“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
I’m currently in the process of tapping out a short story (although, unfortunately I don’t think I am going to meet the deadline) and remembered a passage I’d written yonks ago that I thought would work well as part of the narrative (don’t you just love it when that happens – when suddenly that 500 words or so you randomly wrote someday finally seems to fit somewhere).
I’d saved a load of started-and-then-abandoned short fiction in a file on my computer and was actually shocked to see how many were in there! Apparanetly I just don’t finish writing anything anymore. But I am determined to get this short story finished at least. Then perhaps I can work on the end of that novel. Gulp.
Anyway, as punishment for this secret file of half-starts, here’s something I randomly wrote and then hid.
As children we were afraid of this woman. The other littles and I would walk past her house everyday on the way to school. There was nothing special about number three, not really, and I don’t know why we singled it out, or singled her out for that matter. When I look back now, I burn with shame and my guts do this swirling thing which makes me think of those Spirograph pictures we used to make when we were kids. The ones where you stick a biro in this plastic thing and it would make a pattern as you twirled it across the page.
Her garden was a bit neglected, I suppose, but that was kind of the norm on our estate. Our road in particular was where washing machines and ovens, sofas and bits of old bike and exhaust pipes, came to die. A hospice for unwanted house old items, all rusting limbs, stinking and falling apart. We loved exploring these graveyards – us littles– we’d rummage through all the shit and mouldy items, chase each other with bits of splintered wood, a table leg, a metal bar, anything we could get our greedy paws on. Chasing and running and swearing, circling the estate like a pack of hyenas.
Occasionally we’d find something good amongst the debris and flog it to the scrap man, the one with the big, black dog that barked and barked as it rode on the back of the scrap man’s truck, wind pinning its ears and lips back so we could see big snarling teeth. You didn’t mess with the scrap man.
We knew when he was coming; he’d hang out the truck window shouting, screeching for metal. We didn’t know then that the bastard made a fortune from us scavengers; he’d just slip us 50p here, or 20p there. We were ripped off – us littles – but it was enough for an ice cream or a bag of sweets from the newsagent so we didn’t really care.
One afternoon, after school, when our mothers where sitting in the kitchen, gossiping over weak tea and cheap, sugary biscuits, the littles and I decided it was time for a new adventure. We were sick of the cluttered lawns of our friends and neighbours, sick of the sharp edges and dust, rust and beetles that popped out of holes and ran along our fingers.
We wanted something different, something new.
We’d see the woman every day, in her unremarkable house, on her ordinary porch, and shudder as we walked by. Us littles would huddle into a group with our arms linked, a blur of grey school blazers and rucksacks. We weren’t wimps – us littles – not at all. We were tough and wiley, left outside too long by parents who weren’t sure how to cope, how to talk to us, but this woman – with her long grey hair and pale, taut skin, this woman – always barefoot even when it was raining, even when it was snowing. This woman – she terrified us, sucked all the loud and the cheek and the joy out of us. She was a raincloud on a summer afternoon, that feeling like your arse is about to drop out of your body and take all of you with it, spilling onto the tarmac.