And I'm back! So I may have missed July - having a baby leaves you kind of busy for a few weeks - but I'm happy to say that August has seen me write and publish another short story as part of the ongoing Twelve challenge. I do have the first draft of July's story nearly ready but I think it may take me a little while to get it ready for your lovely eyes. Make sure you're signed up to the newsletter for this and all the other short stories to come.
This month's short story, Locked-up Lovers is somewhat inspired and influenced by Misery by Stephen King, the only book of his I've read it full (aside from the brilliant On Writing). I'm not sure where all of these dark twists in my recent fiction are coming from but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying exploring them.
I like to keep my lovers locked up in a place that they can't escape from. I go to them nightly to check they're all still there, fighting for my attention, ready to take me on the kind of journeys that only they can.
I want to try to explain to you why I keep them locked up. This letter is my first and probably only attempt at trying to justify it to someone. I didn’t expect it to be you. To be honest I didn’t expect anything from you, or rather, what I did expect wasn’t what I got. I certainly never imagined you’d take such a persistent interest in me.
When you started working at the bookshop I saw you for what you were on the surface; a student on your summer break in need of a job for money you will waste on cheap alcohol and poor life choices. Your studies of English Literature are supposed to suggest that you are qualified and well-equipped to work in Taylor's, one of the country's oldest independent book stores, a place that people travel for hundreds of miles to our tiny, otherwise insignificant village to visit. In reality, I know that it was the silky voice of your mother in Mr Lyle's ear that got you the job. He has always liked her, which felt like something of a betrayal to me. I thought he and I were a strange pair of kindred souls; at best awkwardly anti-social, and at worst, a pair of loners incapable of real human connection.
So there you were. On that day in the middle of May. It was the first morning I'd woken to smell summer. I think I mentioned to you one unexpectedly warm day recently, how the air changes with the seasons. In summer it’s as if the sun steps in closer and strokes all the plants, the trees and the grass, unleashing their inner scents in little orgasms. You told me that for you summer smells like beer and barbecues, and I was again reminded how different we really are.
I knew this on that first day, of course. I could see it in your clothes, copies of which were probably still hanging in High Street shops. I could see it in the way you looked at me, observing how my hair was piled on top of my head. Not quite a beehive, but an oversized knot that had taken me years to perfect into a five minute job involving twenty bobby pins and ten one second long pushes on the hairspray nozzle. It wasn't just my hair, you seemed to question my whole outfit, but I'm used to that. There aren't many people in our town who refuse to wear clothes manufactured after 1980. When your eyes zig-zagged down my body in the stock room, I nearly told you that yes, even my underwear comes from the 1960s just to see if that would speed up how quickly you decided that I was "not your kind of person".
I suppose that I should admit now that I was wrong. After that first morning, after Mr Lyle showed you your duties for the first time and you took to them enthusiastically, you approached me at lunchtime and asked me if we were allowed to take our lunch together. I hadn't taken a lunch break in three years and told you so. Your eyebrows peaked and you laughed.
"I must look like some sort of student bum," you said. "Wanting to take a break already."
"You're allowed to take an hour for lunch," I said, avoiding eye contact.
"But you don’t.” You shrugged and pretended to study the spines of a pile of books on my desk. “What about Mr Lyle?"
"He finishes work at two o'clock so he doesn't take lunch."
"He finishes at two? Every day?" You slowed as you asked this, as if thinking about something else, but your eyes stayed on me.
"Yes. I then close up at six." The way you rocked back on your heels told me you understood that this was me asserting my rank.
You told me you were going to go outside and sit on the nearest bench you could find to eat your sandwiches. I glanced at them in your hand and their right-angled corners and crisp parchment paper folds told me that your mother had made them. Oh, to be 19 again, I remember thinking.
And yet, when I was 19 I had no mother. No mother and no father. I've been alone since the day before my sixteenth birthday. I've told you all about this, of course, so I won't go on about it. What I haven't yet told you is that when it happened, when the policemen came to Taylor’s and told me to come with them, I felt a little relief. It was finally all over. The world that my father lived in, the one where the furniture would talk to him and the neighbours grew extra limbs and had direct lines to alien forces, was no more. Yes, I was disappointed that his supposedly non-contagious condition had also claimed my mother - why fight the man you love when he offers you an escape from a world you never liked anyway? - But at least I was free.
Oh, did I not mention the fact that my father was schizophrenic and that he carved the letter Y into his wrists and those of my mother, a lifelong manic depressive? Did I say it was a car crash or some such other accident? I'm sorry for lying, but at least it may help explain some of what I go on to say.
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Frances M. Thompson
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