flash fiction

Bella Vista Dave

This was my entry for the semi-final round of NYC Midnight flash fiction comp. I was unhappy with so much about this story; I struggled with drama and the pool as a setting stumped me. In the end I got thinking about internet trolls, and how they have to be someone’s neighbour, and this in turn gave me a vision of Dave, lolling in the pool. My synopsis:

‘You may be offended by the sight of Fat Dave in the pool, but at the end of the day, there’s not much you can do about it.’

 

Bella Vista Dave

In the centre of the Bella Vista complex was the pool area. From all four townhouses, residents could look down on this tropical oasis. From above, it was the picture of perfect symmetry. Around the outside were gardens of golden palms, birds of paradise flowers, and the pink and orange of fringed hibiscus flowers. Tasteful sandstone tiles lined the perimeter of the rectangular pool, framing the deep sapphire blue of the water.

 

But use of the pool had become the subject of a number of complaints from the residents, and the body corporate had decided to settle the matter by vote at the upcoming AGM.  You see, at any time of the day or night, residents could look down and see the lolling figure of Dave on a Lilo in his tight shorts. Fat. Hairy. Often drunk. And they wanted it to stop.

 

Life was nearly perfect for Laura Randall, the resident at Number One. Her parents had bought her this townhouse, she had just been made assistant manager at Kara’s Kosmetics and she was certain Mike was going to propose to her any day now. She and Mike had spent most days in the pool last summer, but since Dave came and ruined the serenity, Mike had taken to surfing instead, and she was seeing less of him than she liked. When she looked down and saw Dave out there again, she swore under her breath and pursed her lips. She would definitely be voting to have him banned.

 

The resident at Number Two was Carlos. His son had left that year to study abroad, and Carlos often found himself sitting by the pool, contemplating life. But it seemed that no sooner had he sat down, Dave would come down and bomb into the water. They’d had some verbal confrontations early on, and Carlos worked to control his rage. Looking down at the prick, beer in hand, fat toes in the water, Carlos found himself fantasising about what he’d really like to do to Dave. Grab him by the throat. Hold him under the water a little too long. Feel the life drain out of his flabby body. But it had taken Carlos years to learn to control his anger and he wasn’t about to lose control on some pathetic slime ball loser in the pool area. Let the vote decide.

 

Elizabeth Perkins, resident at Number Three, had been the most vocal about Dave and his use of the pool. She had just retired from a long career as a school headmistress and was desperate for some rest and relaxation. Early on she had visited Dave at Number Four and implored him to give her some space. He’d given her a dumb confused grin and closed the door in her face. She tried to find out more about him, but there wasn’t much to know. He worked online from home, which was the reason he always seemed to be around. After she let her feelings be known, he made a point of coming down every time she tried to swim. And he started doing the same to all the other residents. It was Elizabeth who had petitioned the body corporate for a vote and she couldn’t wait for the outcome. If a majority agreed- and she knew they would- Dave would be restricted to using the pool between the hours of four and five PM.

 

But on the evening before the vote, all three residents received an unsolicited email. Sender unknown.

 

Laura sucked in her breath when she opened her inbox. Sitting there, at the top, was an email with a subject title that read ‘tinder slut’. She glanced around out of impulse, to make sure she was alone in the room. There was no written message in the body, but there were a series of dated photographs, showing Laura at a bar with an older man. Laura had kept her tinder habit alive a little too long after starting her relationship with Mike, and these photos were evidence that she had been unfaithful.

 

Carlos felt most lonely at night, and this had him more often going to his inbox, hoping for news from his son. When he saw the email with the subject line ‘manslaughter’ he thought there was some mistake. When he opened the message, he was shocked to see that it featured an image of a young Carlos in a mug shot, during a time in his life he had worked hard to put behind him, to forget. He’d gone to jail for manslaughter, served eighteen months for a stupid drunken fight, but had learnt his lesson. He had hoped his son would never find out. Carlos felt his pulse quicken and a tightening in his chest.

 

Elizabeth had always been proud of the way she maintained her double life. She prided herself on being dependable and professional in her working life, and for the way she concealed her private indulgences. When she checked her emails on the evening before the vote, she was shocked to see a message with the subject line ‘dear dominatrix’. Her back stiffened, and she leaned closer in to the screen before clicking it open. In the body of the message were a series of stills taken from what looked like CCTV footage at the underground club she frequented. Despite her half mask, one of the images was obviously her. She stood up and stumbled back from the screen.

 

At the body corporate meeting, the executive members were surprised to find that no-one had voted to restrict the resident at Number Four from using the pool. The matter was closed and they moved on to other agenda items.

 

***

 

From above, the swimming pool at Bella Vista was the picture of perfect symmetry, ringed by tropical gardens, the water a deep sapphire blue. On any given day, the residents could wave down at Dave, as he floated, legs spread on his Lilo, like some fleshy exotic flower.

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short story

Curtain Call

Last year I made it into the finals of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge and finished 10th with ‘Curtain Call’. I knew my story had to be clever and polished. It was an open genre but had to feature an undertaker and a sunrise. I spent a lot  of time in the theatre as a child, and had a clear image from a production of ‘Under Milkwood’ by Dylan Thomas, where the actors were positioned around the theatre, and would speak when their spotlight came on. I really wanted to capture theatrical lighting, the excitement of opening night and the moments in amateur theatre when the audience take a deep breath and hope that no one forgets a line. I also wanted my undertaker- as a twist- to save someone’s life.

In the end I tried to write my story as if it was a theatre production. I tried to capture the chiaroscuro lighting and the black and white moodiness of German Expressionism. I also left myself and the audience with some unanswered questions, a few little secrets tucked away. Unfortunately the American judges couldn’t grasp the ambiguity, and suggested I hint that the husband is sick early on, which entirely defeats the purpose of the story. See what you think….

 

Curtain Call

The smell in the theatre on opening night was unmistakable. Mixed with the usual scent of mothballs and fresh paint, the audience added a base note of cigarette smoke and top notes of floral perfume and breath mints. Rosie was sitting in the front row, off to one side, wishing she had a friend with her. Her mother had insisted that this was a ‘grown-up’ play, not normally suitable for ten-year-olds. She was allowed to watch it because her parents were playing leading roles. She had been reminded on several occasions that the play was not real, it was all an act. Rosie glanced at the front page of the program.

 

The Final Curtain

‘Can you ever truly know a person?’

Performed by the Cedarwood Amateur Theatre Society

 

The lights dimmed, voices hushed and Rosie held her breath in the expectant blackness. She could hear the heavy drag of the curtain drawn back and squinted to make out shapes on stage. But when the light came, it was from the back of the hall. Standing in the centre of a milky white spotlight was her father. All heads turned to see him in a formal blue suit, his face unnaturally pale and his hair combed neatly back. He did not speak but kept his eyes straight ahead as he moved slowly within the spotlight towards the stage. He turned to face the audience for a few seconds, before laying down on a plinth, centre stage, that was shrouded in heavy green velvet. The spotlight flickered then, and went off. Rosie inhaled sharply, but released her breath when a warm wash of light spilled across the stage, revealing the whole set. Her father was lying still on the plinth, but she could see her mother now, playing the undertaker in a neat beige suit and red lipstick, arranging fake roses and placing them in a vase on a table stage left. She approached the central figure, made an exaggerated gesture of closing the man’s eyes, and neatly folded his arms across his chest. At stage-right there was a painted window framing an outdoor scene; a green hillside, the silhouette of a tree and a sun rising, or was it setting? It was hard to tell.

 

Rosie had been coming to this theatre since before she could crawl. She loved the make-up, the props and especially the costume room with its rows of woollen suits, stiff crinkly taffeta dresses, maid’s uniforms, army coats and hat racks with strings of fake pearls, bow ties and the assortment of masks and wigs. She loved to climb into the rafters and look down on the stage during rehearsals or curl up on a blanket backstage as the final night afterparties slipped on until the rowdy early hours. But this time Rosie hadn’t been allowed to watch any rehearsals and when she asked why, her mother said that the director had made all the crew sign a studio agreement not to discuss details.

 

Home had become increasingly tense in the lead up to opening night; there were slamming doors, curt exchanges over the dinner table and a battered cigarette pack had been fished out from a bottom draw. All this culminated in a late night heated argument when Rosie, ear pressed to the wall after lights out, heard her father say, ‘I told you, it didn’t mean anything.’

‘Don’t you dare tell me you were getting into character.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘What a cliché. You disgust me.’

 

The play itself was made up of a series of monologues. The undertaker would open a door, welcome a character to the stage and then take her exit, leaving each person alone to pay their respects to the dead man. The light would change to a muted blue as each character triggered a flashback or memory. First was his brother who made the audience laugh as he reminisced over daring childhood adventures, then made them cry over a petty conflict that would never be resolved. Then came a childhood friend. A sporting coach. An officer in uniform. In between flashbacks, the set returned to the present as the woman in the beige suit arranged paperwork, trimmed the man’s nails, made phone calls. When she welcomed a young woman with blonde hair and a flowing floral dress to the stage there was a long pause, as if someone had forgotten a line. In the audience, Rosie could hear muffled voices, whispers behind her, someone sniggering. During her monologue the woman gave an impassioned performance in the blue light; she clutched the man’s hand, she draped her blonde hair across his face and appeared to cry real tears. She made to leave the room and then paused before sweeping melodramatically back to his side. As the audience drew in a collective audible breath, she kissed the man hard on the lips, making her exit all the more dramatic.

 

During intermission, the audience were abuzz with cheap wine and conversation. A few journalists were asking people what they thought of the play, the acting skills of the dead man, if it was a successful deconstruction of identity? Rosie sat on her own with a watery hot chocolate. She kept thinking of her dad, arms crossed, eyes closed. Kept thinking of her parent’s fight. Kept thinking of those tears and that kiss. Those angry words.

 

In the final act, the curtains were drawn back to reveal the same room, but on the following day. The light was different now, it was that of an early morning, and through the painted window the sun was rising. A soundtrack of sparse birdsong bought a kind of fresh lightness to the stage. Bunches of flowers and cards encircled the man on the plinth, and to one side rested a wreath made of ivy. The funeral was over and the woman in her beige suit was finishing up. She took a white folded sheet and flicked it open, before fluttering it over the dead man’s body. She took a long look at the audience, the perfect image of serene composure, before leaning down and whispering something in his ear that no-one else could hear. And that should have been the end of the play. The curtains should have closed and the audience should have given the cast a standing ovation during the final curtain call. But instead the man’s body gave a sudden jerk, his hand fell out from below the sheet and Rosie could see it contort into a fist. She saw the quick rise and fall of his chest as he clutched off the sheet with his other hand, revealing his purple red face, bulging veins, eyes rolling back. The audience were frozen. He was very convincing. There were a few voices, open mouths, but no one moved from their seats. Then he put down shaky legs and staggered off the plinth onto the stage, all the while clutching at his chest and sucking for breath. When he collapsed and started convulsing, a few people in the audience climbed out of their seats and made for the stage. Rosie saw her parents then as if she were looking through a foggy tunnel. She saw her mother drop to her knees beside her father and commence CPR. She tilted his head back, put her red lips to his, and gave him three quick breaths. Then she yelled for someone to call an ambulance before starting on the chest compressions.

 

The cast never got to complete their final curtain call on opening night. Instead, a famous photograph now hangs in the foyer of the Cedarwood Amateur Theatre. It depicts a dramatic tableau. In the foreground the few audience members still sitting are simple silhouettes. The greater part of the frame is taken up by a stage littered in crushed flowers and broken vases; the white light stretches the deep shadows into a mosaic of jagged fragments. At the back of the stage stand a few actors, their forms partly obscured by darkness; a man in an army coat, another in a sports uniform. At stage left the light falls on a blonde woman, crying thick mascara tears. Her shoulders are curved over, her arms are wrapped around her knees, and the floral patterns on her dress give the illusion that she is a part of the crushed flower carnage. A man dressed in a dark blue suit is propped against the right wall of the set. His hair is slicked back, his face is a greying shade of pale, but he is smiling with lips that are smeared with a greasy gash of bright scarlet lipstick. On his right sits a woman in a beige suit, her hair dishevelled, holding the man’s hand. On the left is a girl of ten who is leaning in and stroking the man’s face. Framed in a painted window on the wall behind the trio is the simple scene of a sun setting. Or is it rising? It’s impossible to tell.

 

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