Sunday, August 02, 2009

In Which I Compete

Hi everyone! Have spent the day writing short story for competition. Here it is. It's not funny, I'm afraid (or, to use a classic phrase, it's dreadful but quite short.) The worst thing was that I needed to double space it and was reduced to asking The Unhelpful Paperclip. How embarrassing.

Also I totally used bits of a previously written story (a metaphor here, a plot there) which is naughty, but I bet everyone else did that. Also previously written story did not have fat woman. She is a new addition.

The reason it's full of references to artworks and so on is because at the start of the day we were given a list of artworks to make reference to. Echo is a suspended 3D sculpture, for those of you who are lucky enough not to live in Christchurch.


You say, “There are no central city handsome princes. You go to work, you come home, you read your modern romance novels and you feel empty inside. You only think I’m what you want because I’m what you found.”

The fat woman’s lips are painted a strident cathouse red. She is full of memories, maudlin and dimpled, leaning against the old Post Office’s eternally closed double doors. She smiles at me and I move away, thinking of mad wives in the attic, of bricked up, closed-mouthed skeletons with no information to give.

I walk through Cathedral Square every afternoon on my way home from work. It’s typically about half-past two, with the light of a pale pre-winter sun falling weakly to the pavement, and pigeons and buskers scattered like demanding leaves. If I have nowhere in particular to be, I stand silently with folded arms and glowing cigarette to watch strangers play chess, struggling against the wind to wrench the outsized pieces into place, toppling their own men with a careless misstep.

For the centre of a bustling city the Square can be strangely, remarkably bleak. Even with a busload of tourists bundling out at the feet of the Cathedral, even with the tram clunking stoically around its perimeter, the Square’s gray paving does nothing but isolate and chill. Here more than anywhere, surrounded by a flow of tourists, the city’s lifeblood, I feel like a stranger in my own town.

Despite this, I like the Square – I like the market stalls, with their arrays of five-dollar treasures (which never change or fascinate me) glinting in the sun; I like the full-throated entreaties of the street preachers; I like the constant eddy of human life.

Sometimes, walking through the Square, I pop in through the front door of the Cathedral, momentarily suspending my atheism, and have a little chat with God. “Hi God, it’s me,” I begin, but no matter how much I try to pay attention I find myself losing focus, starting a childish game with Our Lord. I peer around the high ceiling of the nave for a sign of His presence, hoping that at any moment He’ll pop cheekily out from behind the carved eagle lectern, or grin down at me from the face of a saint.

This is how I met you, in the Cathedral’s tireless shadow:

There was a makeshift stage right in front of its main doors and the flow of humanity had congealed there, a clot in Christchurch’s main artery, hemorrhaging confused citizens.
Frustrated, I shoved my way through the faces until somehow I ended up right in front of the stage and there you were! Hair in face, microphone in hand, you fell right into the middle of my day.

I took my sunglasses off the second I saw you because you were so important. As you slid effortlessly out of one song and into another, I dug about in my handbag for a scrap of paper, enchanted and compelled to transcribe you before you moved away.

I took notes on you in case I didn’t see you again, wrote you down on the back of a bus ticket, punched all full of holes (‘must be shown on demand or another fare paid.’)

I wrote:

Matt Caldwell (you introduced yourself with a charming formality)
From the band Reality (
Likes to sing in E Minor.
The Cathedral dwarfs him, and he shines in the sun.
He is a phantom, and the second my foot falls outside the Square’s tiles I will turn back and he will be gone – like a mirage, like a miracle, like Eurydice in the shadows.

I am caught and held motionless.

I stood and smoked and watched you play, and when you finished I stepped up from behind the organiser, who was bald and sweating and inconsequential, and said, “I know it’s really a little too early for this, but can I buy you a drink?”

We walked down to the Arts Centre, following the tramlines. We paused outside the Art Gallery’s pointlessly beautiful mirrored walls and you pointed up to the screaming steel sculpture, its smooth crescents digging into the sky, and told me it was called Reasons for Voyaging. I tried the title out on my tongue, feeling it fall slowly into shape to perfectly fit my mouth.

Then, that first conversation in an Arts Centre café, me with my hands warm and trembling mothlike around a flat white, and you, sipping periodically your long macchiato and drawing your fingertips across the table to make a point. Above us Echo sat on the breeze, making sense whichever way you looked at it, showering the table with harmony.

And I said, “I’ve always found objects and kept them for luck. Keys and dice and things lying in the street, little bits of metal and lighters, the streets’ jetsam. And now you.”
“I’m not really lucky,” you say, and so I take you to the casino and I take you to the bars and I take you to my house and once and for all prove you wrong.

A month on we climb the Cathedral spire and look down at the people below and decide not to throw ourselves off, not today. We agree that we will stay well above the human detritus collecting down in the Square. Together we visit all of the landmarks, two natives doing Christchurch like the tourists do; leaning out of the tram, lying on our backs underneath the Chalice, holding hands on the Avon - and somehow the Square seems to lose a little of its bleakness.

Taunts my inner cynic, this could all come crashing down – phrases like ‘easy come, easy go’ bounce themselves around the corners of my brain. It sometimes hovers in the back of my mind that maybe you’ll take yourself off into the mists of time, with a recording contract and a groupie holding your hand, but maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll stick around, and I remember-

At the end of that first day we walked back through the Square to the Bus Exchange, hands shyly linked, and the fat woman was still there, lips blushing from a thousand remembered kisses.

Maybe you’ll ride off into the suburban sunset and take me with you.


James said...

Though quite uneducated in the art of literature, I really liked this.

jimmyt said...

Who won second prize?

Matthew said...

I followed from a recommendation by MLS. Glad I did - you write beautifully. Well worth 5 minutes of my day, so thanks for sharing.

IT IS ALLY said...

James - thank you. I am also uneducated in the art of literature, which is why every sentence I write seems to have about ten commas.

jimmyt - oh, you flatter me.

Matthew - Glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for visiting :)

Also, to all three of you, hello new commenters, you have jointly made my day.