sees girls around her scooching together, already cupping their hands as they lean into curtains of hair.

The sandstone arch of the church ends catwalks from all directions, and families pause to wave at the videographer before they go inside. The twins arrive first; identical chestnut hair bouncing in identical silky ringlets below the hems of their veils. Then Grace, Hannah and Lauren, in short dresses. Marie’s ma said she had to get a long dress because bare knees weren’t appropriate for Our Lord. And she definitely wasn’t buying Marie fancy lace gloves either, for Chrissakes.

Aisling O’Flanagan appears, bony shoulders jutting ruffled angles everywhere. There’s a spike in the whispers. The twins dip their heads, shoulders shaking, and hissed words ebb and flow. Marie looks at Mrs O’Connor but she’s whispering at Mrs McCarthy, who’s filing her nails. Aisling’s looking down at her nails too.

Beaming, Aisling’s Mum elbows her daughter’s shoulder and points at the camera. The videographer zooms in and the girl’s face briefly droops wide across the screen. Aisling lowers her eyes and turns away. She follows a group of boys inside; carbon copies in white shirts and cable-knits, regal red knotted at their throats.

Marie sees herself arrive; sees the oblong bodice with the alter boy ruff, the frilly ankle socks and the ivory patent shoes. The skirt is flat; triangular, and too short for a long dress. Marie thinks about the other girls. How full they look with their skirts like upturned tulips or layers of rose petals; textures of white tulle bound with wide satin bows. She closes her eyes and bows her head. Let us pray.

When she looks up, Melissa’s cloudy curls fill the screen, sprays of tiny white buds twisted through the green halo on her head. The teachers nudge each other and look at real Melissa, then TV Melissa, and back to real Melissa again who straightens her back with a toss of her hair. Mrs McCarthy clutches a hand to her chest. Marie thinks, as if she’s trying to stop her heart from escaping.

2.

At home, Marie holds down a button on the remote until the part where she gets up to read from the bible. She bows at the alter and approaches the lectern, hands joined the way they told her to.

The sound quality of the video is awful, but Marie’s voice is clear and even as she projects her words towards the back of the church. Marie thinks how easy it was, just to get up there and do exactly as they asked. To speak slowly, enunciate, and look up to say This is the Word of the Lord. She waits for the congregation to say Thanks be to God, and sits back down. She knows she does it well, flawlessly in fact, and she watches it again and again, pleased that she didn’t trip on Corinthians; relieved that she was able to be perfect at this one thing.

Because the others aren’t, she thinks. James mumbles and Amy talks too quickly; Mark doesn’t look up when he’s done. Marie thinks, you didn’t practice. You didn’t practice as hard as I did, and she feels puzzled because she remembers Mark’s parents, wrapping him in their arms outside the church, telling him that they were proud, so proud. Even though he got it wrong.

Pride is a sin, she remembers, and hits the stop button. But she thinks about the veil and the way that it shimmered as she bowed her head, the way it hid her face and made her feel as special as a bride.

3.

Marie watches her ma, as her ma watches the screen. Thick fists of Marlboro smoke hang between them and there’s a quiet crackle as the woman draws, as she sucks her cheeks hollow and squints through the fug. Marie can’t take her eyes off the growing ash sagging on the tip; she can’t stop worrying about it because it’s going to fall on the carpet. Her eyes nip as sour tobacco creeps into her nostrils but she can’t look away.

The woman suddenly slices a loose crucifix through the smoke with her arm and lifts the remote. She winds the tape back and plays the reading again, dragging on the cigarette as she watches. Eventually she stubs it out in the ashtray, exhaling sharply.

“That bloody veil,” she says, getting up from her chair. She shakes her head. “That bloody headband, slipping down over your fringe the whole day.”

The ejected tape burns hot in Marie’s hands. She dips her head as the heat rises to her face.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Elaine Dillon is still quite new to this writing business. She recently quit her HR job to spend more time writing, and to figure out if she’s any good at it. She’s still not convinced that she isn’t just hiding. She tweets from @Elaine_d_writer, or follow elainedillonwriter.com.

 

Image: ResilienciaFoto via pixabay

Temptation No 3: Sunrise – Amanda Oosthuizen

A bar of shots on a good
night out, a little dizzy and swaying.
I found you, sunrise, by mistake.
The barricades and dock machinery
winding up. Two dozen squealing
sparrows, a barbecue blown hot
and untended still with onion and
cumin on the east side of the breeze, but
there you are, a horror of purple sky-
lights on thunderclouds, of missed
beginnings, a symphony orchestra
in a glasshouse, all clink, clash and bustle
when the time’s not right.

But still you’re there, sunrise,
waiting,
like quietness and
disaster. It was a mistake,

be sure of that. I didn’t turn up
for comfort or lush exhibitions.
So don’t give me those rubies drenched
in sea water, dolly-blushed cliffs, querulous
dogs and burnished cupid wing tips. Slim
pickings for night blinders. That’s not
where I want to be.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Amanda Oosthuizen’s stories and poems have been published online, in print, in galleries, in Winchester Cathedral and pasted up on the London Underground. Recent successes include the Winchester Poetry Prize and The Pre-Raphaelite Society’s poetry competition. Work is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, Prelude, Storgy, Riggwelter, Ellipsis and Under the Radar. She has an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester where she was joint winner of the Kate Betts Prize; she earns her living by writing and arranging music and teaching woodwind.

 

Image: jagga via pixabay

The Value of x in Five Lessons – M M Bedloe

Chapter 10: The Real Number Plane – Pythagoras’ Rule

LESSON 1

Exercise 10A

Find the length of the hypotenuse.

The only thing I understood in year 10 Mathematics was angles.

I liked words like ‘hypotenuse’ and I could at least understand straight lines. I was good at figuring out what was contained in the corners of things, and I enjoyed the delicate diagrams of triangles in the pages of my textbook. Graceful, neat, named and labeled, with recipes of italic x and π to explain what those empty spaces actually were. Not triangles at all, but an arcane code that held the key to things I would never use or need.

How many afternoons did I spend in that airless room, adding up the sides of shapes to reveal the value of x?

Mystical, mythical x.

The quest for x, the quest for meaning.

Was the value of x equal to the value of my time? Was it equal to the use of my 15-year old, dreamy mind? Was it equal to all the things I might have done, if I was not compelled to sit in a room with all those triangles and dead eyed girls, all hunting for the value of x?

I haven’t seen those girls in 30 years.

Some of them are dead now.

 

LESSON 2

Exercise 10B

Solve the following:

(Car + car) x collision = (Lily x 0)

Cancer + late diagnosis = Anna–9999999999

All those girls. The ones who have survived are lost to age and time now.

A couple of years ago, someone sent me a 30-year reunion photo and I didn’t recognise a single person. Those baby faces, so transformed by the heaviness of years and bad frights and too much cake and wine that the girl they once represented has disappeared.

What would we have done at 15 if we had known that, at 50, we would be dead, or too big to fit in a plane seat, or that we’d be living alone with the memory of lost husbands and children, or walking through life like a shadow? And what of the girl who liked triangles? Who sat smiling and afraid, trying to get the sums right? Who looked out the window and dreamed, and tasted the life to come, even in the stale air of that maths room. What became of her? Well, here she is, right here. Still convinced of her youth, of her oyster, gleaming and open before her. She is still figuring out what she wants to do and what she wants to be, even as she launches her own children into their lives, sees their dreams rushing to meet them.

She is still dreaming of wonders and adventures and the great, gleaming, opening flower of the world. Of the life that will be so unlike the one she lived then, that she will barely believe it could belong to the same person.

She dreams this each day, as she orders and accounts for all the angles and spaces of her life.

 

LESSON 3

Exercise 10C

Assess your progress in this unit:

Are you meeting expectations?

Rate your understanding.

I’m still stuck in a maths room, most days. Trying to figure things out. Squandering my thoughts on the addition of empty spaces, learning skills and facts I will never need or want.

At school, they said my work was TOO COLOURFUL.

They said my writing was TOO MESSY.

They said I HAD POTENTIAL (but that I had NOT QUITE ACHIEVED EXPECTATIONS).

I still have all the reports. Yellow covers, neat teacher writing inside.

That year, I got in trouble. It was the kind of trouble that ends with you waiting outside the Principal’s office, while your mother is on her way. I had written a series of lurid short stories and circulated them to my friends. The nuns did not approve. Nor did they believe that the events of my stories were fiction. Not being believed: a valuable life lesson.

The Sister was starched and clean. Soft, white hands, kneading knuckles. I was thin and pale, with a mind of my own, somewhere beneath all the fear.

My mother was sweaty, but upright.

I was a moral danger. I should consider seeking other opportunities for myself. My mother agreed, lips pursed thin as we walked home, outraged at the arrogance of that old bitch and her slight against my character.

I wrote no more stories that year. I won my freedom. On the last day, my art teacher tried to kiss my neck. My friend took a photo of us. I still have it; his dark smirk, my sparkling anger.

I understood, then.

 

LESSON 4

Exercise 10C

True or false:

1. Some classes should be skipped.

2. Some books may be defaced.

3. Some lessons must be failed.

I think now of that compliant, frightened girl in the maths room, and I want to shout at her through the stale summer air.

True!

True!

True!

 

LESSON 5

I try quite hard to not believe in time, even though it walks by my door every day, nodding at me, carrying the bodies of my friends, my parents, my heroes. I nod back and get on with my day, turn the music up louder, keep trying to find the value of x.

Exercise 10D

Answer the following:

Q: There’s still time?

A. There’s still time.

 

Contents Drawer Link

mm bedloe lives on the south east coast of Tasmania. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in literary journals and anthologies and she is elbow deep in drafts of her first two novels, respectively entitled Bridge and Almond. By day, she edits things and writes copy for money.

 

Image: tjevans via pixabay

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