‘Little Thoughts’

Marlene awoke to the hot breath of summer on her face. The flowers on her curtains danced in front of the rising spotlight of the sun, swaying back and forth. She rolled over, rubbing her eyes – the gritty remnants of yesterday’s mascara dragged across her knuckles – and lay blinking up at the ceiling. The alarm clock radio clicked on.
‘Ugh.’
“It’s Seven-Thirty AM and a day for celebration here on Wake up with Wogan! While we have been unable to have the show renamed ‘Arise with Wogan’ in light of the New Year’s honours list, yesterday London was confirmed as the host city for the 2012 Olympic Games. So, to start us off we’ve got the campaign’s wonderful theme song ‘Proud’, by Heather Small.”
Marlene aimed a swipe at Terry Wogan, but caught a bottle of Tesco’s finest Everyday Vodka instead – it exploded as it landed on the floor. She lay static, her eyes closed and her mind drifted back to sleep.
“Not today, Terry,” Marlene said, allowing her flailing arm to rest on her chest. The looming threat of vomit grew with each movement, like a time bomb ticking closer to detonation.
POP. POP. POP.
It sounded like someone jumping on a juice carton full of air.
There was yelling outside.
“Jacob?” She shouted.
Leaping out of bed she approached the window. Crouching, she poked her head through the curtains and peeked out. Outlines formed like an emerging Polaroid. Mrs Tilly was yanking Freddie, her English springer spaniel’s chain. Freddie had stayed with them earlier in the summer whilst Mrs Tilly went on her annual cruise. It convinced her that this was the year they would get their own for Christmas.
Freddie was doing his best to piss on the graffiti covered broadband box. The Dixon sisters dueled each other in the garden behind it, waving their wands at each other as they ran around the swing. Marlene squinted – the sound started again – and then rolled her eyes. Of course. It was Steve next door.
“That fucking car. Piss on it, go on Freddie, piss on it,” she whispered.
Steve waved up at her and she crumpled back behind the flimsy protection the curtain offered.
The door creaked and Marlene watched her son’s button nose poke out as he edged the door open. He stood in his Arsenal academy tracksuit with his foot on a ball, fixing an Alice band over his shoulder-length black hair. Marlene gazed up at him, remembering how he had clung to his first player of the tournament award in the under 6s, trying to take it to bed with him. The way he stood now, nearly ten years later, resembled the trophy.
“Are you giving me a lift to training today? Or-“ Jacob asked.
“Sorry love, you’ll need to get the bus. Mum’s not feeling too well. Give me a minute and I’ll come make you breakfast.”
“It’s fine. I’ve already had it,” he said, “I’ve left you out a bowl.”
“What time is it?” She asked, looking round at her alarm clock.
“And we’re coming up for 8.30…” Terry answered.
Jacob flipped open his mobile phone.
“Oh shit. I’m sorry,” Marlene said.
“It’s fine, I’ll hop on the bus. It’s a nice day anyway,” Jacob answered, not looking up from his phone.
He lingered in the doorway, snorting at a text message he received before looking up from his phone, “Just remember the tournament tomorrow.”
“Of course. July the 8th. I’ll be there.” She said with a smile.
He nodded.
She gave him a thumbs up and stretched her smile wider.
He returned to his phone, pulling the door closed behind him.
“Just leave the door Jacob, I’ll be two minutes,” Marlene said.
It was another ten minutes before she peeled herself from the muggy room and staggered her way towards the kitchen. Jacob was filling his water bottle. He brushed past her before she could enter. The little jobs she used to do for him now reminded her how hopeless she was at the bigger ones.
“That’s me heading off,” he said.
“Be careful,” she replied, half raising her arms for a hug.
“Always am,” he said, opening the door.
“Go score some worldies!” She said.
“Muuuum,” he replied, leaping out of the door.
“Bye love.” She called after him as his outline melted into the light, her hand hovering over her brow as she squinted.
Back in the kitchen, Marlene pulled down the blind, squeezing out the daylight. Her attention turned to the bottle of vodka perched above the biscuit cupboard. She dragged a chair over and leaned her foot on it. Spread across the back of the chair was one of Jacob’s football tops.
“You are killing me, Jacob,” she said, stepping down off the chair and picking up the jersey. She glanced at the vodka again then held the jersey closer – inhaling the scent of lavender – before sighing and returning it to the chair.
She replaced the chair under the table and turned on the TV. Red bled into the screen as the darkness lifted, revealing the words “Breaking News”.
“It’s thought though, that the incident was caused by a collision between two trains, a power cut or a power cable exploding,” the anchor said.
“Liverpool station is of course one of the busiest hubs, especially during rush hour,” his co-anchor added.
“We’ll let you know more as soon as we get it on this developing story.”
The rest of the report was drowned out by the tap water as she filled a kettle to boil. She grabbed her mug from the drier and rubbed her thumb over the worn print which read ‘Mum in a million’. She dumped the instant coffee in with five teaspoons of sugar. One new message flashed on the answering machine, Marlene listened while she waited for the kettle to boil.
“Hi Marlene, it’s Jenna here from the job centre. Just a quick call about your job seekers meeting we had scheduled for yesterday. If you could give me a call back on-“
“Message deleted.”
As she emptied the contents of the kettle into a mug her attention returned to the report.
“If you’re just joining us, terror has come to London,” the announcer said. “We have reports of three explosions on Underground trains.”
The kettle slipped from her hand as her throat tightened, spilling the remains across the counter and crashing into the sink. Her hand shot to her mouth. Her eyes nipped as tears threatened to well, the nauseous lump that had lingered in her chest climbed into her throat. Marlene rushed to the kitchen phone hanging on the wall, the handset slipped in her clammy hands. She dialed Jacob, her throat growing drier with each number pressed.
Engaged.
Marlene thrashed the handset against the dock, leaving it to swing and strain against the wall. She charged off in search of her mobile, ready to erupt. Cushions rained down on last night’s dinner plates, abandoned on the floor, as she attacked the living room couch. She seized her mobile from the void down the side of the couch. Sweat trickled down her back, as she cycled through the numbers, finding the right letters to text.
“I need you home NOW. Phone me”
Marlene returned to the kitchen and replaced the now lifeless hanging handset on the dock.
The steam from her coffee was absent, sitting on the kitchen table. Marlene draped the sleeves of Jacob’s jersey over her shoulders from the back of the chair. Tapping her foot on the floor, grasping her phone, she willed a response. Her phone trembled, vibrations rippling against her tightening grip.
‘Message failed to send: The message to Jacob failed to send.’
She tossed it across the table.
Pulling the ashtray closer, she plucked a charred cigarette from the ashes and sparked her lighter. Her hand quivered as she drew the last sign of life from the remains. Smoke slivered from her nostrils and the cigarette extinguished.
She laid the cigarette to rest and snatched her mobile, resending the text. The same response:
‘Message failed to send: The message to Jacob failed to send.’
Fumbling through her phonebook, she selected Jacob. She dialled. She waited.
“This is Jake. You know the drill.”
An extended beep followed.
***
Marlene awoke wrapped in red Arsenal bed covers, clutching a bottle of Everyday Vodka. Her head pounded. Each swallow felt like dragging bare feet on the old hall carpet they had replaced a couple of years before.
Her spare arm broke free from her cocoon – glancing the breakfast bowl of cigarette butts – and grabbed her phone. The battery was dead. She watched the clock which hung below a match magazine poster of Thierry Henry. The second hand was stuck, unable to pass fifteen.
“I kept telling him to replace those batteries.”
Her stomach gargled on a cocktail of vodka and hunger. Peeling off the covers, she staggered out of bed, kicking over her ‘Mum in a million’ mug as her feet touched the floor. She heard the hiss of rain behind the undrawn curtains.
The rain followed Marlene as she draped the duvet over her shoulders, rattling along the ceiling as she descended the stairs. She lingered for a moment a few steps from the bottom, remembering how she used to tell Jacob off for jumping onto the new carpet. It felt like a routine the two of them had, an activity they could share with each other. He would apologise and she would scold him; she had almost looked forward to doing it again.
Envelopes were gathering at the door to pay their respects; friends, neighbours and well-wishers. She walked past the fifteen voicemails that looked to do the same in the kitchen. Each cupboard was barren. Inside the fridge lay the remains of a tray bake. Mrs Tilly had brought it over with a cluster of white carnations that now lay discarded, still in their packaging and shrivelling on the counter.
Marlene froze at a chap on the door. She pulled the duvet tighter. Another chap. Her head peeked around the corner. The letter box was held open, she hoicked her neck back behind the wall.
“Mrs Ramsey?” The voice asked. “Mrs Ramsey, my name’s David. I’m a volunteer from the Victim Support organisation. I saw you through the kitchen window, do you mind if I come in and have a quick chat?”
She pulled the door as far as the security chain would let her. He produced identification with a smile and she considered closing the door again.
“Just a second,” Marlene replied. She collected the envelopes and placed them on the kitchen counter.
She returned to the door and removed the security chain. She let the draft ease the door open to invite him in.
He followed the trailing duvet into the living room and presented his hand as she sat, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said. She dangled her hand out in response and he shook it. He picked up Jacob’s football jersey before placing his satchel on the couch across from her.
“Was this his?” He asked, sitting down.
Marlene nodded as he held it out. She broke free of the duvet and snatched it. The straggling sleeve dragged a half-eaten Tesco cottage pie container from the table which separated them. He cleared his throat.
“We left you several voice messages but I understand this must be a difficult time for you.”
“There’s some tray bake in the kitchen,” she said as her stomach groaned.
“I-I’m fine, thank you. Mrs Rams-“
“Marlene.”
“Right. Sorry.”
He cleared his throat again.
“I came to chat about the support centre we’ve set up in Westminster. It’s at the Royal Horticultural Hall.”
“Do you know when I can bury him?” She asked.
“I-I’m not really privy to that info, but if you come down to Victim Support-“
“I’m not a victim.”
“Mrs Ramsey-“
“MARLENE!”
He bowed his head. Marlene cradled the jersey, weeping as he placed a contact card on the table. His hand lowered towards her shoulder but she dismissed it.
“This… clearly isn’t- I’m sorry, Marlene. We’ll be in touch again, but please, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our details are on that card. Come and visit us. We’re here to help.” He got to his feet. “Goodbye Marlene, please take care,” he said, stepping on the cottage pie container as he left.
She waited for the front door to close before lifting the jersey to her nose, inhaling. The smell of stale smoke slithered into her nostrils – forcing her to pull it away. Sniffing, she laid Jacob’s jersey to rest on the couch.
Tears dripped from her chin onto the container as she collected it – carrying it through to the kitchen – and placing it at the top of the bin, overflowing with flowers and food. Her attention turned to the letters lying above the bin on the counter. The seal of the envelope on top was flimsily clinging to the back, begging her to tear it open. Inside was a condolence card from Jacob’s coach with the new team photo, signed by the rest of the team. Tears trickled onto the photo, she wiped them away with her thumb, resting it over Jacob’s face.
Discarding the card and envelope, she clutched the photo and opened the cleaning cupboard under the sink. Marlene stretched back behind a mountain of cloths and unused Mr Muscle to grab a bottle of Everyday Vodka. She placed the photo on the counter and tried to unscrew the bottle. There was a knock on the door. The lid grated against her palm as she twisted. Another knock at the door, she tightened her grip. The ribbing burned her skin and she sent the bottle crashing across the kitchen. The front door opened as she sunk to the floor, holding her knees and burying her stinging eyes between her legs.
“Marlene?!” It was Steve. “Marlene are you alright?!”
Glass crunched at the kitchen door and she raised her head.
“What happened?” He asked.
She sniffed in response.
He stepped around the debris and sat next to Marlene, wrapping an arm around her. Her tears formed a dark patch on his sleeve. Finally, she raised her head, the tears plugged by her constant sniffs.
“Sorry,” she said, as he removed his arm.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “What happened?”
“I was… I was trying to read some of the cards and I just… I don’t deserve this sympathy.”
“Of course you do.”
“But it’s my fault.”
“How can it be your fault?” He asked.
Her eyes followed the creeping sunlight, unfolding across the floor and lingered on the remains of the vodka, “Because.”
“Marlene, I’m not here to preach at you or tell you it’ll get better. I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through, but you’ve got to give yourself the best chance to get better. Blaming yourself, isn’t the way.”
“That sounded a little preachy, Steve.” She spluttered.
“Fine, but give it a shot. Your neighbours are here for you, whatever you need.”
“I chased a guy from Victim Support ten minutes ago,” she said.
“I know, he came knocking on my door asking me to see you.”
“Oh.”
“Give them a chance. Give us a chance.”
She got to her feet, collecting the team photo, “Can I ask you a favour then?”
“Of course.” He answered, standing.
“Do you mind, getting that awful car of yours and taking me to their centre in Westminster?”
***
Steam rose as the sun baked the road ahead. The exhaust popped and spluttered as Marlene dragged her fingers along her jeans, clawed at her pockets and chewed her fingers nails. She felt a cold sweat emerge across her forehead. They passed a group of boys kicking the ball around in a park. Her attention lingered on the rear view mirror, on the park and the empty back seat it reflected, before resting her head against the window and closing her eyes.

 

 

Critical Analysis
This short story falls into the genre of historiographic fiction, existing on the fringes of history. I was interested in how ‘The Dark Room’ tackled the war and considered how I might be able to do something similar in a more contemporary setting. I chose to expand upon a homework exercise on the London bombings on July 7th 2005 because I felt there was scope to explore something on the periphery of that event.
I transcribed and adapted an intro to the ‘Wake up to Wogan’ radio show from June 2005. Wogan had been named in the New Year’s honours list and the Olympics had been awarded to London the previous day, this gives a hint at the time-frame without being explicit. It also enabled me to insert some foreshadowing into the story. I adopted segments from the actual Sky News broadcast coverage, where the initial incidents had been reported as an electrical fault, a collision or a power failure. This allowed a small window where the reader will likely know what is going to happen, creating some tension as Marlene carries out some simple tasks and reveals a little more about her life which is going to be changed dramatically.
I wanted the initial focus to be on a mother and son whose relationship was straining. Jacob was growing up and becoming more independent, Marlene was slipping deeper into alcoholism and becoming less reliable. Her awareness of this only serves to hasten her decline. When writing Marlene I felt that she would find some hope. It felt unrealistic that she would conquer her alcoholism, and by extension the guilt from her failure to her son by the conclusion. However, I felt she would find the desire to battle those demons in the face of the tragic event.

‘By Any Means’

My arms are burning, like my triceps are ripping through my skin.

“Faster,” I hear him shout from the side of the pool. “Come on!”

They slosh through the water. Hold them steady, I think. Visualise your fingers. You’re touching the wall.

“BREATHE.”

My mouth is assaulted, my throat nearly clogged by water, I grit my teeth, hold my head under, purse my lips and wheel my arms, the end is in sight, fingers reach out, my toes wriggle and I wrestle the last ounce of strength from my legs as I reach the wall.

I feast on the air as I break through the surface and rest my head against the side of the pool. He sighs, checking the stopwatch.

“Once more,” he says.

I raise my head and open my mouth but the only defence I can offer is to let my head rock from side to side. He slings the stopwatch against the wall.

I turn my back to him and pull off my hat and goggles. I close my eyes and bury my head under water, letting my forehead sooth. I exhale slowly then resurface.

“You’re down three quarters of a second. You need to work on your breathing technique.”

I nod as I edge over to the ladders and try to heave myself out of the pool. My shoulders droop as I clamber up, the arch of my foot tightens between steps. I stop halfway as his hand lodges on my shoulder. I look up at him, his smile mounted above that barreled chest and broad shoulders. Light obscures the rotting grey hairs emerging from the side of his head.

“You’re better than this,” he says.

I summon that smile he demands.

“I’m better than this,” I say.

“There’s my state champion.”

My smile grows wider than I’d intended.

He offers a hand I can’t decline, wrenching me out of the pool. Then he lingers – like he always does – at the side of the ladder so that I have to walk in front of him.

“Nationals are a month out,” he says as we walk.

I tread towards the locker room when I feel those calluses clamp around the base of my neck. His steps stalk mine, he presses down and my insides shrivel like the tips of my fingers. That familiar grip grinds along my shoulders, like someone strangling water from a towel. The door feels so far away now.

“You need to work harder if you’re gonna keep your place on my team,” he says as his fingers creep under the straps of my swimsuit, crawling backwards and forwards.

The locker room door edges open and his fingers recoil but his hands linger on my back.

Alex pops her head out like a soldier peaking over the trench.

“Howdy Alex, I’m just about ready for you,” he says. “Why don’t you dive in and cut loose those legs of yours?”

“Sure,” she replies, emerging from the door that’s been shielding her.

She looks at me and then to the ground as she approaches.

“S’up Karen,” she says, turning her head to the pool.

HELP.

“Hi,” I reply, as I watch her pass.

He ushers me over to the door with his hand on my waist as I hear a splash behind us.

“Alex has been doing some extra training with me,” he says. He leans in, his stubble scratches my cheek. I feel his warm breath tickle my ear. Chills swim down my spine and he whispers, “I think she might be able to compete in the 200m.”

“Oh…” I begin my approach towards the door, one step at a time.

“She’s shaved nearly a second off her time. You should think of doing the same.”

“I’ve got math test comin’ up and-” He latches his hand around my wrist, reeling me back to him.

“I’ve got a math test for you,” he hisses. “What’s 1:40 minus three quarters of a second?”

“Our target time,” I answer.

“Our target time. Mine, yours and more to the point: my friend at TMU’s target time,” I taste the stale milk on his breath and I lean my head to the side. “Now, Alex is in damn fine shape and you look like you could drop a few pounds never mind seconds. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I purse my lips and nod.

“Hit the showers,” he says as he releases my wrist before snatching the door handle and swiping it open.

I catch a look at myself in the mirror inside my locker door as I collect my things. I turn my head to both sides, sucking my cheeks and clamping them beneath my teeth. Then I release them.

I thrust the door back against the cabinet and make my way to the showers. I turn each shower on and let the steam smother the room. I feel tears plotting their escape. I sit and rest my head against my knees and I feel the water scorching my back. I will it to melt my skin and beg the steam to choke me. I watch as a strand of red hair is lured into the drain. The tears begin to flee.

***

The smell of bacon flirts with me as I arrive home. I head straight for the kitchen. Mom’s standing over the cooker, still wearing her work apron.

“Hey hon’. How was practice?” She asks.

Tell her.

“Exhausting,” I say.

This can’t go on.

“Coach still pushing you hard?”

The bacon hisses as I lean against the counter.

“Yeah.”

How do I say it?

“It’ll all be worth it in the end,” she says.

“Mom-“

The pan spits oil onto my jeans. I pat at the spot.

“Do you mind taking over? I need to get back to work,” she says.

Now’s not the right time.

“Another double?” I ask.

“’Fraid so.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard,” I say.

She wraps her arms around me, cocooning me.

“Oh hey, a letter arrived for you today. I left it over on the table.” She says.

I go and pick up the letter. Underneath it lies an open one. Urgent is printed across the top of it.

“What’s this urgent one?” I ask.

“Oh it’s nothing hon’. I just forgot to make an electricity payment, that’s all.”

“Mom you still remember to send birthday cards to Dad’s family and we haven’t seen them since-.”

“Must be all this cooking I’m doing for you between shifts that’s making me forgetful then!”

“Are you sure you don’t need me to get a job?” I ask.

“Positive dear. The only jobs I need you to do is open that letter and watch this bacon whilst I go to work.”

I dunno if she’s getting worse at changing the subject or I’ve gotten better at noticing. I pick up the letter and wander back over to the cooker; she kisses me on the way past and says goodbye. I take a knife from the drawer and slide it along the top.

It’s from TMU. I got in, it’s a scholarship offer! Place dependent with a full one being offered if I win at nationals. Tears breach through my defence again and my throat clogs. I look at the bacon, now shriveled and smoking. I strip it from the pan – the stench burns my nostrils – and drop the rashers in the bin. I toss the hissing pan into the sink and head for my room.

I plug my iPod into the Iron Man dock and play my Disney Hits playlist. Tom Brady grants me a smile as I turn on my computer. I open a homework tab and a Facebook tab. Murmurs of discontent arise from my stomach. I convince myself that by allocating ten minutes to Facebook, I’ll commit to fifty to work.

Half an hour later and the homework tab’s been replaced by her twitter feed. I’m still swiping through photos of Alex. Moana has done little to dampen the howls of derision from my stomach. Happy family photos, Christmas and that perfect holiday bikini picture. I pour over photos from swim meets; zooming in on those toned legs of hers that glisten in the pool. There I stand on the podium, supported by two tree trunks. I hammer the mouse to close each tab then toss it away and hold in the standby button. I slap the light off and throw myself onto my bed, staring at the ceiling.

***

I get the message at lunch time. He wants to see me in his office after school. I spend the rest of the afternoon wondering how to get out of it, each solution riddled with errors.

I arrive late to the pool. I nudge the entrance door open and he spots me. He’s waiting for me outside his office. He walks towards me and I freeze. I can’t leave, but I don’t want to enter. He opens the door fully and I nearly stumble into him.

“Come in, come in!”

“Sorry I’m late,” I say.

“I didn’t even realise,” he says fanning his hand. “Come on, let’s go talk in my office.”

I follow him down the corridor, under the eyes of previous swim teams, their pictures lining the walls. He holds the door open and his breath licks my hair as I pass into the office, polluted by cologne.

“Please, take a seat,” he says.

“I’d really just like to get started with training. Maybe I’ll stay a little later tonight,” I say.

“Well, I’m glad you’re coming round to that idea,” he says, pulling the chair out from under the table. “Sit.”

I buckle and kick the desk as I sit, a picture of us at the state championships threatens to fall. I’m taunted by his medal from nationals.

“I gather you got the letter from my friend Mr Herrera at TMU,” he says, sitting down.

“Yeah. He offered me a scholarship, a full one if I win at nationals.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Too bad?”

“I think I’m going to go with Alex for the 200m at nationals.”

“You can’t!” I say.

My throat dries.

“She swam sub 1:41 last night.”

“I’ve done it before.”

“But you’re slowing down.”

My eyes burn.

“I’m going…“ I croak.

I get to my feet, sniffing, I approach the door.

“There is one way…” He says.

I turn as he snakes around the table towards me.

“How?”

He unzips his jacket.

“I don’t know if there are enough shifts in the day for your mom to cover tuition fees,” he says. “You could still enter nationals. You might even win.”

My grip on the handle loosens under my sweaty palm.

He slithers forward and leans his forearm against the door. He leers down at me.

“All we need is a little cooperation,” he says as the hairs on the back of his hand brush me. “Teamwork.”

He lifts my hand from the handle, wrapping his fingers around mine. My eyes are burning. I grip his hand tighter. My temples are pounding. I lure his face towards mine. Then I feel my right leg crunch between his legs. He wails as he recoils and I run.

I’m back in the main school building. Tears stream down my face as I sprint down the corridor. I spot the girls toilets and burst through the door. I nearly fall on the sleek tiled surface as I slide to a halt. Alex stands in front of me.

“Karen?! Are you alright?” She asks.

I stagger back towards the door but she latches onto me.

“I lost my place on the team, and-” I stutter as I shrink to the floor, laying back against the door.

“What happened?” She asks, crouching.

“You happened.”

Her eyebrows jolt as she answers, “Me?”

“You,” I say, trying to cup my hand steady over my mouth as I wheeze. “You and your sub 1:41.”

She lets out a confused laugh and says, “I can’t swim sub 1:41.”

I feel the tears subside.

“Karen, what the hell happened?”

“He told me you were doing extra trainin’,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “He said you were takin’ my spot in the 200m. Then he…”

“He what?”

I glance up at her, “H-he tried to… or suggested that we…”

I thud my head against the door and inhale. She sits down beside me. I exhale. She cradles her arm around my shoulder. I inhale. I lean my head against her shoulder and exhale once more.

“My scholarship…” I say.

“We need to tell to someone,” she says.

I lift my head off her shoulder and ask, “Will they believe me?”

“Hey,” she says, brushing my hair out of my eyes, “I believe you.”

 

 

Commentary

I had initially considered this piece to be contemporary fiction as it deals with themes that are current societal and cultural issues. However, as it developed I found it belonged to the young adult genre. I felt it would be more effective to tackle the themes with first person narration.

The piece deals with sexual harassment. After some research into sexual harassment involved in Olympic Teams and sports teams in general I read an article about the economics of consent by Brit Marling which helped tie my ideas together. Economic security is something which grants women a modicum of power in a patriarchal society. Men are often the gatekeepers of a woman’s potential for economic security, they often abuse this power and apply pressure on women from their position of power.

The coach attempts to use Karen’s need for a scholarship to reduce or eradicate the cost of her going to university. She’s coming from a home with a single mother working in a diner. If she stands up to him and reports him, does she lose the scholarship? Is she now a troublemaker, a persona non-grata like so many are when they report harassment in the workplace? That’s a dilemma I wanted to expose – something which countless victims of sexual harassment have faced.

Secondary to this, is how the coach pits two girls against one another. He objectifies Alex, and paints her as the obstacle to Karen getting her scholarship. Those seeds are sewn onto Karen, dividing them. It was then important to show support for the victim, uniting the divided parties. If Alex confessed to Karen, considering how she was controlled, would Karen have believed her? Showing belief in the victim, especially in a world where social media allows people to destroy victims, is incredibly important.

I think on reflection the piece would work better with wider context, which exists in my head but the piece had a word limit. I don’t think I’ll return to this and expand upon it, however. I think it only scratches the surface of the characters and I think it could maybe have been subtler in places. When a piece contains difficult themes, it’s not about marching in and becoming some kind of martyr. Whilst the story has roots based upon plenty of research, I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m still learning and there’s a fair chance there’s something problematic in the piece. I also think an additional feel for the characters existing in this world would be beneficial to the story having life outside of the theme of sexual harassment.

‘Venice of the East’

IN FRONT OF A BLACK SCREEN A CHRYON WITH THE YEAR 2063
APPEARS AND FADES AWAY, THEN BASRA, IRAQ.

FADE IN:

EXT. SHATT AL-ARAB RIVER, BASRA – EVENING

Establishing shot in front of an Iraqi with a near shaved
head. The lights of the city are blurred and unfocused
behind him but the outline of sky scrapers are visible.
He’s wearing sun glasses, an unbuttoned fluorescent shirt
and white shorts as he performs the combined Shia Muslim
prayer of Zuhar and Asr on the wooden deck of his boat. The
boat gently rocks on the river. He lingers, still on his
knees.

In a profile shot of his head we see a theme park on the
bank of the river in the background. The camera pans out
and a ride with a giant boat and a neon sign on the side
that reads “SINBADS” flashes in and out of the background.
Music is playing, people scream in joyful terror. This is
the only type of terror that exists in this country. A
police boat passes by. Ahead of him the sun bleeds into the
water as it sets, wrapped in bandages by fog clouds born
from an oil field at the lands end, only one of the funnels
is producing flame. The boat arcs to the right towards an
inlet as the camera zooms out. On the left side of the
river, behind Sinbad’s theme park are a plethora of
skyscrapers laced with neon advertising signs and video
screens advertising Tesla.

EXT. RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT – EVENING

There are parking bays outside blocks of beige, sandblasted
flats that tower 10 stories tall. Each parked car is sleek
and hooked up to a charging bay which is Tesla branded. The
buildings are angled and jagged, the top leans out towards
the road like upside down stairs leading back to the main
body of the building. Fake Palm trees and astro-grass
surround the flats. Cowering behind these flats is a modest
two floored home with an over grown garden surrounding it,
outside is a beaten and bruised, used to be white, Kia
Frontier car, permanently stained by dust and heat.

INT. FAMILY HOME – EVENING

RIKKU is preparing dinner. She sings along to the radio as
she cuts with a blunt knife. The knife rack next to her is
empty. The edge of her headscarf sticks to her forehead.
She’s wearing a white shirt and beige trousers which flare
at the sides. Her shirt is unbuttoned to the top of her
chest and the tip of a bandage can be seen under her right
sleeve. She sets the table which takes up most of the space
in the kitchen and returns to the sink, a bead of sweat
trickles down the side of her head leaving behind a trail
of purple near her eye as it lifts some foundation.

Her singing halts as she’s startled by the noise of someone
entering. It’s her father. She buttons up her shirt. He
enters the kitchen and she turns thrusting her arms to her
side.

SAYEED is dressed in grey overalls which are wearing at the
knees and his boots have dispersed dust on the floor. He
has a visible skin defect under the tip of his nose where
there’s a gap, he removes his helmet and reveals another
which covers the right of his forehead just above his eye.
He looks as though he’s lived out a century, with a look of
expectancy that he’ll see out another.

SAYEED
Hello my love, I trust dinner is
almost ready?

RIKKU
Not quite, can you wait a couple
of minutes Papa?

SAYEED
(He chuckles after
saying)
I can’t but I will.

SAYEED turns off the radio and turns on the television
before sitting at the table. RIKKU places a glass of water
down next to him and begins serving the dinner.

RIKKU
How was work today?

SAYEED gulps down his glass of water before letting out a
contented breath, as though it’s been held prisoner.

SAYEED
Fine, my dear.

RIKKU
Devie wasn’t bothering you again
was he?

RIKKU places down his plate in front of him, taking away
his glass and refilling it.

SAYEED
He doesn’t really bother me,
Rikku. He’s a nice enough man.

Beat.

RIKKU goes to place the glass with him but she recoils
briefly as he begins again.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
Although he wouldn’t shut up about
that sellout councilor.

RIKKU
Ms. Abed Jaseem?

RIKKU places his glass down and collects her own dinner.

SAYEED
The whore who leapt into bed with
those pigs and their cancerous
legacy.

She flinches as she approaches.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
Every day I swallow this Uranium
medication. An American get out of
jail free card for the damage of
their illegal war and their
illegal arms.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
I think he wants me to convert me.
You’d sooner catch me in one of
those McDonalds before I support
her. And don’t get me started on
his gambling.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
I told him “You shouldn’t even be
fucking gambling!”. Bah! These
people want to further dilute
tradition from our constitution.

He ends his rant and turns his attention to the TV as RIKKU
takes her seat.

RIKKU
Could we-

SAYEED
(Interrupting)
TV: on.

SAYEED ignores RIKKU’S interjection. The TV switches on.

 

SAYEED (CONT’D)
TV: set volume to 25.

An automated voice responds confirming the instruction.
RIKKU sits down with her dinner opposite him. They both
look up at the TV on the counter in between bites. The
seven o’clock news begins with discussion about the city’s
council elections.

ANNOUNCER
Tonight’s main story, Noor Abed
Jaseem comes out fighting in her
bid for re-election ahead of next
weeks council elections.

SAYEED
(Snapping)
TV: set volume OFF.

There’s a montage of NOOR at a podium, the crowd appear to
be cheering, she’s seen discussing with voters and posing
for selfies.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
It might help if she sacked her
stylist.

RIKKU
It might help if the volume was
on.

SAYEED hits his fist on the table.

SAYEED
It might help if we stopped
talking about it.

Beat.

The silence is broken by RIKKU nervously cutting and
scraping at the food on her plate. Her eyes well up as she
keeps her head down trying to use the food to steady
herself.

SAYEED’S fists are clenched. He places both fists down
strategically either side of his plate, his knife and fork
erect in them.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
(Calmly)
Is something wrong, my love?

RIKKU
No… Papa.

She shovels a forkful of food into her mouth and chews to
clog her jaw’s quivering.

Beat.

SAYEED is controlled, methodical, analysing each bite.
RIKKU speeds up her eating, making more noise. He bangs his
fist on the table.

SAYEED
(Raising voice)
Perhaps if you would be quiet we
might enjoy this lovely meal!

RIKKU
I’m sorry, Papa.

His anger is alleviated.

SAYEED
You wouldn’t want to waste all
your hard work now would you?

It returns as blood drops from the defect on his nose.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
Now look what you’ve done.

He gets up and marches to the sink. RIKKU picks up her
glass of water and napkin from the table and follows him.

RIKKU
Let me help you.

SAYEED shrugs her off, forcefully. She drops the glass of
water which smashes, letting a half formed scream escape.
He takes the napkin from her hand and dabs the blood which
is trickling down his nose. RIKKU slumps to the floor,
collecting pieces of the glass in her hand. SAYEED towers
over her.

SAYEED
I’m sorry my dear. It’s not your
fault. I just wanted to enjoy this
lovely meal you cooked. Ever since
your mother-

RIKKU
(Sharply)
It’s fine.

RIKKU (CONT’D)
(sniffing)
It’s fine. Sit down, enjoy the
rest of your meal. I’ll clean this
up.

SAYEED holds the napkin to his face and walks past the
table, ignoring the rest of his dinner and pulls the door
closed as he exits the room.

RIKKU puts the remains of the glass she’s collected into
the shattered base of the glass and drops it in the bin.
She sits at the table and finishes her dinner.

INT. RIKKU’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

The bedroom ceiling light flickers under the pristine glass
casing which conceals it. Snoring can be heard. A clock on
the wall ticks, reading 9.35. It’s dark outside. RIKKU has
removed her headscarf, her hair hangs down, she’s wearing a
black dress and black, ankle length boots. She reaches back
into her cupboard and moves a panel, pulling a long beige
trench coat from behind it and puts it on. She searches
under her bed mattress at the back of the room away from
the window, and pulls out a phone from under it. A graphic
shows her hiring an Uber through the app. On a chest of
drawers next to the door and under the clock is a framed
photo of a young RIKKU with SAYEED and her mother cuddling.

Cracks are spreading through the paint on the walls,
slithering out of the cover provided by two posters of the
same woman singing. RIKKU opens the drawer and collects the
key for her window. Next to the key is an unframed photo of
a young RIKKU with her mother. She has no hair. RIKKU looks
happy, her mother’s mouth is smiling but her eyes are
scared.

RIKKU unlocks her window, carefully opening it. She climbs
out the window and leans on the window ledge, pulling the
window over but leaving it slightly ajar. She then drops
onto an old mattress outside and sneaks off towards the
bottom of the street where she gets into an uber.

INT. GRAND BASRA HOTEL – NIGHT

RIKKU stands with her back to the bar and her arms crossed,
still wearing her trench coat. She looks out at the stage,
which is lit in purple and maroon. TARIA is playing piano.
Some of the dance floor in front of the stage is left open.
The rest is obscured by purple cushioned booths littering
the floor facing the stage, which are less than half full
with people. Some are dressed in suits, some dresses and
others in traditional Iraqi clothing – there’s a diversity
of people represented through the clothing.

TARIA finishes playing and receives reserved applause, as
though this music is as common to the people watching as
hold-music is on the telephone. She walks down the stairs
off stage and heads towards the bar.

The Iraqi from the opening scene walks past carrying a rum
and coke with a Japanese couple.

TARIA approaches dressed in skinny jeans and a sleeveless
black jacket over a white t-shirt, removing her glasses.

TARIA
You’re a little late.

The two hug.

RIKKU
Hey. I’m sorry.

TARIA
You’re lucky you’re talented.

RIKKU allows a grin to spread across her face, but she
hides her face in a way that suggests she’s trying to
contain it. The two lean against the bar and face one
another. RIKKU, with her right arm and TARIA with her left.

TARIA (CONT’D)
Speaking of which, it’s about time
you accepted my job offer.

RIKKU
Oh Taria. I-I can’t right now.

RIKKU faces the bar, her forearms rest there.

TARIA
You still can’t, huh?

TARIA faces the stage looking up.

RIKKU
(Nodding along to each
excuse)
No. I’ve got too much work to do.
And I just don’t know if I could
spend so long away from home…
living on a cruise ship.

TARIA
If you ask me, spending so long
away from home is the only thing
you should be doing.

They face each other.

RIKKU
Taria…

TARIA
I’m worried about you Rikku.

TARIA grabs RIKKU’S forearm which leans on the bar and
RIKKU recoils, snatching her arm away.

TARIA (CONT’D)
(Startled)
What is it? Whats the matter?

RIKKU
N-nothing.

TARIA
Rikku!

RIKKU lets her arm go loose and TARIA takes her hand,
slowly rolling up the sleeve to reveal her bandage.

TARIA (CONT’D)
Are you kidding me? He’s done it
again?!

TARIA starts unraveling the bandage.

RIKKU
I’m sorry, it’s not his-

She’s interrupted by a glare from TARIA, tears well in
RIKKU’S eyes. Under the bandage is a blistering burn mark.

TARIA
I’m not leaving this city without
you. You’re coming with me and
you’re taking this job.

Beat.

RIKKU nods her head as she sniffs, fighting back tears and
biting her lip. The two embrace once more, linking both
hands. TARIA kisses the wound gently.

RIKKU
I want to sing here. One last
time.

Clasping hands, they nod and lean their heads together.
RIKKU removes her jacket, her backless dress reveals a long
scar across her upper back. The two walk towards the stage
holding hands. TARIA takes her place at the piano and RIKKU
takes the microphone.

RIKKU (CONT’D)
…One last time.

EXT. RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT – NIGHT

TARIA pulls up a comfortable distance away from RIKKU’S
house in her car.

TARIA
This is too risky.

RIKKU
I can’t leave without the photos
of my mother.

TARIA
Just get what you came for and get
out. Don’t take too long, I’ll
keep the engine running.

RIKKU kisses TARIA on the cheek.

RIKKU
Thanks. For everything. I’ll be
right back.

She approaches the house and slips round the back to where
she exited. Her window is still ajar. She moves a ladder
from the over grown grass and positions it next to the
window, climbing in.

INT. FAMILY HOME – NIGHT

The clock on the wall ticks. RIKKU approaches the light
switch and flicks it. It doesn’t go on. She tries it
several more times but gets no response. She exhales
sharply, trying to compose herself. She turns on her phone
torch and SAYEED is sitting on her bed.

SAYEED
You’re up early.

RIKKU staggers back, pointing her phone light at him. He
grabs her in a headlock and drags her into the hall next to
the living room. He thrusts her down to the floor, standing
over her. The moonlight shines through half drawn blinds in
the front window, splicing light and dark over him. RIKKU
splutters, crouched on her knees on the floor.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
Do you think I didn’t know? I
warned you to stop going to that
hotel.

There’s a dark trickle of blood from the defect at his
nose.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
Those pigs, their war did this to
me and your mother. Now you want
to jump into bed with them, with
what they’ve built!

He kicks her in the stomach. She yelps.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
I am ashamed of your behavior.

He kneels, close to her face.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
(Slowly)
Your mother, would be ashamed of
your behavior.

SAYEED (CONT’D)
Singing on stage, dressed like
that in front of all those men…

RIKKU
(Her voice coarse but
defiant)
I don’t even like men.

SAYEED
(Snarling)
You’re a disgrace!

He kicks her stomach again, she falls to the floor. He
kicks her again and she writhes. He lifts her by the throat
trying to put her in a choke-hold but RIKKU fights back.
She crushes him back against the wall, and again, she’s
free. She slams his face against the wall and he falls. She
spots her framed family photo on the floor at the door to
her room. She picks it up, he rolls onto his belly, blood
seeps from his skin defect through the hand which holds his
face and drips onto the floor. She thrusts her knee against
his back and holds her arm around his throat. She sticks
two fingers into the defect in his nose and pulls hard, the
skin tears at the seams and he screams.

RIKKU
Cancer might have killed my
mother, but you were the real
cancer in this family.

She picks up the photo and lashes it over his head and he
drops to the floor.

Beat.

She scuttles back to her room to grab the photo of her and
her mother from the drawers. She descends the stairs to the
front door and exits, leaving SAYEED behind. The final shot
shows the broken glass, the turmoil around him, he’s still
breathing and we focus on the remains of the shattered and
now crumpled family photo on the floor.

END

Report

I wanted to challenge myself with this assignment. I did a fair amount of reading and research after I was inspired by the use of Iraq as a futuristic map in ‘Overwatch’ where the country wasn’t envisaged as war torn. It made me consider the importance of perpetuating the Middle East as a war zone in fiction and film so I set about creating a world where terror and war were absent and focus on a personal story. I also considered the legacy effect of the allied forces use of Uranium ammunition in the Iraq war.

My introduction takes inspiration from Blade Runner as a futuristic city-scape, but I also wanted to include the oil field which exists today as something winding down, symbolic of the past and the Sinbad theme park as a cultural touch point of Basra – and how that may be exploited by modernity. It was important to keep these elements so the city didn’t seem completely alien. Similarly, the Iraqi citizen in the introduction sets a tone for a more moderate and open city as he practice’s prayer, but is in casual clothing and later seen drinking. This represents a sub-plot conflict of modernity vs tradition, and the importance of balance.

The main conflict is a story of domestic abuse. Abuse can happen anywhere. Sayeed uses his daughter as a target for his anger at losing his wife to cancer, at being scarred for life from birth through the Iraq war legacy and no fault of his own. Similarly, the scars he inflicts upon Rikku are no fault of her own. After the Iraq war some of our soldiers channelled their PTSD in horrific ways, this is the other side of the coin. Can she escape it? It’s ultimately about her liberation and being able to embrace her dreams and the opportunities this modern Basra has brought her, a modern Basra which Sayeed will never accept.

‘Finch’

Light shredded the darkness as Charlie opened her eyes. The room smelled like her cats litter tray had been left out in the sun. Her head throbbed, her wrists and ankles burned under her uniform. Above Charlie, a spider dangled from a solitary thread. She tried to sit but jolted back to the carpet, which barely concealed the concrete underneath. Charlie thrashed her feet, shaving her skin. Blood tickled her ankle before her sock dampened. She hauled both arms against her restraints but the cuffs stripped her flesh like a knife thinning bark.

The spider had slipped further from a sagging ceiling tile. She wrenched her neck to the left as its legs fidgeted furiously. Charlie heard voices behind the metal door. She fought frantically with her restraints. Two men armed with guns entered. She twisted her body, the smaller one remained by the door. She ground her limbs against the restraints as the bearded one approached.

“Please, sit still.” He said.

Charlie fastened her lips as she battled.

“Please. I cannot undo these restraints if you do not sit still.”

She rested her arms and legs but she kept her neck craned. Sweat stung her wrists and stained her white vest, exposed by her unbuttoned uniform.

“Why?” She asked.

“To show you how we treat our guests.”

“I didn’t ask to be your guest.”

“And I didn’t ask for you to occupy my country.”

He placed his pistol in its holster. Charlie let her head rest.

“Boy, go and collect our guest’s food.”

The smaller one left the room, leaving the door ajar.

“What’s on the menu?” Charlie asked.

“It’s a surprise.” He smiled.

He unlocked the restraints around her ankles.

“Why don’t you just kill me?”

“If you stole a hundred dollars would you just rip it up?”

“I wouldn’t steal a hundred dollars.”

“No, you people would conquer the fucking bank.”

He unlocked the remaining cuffs and stretched his arm out. Charlie recoiled, caressing her wrists with her hands. She unwound slowly, then leapt to her feet. She sprang towards him reaching for his pistol. He ducked her assault. She charged towards him again, thrusting a fist at his face, but he snatched her wrist. He kicked the back of her leg and pushed her towards the wall, slamming the side of her face next to a post-box window slot. She noticed two finger nails lodged into tears in the wallpaper.

He held her there, breathing on her neck.

“You had to try. I understand.” He said.

He forced her twisted arm further up her back.

“You’ll stop trying in time. You’ll appreciate how good you have it.”

Charlie let a whimper escape.

“Sir.” The other returned.

“What took you so long Tariq? Set it down over there.”

He loosened his grip and Charlie slumped with her back to the wall. Tears breaking out.

“My name is Finch.” He said.

“The reason you’re here…” He broke off as a jet ripped through the sky above the building. She followed his eyes to the roof. The spider hovered above him. There was a pop, then an explosion wrestled with the room. The spider fell from the ceiling, bouncing on Finch’s face before landing on the floor. He drew his pistol and fired five shots at it, taking chunks out of the floor.

“Fucking spiders!” He said, firing once more at the wall. Charlie retreated into the opposite side of the room near the bowl and Tariq.

“That!” He said, gesturing to the sky “is the reason you’re here.”

“There are two guards outside. It’s up to you whether we do this the easy way or the hard way. Come on, boy.” He said, marching out of the room.

Tariq handed Charlie a wooden dish of cold soup, its contents were cloudy. She placed her finger in and swirled around. He pulled a piece of bread from his pocket and gave her it.

“Thank you.” She said as a tear crept down her face.

He nodded.

“Wait. Wait!” She hissed.

She pointed to her sock which was smothered in blood. He left the room.

Charlie peeled a couple of strips from the bread at first before inhaling the rest of it. She carried her bowl over to the window and emptied the contents between three rusty rods which punctuated the view. A rustic red smeared down the inside wall.

She looked at the burning brown which strangled the road out of the compound, suffocating the land until it was interrupted by huts in the distance. In the courtyard below a truck growled as it prepared to leave. There were a couple of smaller buildings to each side of her window. She noticed Finch and Tariq arguing at an iron gate which blocked the exit. Surrounding the compound was a barbed wire fence; littered with tiny shoes.

Charlie approached a mattress which was decorated by vain-like yellow stains. She flipped the mattress and discovered a ripe red stain which peeled from the carpet. She resisted her body’s retching and wiped the tears which drowned her eyes. She approached the mattress and flipped it back over and then retreated to the opposite side of the room.

The spider crept towards freedom, climbing towards the slot in the wall. She looked at the bullet holes in the floor and noticed the chunks of concrete that had been chipped out of the floor. Charlie collected the pieces and sharpened them against the bars in the slot. She blew the dust away from the slot as the spider reached the summit.

“I’ll be right behind you buddy.” She said.

Charlie slipped into sleep soon after hiding the shards under the mattress.

Charlie awoke to shouting outsider her door. Water snuck through the sagging tile. She got to her feet and went to the slot in the wall. She looked beyond the spider which had remained and constructed a web, patrolling between the bars. The truck had returned. The door opened and Tariq entered the room, without a weapon. He closed the door and pulled a cloth from inside the front of his trousers. He emptied some of his flask onto the cloth.

“Thank you.” She said, sitting down and easing her shoe off.

Tariq knelt and she peeled the sock down from her ankle which left strands of fabric sewn into the scab of her wound. He caressed her ankles with the cloth, allowing her to clean her wrists.

“I’ve got to get out of here before he kills me. Will you help me?”

He shook his head.

“You don’t know what he’ll do to me.”

“Don’t be afraid of him. I have a plan. Just get him to come here. Tell him I’ve got information on an operation.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“I just need to get his gun.”

He nodded and left the room.

She checked outside to make sure the truck was still there. The spider had snared its first victim and was busy weaving web around a fly. The door swung open, nearly springing back on Tariq as he followed.

“I hear you have some information for me?”

“Yes, but first I want guarantees; that you’re not going to kill me.”

“I’m the only person here who wants you alive. Tariq here would rather see you killed after what your people did to his family and to his village.” He said, gesturing at Tariq.

Tariq shook his head after Finch turned his back.

“What have you got to tell me?”

“I’m not telling you anything.”

“Do not waste my t-“

Charlie tossed the mattress at Finch. He swatted it to the ground but Charlie was on him with the two stones. She crushed one against the side of his head embedded in her hand and drove the other into his eye, forcing him to the ground, driving the stone deeper. There was banging on the door as he screamed. Tariq pushed against the door. Charlie grabbed Finch’s pistol. She checked the safety. He continued to yell. She pulled the trigger. He was silent.

“Open it!” She shouted.

Tariq released the door, falling back as one guard stumbled through with the other behind him. She fired two bullets at each, one in the chest and one in the head.

Charlie hung the pistol at her waist and picked up one of their rifles. She lifted Tariq up and gave him the rifle.

“Thank you.” He said.

“Let’s go.” She said, leaving the room.

“I can’t let you do that.” He replied.

Charlie awoke facedown. She was back in her restraints. She spotted her uniform in a bundle to the side, she was in her underwear and vest. The door groaned as it opened. Footsteps crept towards her. Tariq lifted her head to his by her hair.

“It’s just us now.” He said.

The spider watched on having devoured its prey.

‘Everything we’ve ever missed’

 

As I watch the opening title scroll,

The memory floods back,

 

He approached us in a flurry,

Where are you? we wonder but I dare not tread,

Into the water. I ask around instead

but no answer drowns my worry.

 

Time drips by neither fast nor slow,

Inevitably the answer we didn’t want to show.

Though you lingered, in the shallow blue;

they said no pain, nor fear had troubled you.

 

Robbed of a future by fickle fate.

You had the Heart to run,

But Here it stopped, in the sun.

The idyllic lake, I need to hate.

 

I wonder who will run the shop,

Before I tell myself to stop.

What about your younger brother?

A situation like no other.

 

One final moment left to share,

I will those eyes to open and stare.

 

The credits close and no loophole,

No final scene and no comeback.

‘The Boy and the Camera’

The phone roused you from your slumber. You were cocooned inside your Star Wars bedcovers. You liked to imagine you were camping out inside a Tauntaun on the planet Hoth with Han and Luke. It was the last weekend before term ended, you felt like sleeping right through as the first half year of high school would soon be done.

“Tom, Pete’s on the phone!” Your Mom shouted.

You squeezed the covers and held your tongue, understanding the futility.

“TOM!”

“Just a minute!” You called back, as you got out of bed.

“Why are you not dressed yet?” She asked.

“I was asleep.”

“It’s 10am.”

You shrugged, trying to pick that days fight. You still look back at those meaningless rebellions and cringe.

You picked up the phone: “What’s up?”

“Dude, get out of your pjs, stop scratching your ass and grab your camera. It’s snowing! You know what that means?”

“The winter scenes!” You’d only finished writing the story a week prior.

“Exactly. Meet us at Mara Hill and hurry up will ya, Kimmet and Allan are already on their way and Lily is on her way too.”

“Lily is coming? I thought she wasn’t interested after last time?”

“What did I just say? Girls change their minds all the time. Don’t get all weird and don’t forget that camera.”

“My Mom’s home so I need to sneak it out.”

“You’re clever, you’ll think of something.”

Pete mastered the skill of giving you what ought to be a complement but rarely delivered it as one from an early age. You hate to think what his kids are having to endure now. You were clever, though and you couldn’t turn up without the camera, though part of you did want to see Pete implode.

You claimed your rucksack was a snack pack and you weren’t going to be home for a while so you needed to fill it. Your mom asked what you were taking and you replied: “Food and stuff.” You weren’t that clever, but you got away with it.

Mara Hill overlooked Littleton, our houses laid out like a monopoly board. We spent a lot of time up there in the summer. You always liked to visit on your own. Mom wasn’t keen on that but you had reached that age where vague was no longer a deterrent but a catalyst, though she pleaded you to trust her.

Kids at school told tales about the woods on the hill, how a boy had trapped his leg under a fallen tree and died. They said the forest masked his screams and how his ghost haunts the forest, screaming at those who walk alone in the forest at night. You weren’t afraid of ghosts, but you never did visit at night. You found getting Lily to join the movie cast was far more terrifying, well until you actually asked her. The kids told other stories including the old man who lived in a hut and fed children to his dog.  Some said the old man made soup of the child stuck in the woods. These tales inspired the movie shorts; we decided to create and investigate our own myths. You only filmed and wrote while the others acted. That annoyed you, but it was better than giving the camera to Pete, Allan or Kimmet, who would have found a way to destroy it and that would have resulted in the end of your life.

Lily waved as you approached.

“Hey. I wasn’t expecting you back.” You said.

“I wasn’t really expecting to come back either, but I decided not to let him ruin it for me.” She nodded at Pete.

“That’s usually my line.” You replied which prompted her to show that smile which you thought must have been designed someone who built boats inside of a bottle.

“I like your stories and you’re really good with the camera.” She said, you felt the warmth spread from your cheeks and you forgot about the cold.

It might have been the second time she had joined the group but you felt uncomfortably comfortable around her.

You didn’t notice your stomach growling until night crept in, according to the camera it was half past five. You developed a habit of leaving the camera on between scenes. It took up more tapes, which eventually led to Mom catching you out, but you know now it was worth it to be able to look back. Even if it opened your eyes to Pete spending a lot of time being a dick.

“Okay, our last scene is the chase scene through the forest.”

“Any reason we saved this for last?” Lily asked.

“’Cuz it’s darker and colder. It’ll look more dramatic.”

“The camera has night vision too.” You said.

“You’re a frickin’ genius, that’ll look sick!” Pete declared.

“It’s getting a bit dark for me.” Kimmet said.

“Go home then, you’re dead anyway we don’t need you for this scene.”

“What if the ghost comes?” Allan asked.

“There’s no ghosts up here Allan, you should be more scared of the cold.” You were trying to comfort him but really he just had something else to be scared of.

“You don’t have to follow in, we’ll be right back once we’ve shot the scene.” Lily said.

“I’m not staying here by myself. I’ll follow in just behind you.”

“Fine. Don’t get in the way.” Pete said, before shouting: “Action!”

Lily ghosted past the trees, her feet kissing the snow as she swooped through the forest. The branches tugged at your coat and snatched at the camera as you tried to keep up. The forest whispered as you pursued. You halted when you lost sight of her, a moment you regret.

You swivelled the camera around and realised you had lost everyone. You started walking. You called out names. Your voice ricocheted, swallowed by the forest. You stumbled and fumbled. Something trapped your foot. You’re wrenched to the ground. You elevated your wrist, saving the camera. You looked through the green tinted lens. There was a shoe in front of you, kidnapped by branches. Your mind returned to the child, though you pleaded it didn’t. Now you felt the cold. You leapt to your feet. The camera covered your face as you turn. Engulfing the screen was a mouth, it consumed you with a scream. You collapsed backwards, the scream broke down into a laugh which melted away the fear and revealed a shame which lasted. You remove your eyes from the screen you notice Lily’s long, hazel hair sneaking out from under her purple hat.

“Are you kidding me?!”

“I thought it was only the cold we were to worry about?” Lily asked as she offered you a hand up. She never stopped reminding you about this.

“Yeah, yeah. Whose is the shoe?”

“Dunno. I saw it and I couldn’t resist.”

“Maybe it is the kid’s shoe.” You joked.

“Ooh! Maybe it’s Pete’s and the old man finally gave him what’s coming to him.”

You laughed a little harder than you should have done.

“Maybe we should find out?” You gestured to a cabin which peaked through the trees.

“It can be our investigation.” She said.

‘Bright Eyes’

Anna parked outside her home. The Sun left a red trail behind as it slumped down the sky and into cover behind the trees which cocooned the cottage. She adjusted the rear view mirror, taking a wipe to remove any make-up that remained, pulling at the bags under her eyes. She ran her fingers through her hair a couple of times and revealed a necklace from underneath her jumper before nodding in the mirror.

“Can’t believe I’m wearing this thing.” She said.

The wind battered the car door as she battled to leave. The trees around the house brawled with one another unable to hold onto their faded façade of green and brown, soon there would be nothing left to hide their shame.

She stood at the head of the path which the surrounding grass smothered as it hissed at her approach.

The porch welcomed her with a reluctant creek. She paused at the doorbell before pulling a key from her pocket, the keyring missing its photo, and unlocked the door.

Barging past three suitcases she ignored the stairs as she entered the house, instead heading into the living room. The windows howled as she entered, clouds were confronting the sunset. Framed memories of smiles and hugs judged her every step.

She approached the mantelpiece and examined a vase which held captive some drooping flowers, drained of colour. She rubbed the stock between two fingers which prompted petals to drip into the embers of the fireplace below.

Anna looked at the mirror which hung from the wall. Her grip tightened around the vase as she caught sight of a picture of Mark and David which hung on the opposite side and she launched it across the room crashing into the wall. The picture remained, defiant, as pieces of glass clung to the wall. She stared at the picture as the trickles down her cheeks grew into streams.

“This isn’t my fault, it isn’t!” She said.

“Mum?” Asked a face half hidden by the doorway.

“Oh David, I’m so happy to see you!” She said.

David recoiled as Anna approached but she snatched him up, clutching him close at her shoulder.

“I’m sorry Mum.“ He said, trying to separate from her.

“It’s okay, David.” She said, pulling him in for a hug.

“Are you going to leave?”

“Leave?” She asked, yet to release him.

“Dad packed your clothes up.”

“Your Dad’s just a bit confused, David. It’ll be fine. Mum’s here now.”

As she separated from David, Anna looked past him into the mirror hanging on the wall. A sliver of smoke rose from the fire below, the last of the petals had been consumed.

“Put him down.”

“Mark, I-“

“Put him down, Anna.”

“Right, yes.” Anna replied, freeing David.

He scuttled across to Mark’s side, facing Anna and revealing a dark circle which consumed his eye before hiding behind Mark’s leg.

“David, why don’t you head up to your room while Mum and Dad talk?” He said, ruffling David’s hair.

David fled the room and Mark entered, leaving the door open.

“Mark, I’m sorry.” She said.

“David doesn’t know that. He still thinks he did something to deserve it.”

“I’ll make it up to you both, I promise.”

“This isn’t like missing a school play! You can’t click your fingers and make things fall back into place!”

Pieces of glass slipped from the wall and onto the floor.

“God damn it Anna! You can’t even control yourself around a fucking vase! How are you supposed to be a parent?!”

“I’m not a good parent but I want to be.” She said, moving closer to Mark who stood arms folded.

“And you thought by turning up here and what, smashing a vase and trying to smash a picture would show that? You’re crazy.”

“Give me a chance, one more chance. Help me get past this, we can get through it.”

Anna placed her hand on his wrist.

“I don’t believe you.” He said, swiping her hand away.

“I can be better, I don’t want to lose David.”

“You lost him the moment you lay a hand on him like that.”

“I’m sorry. I know it’s my fault, what else do you want me to say? To do?”

Mark slammed the living room door and it rebounded open.

“There’s nothing you can do. It’s not safe to have you around him.”

“Mum? Dad? What’s going on?!” David asked.

“Nothing, Anna’s leaving now.” Mark said.

He grabbed hold of her wrist now and dragged her out of the living room.

“Let me go you piece of shit!”

Mark opened the door. By now it was raining heavily. He threw two of the suitcases outside before opening another and throwing the contents to the whipping winds outside which littered the garden with garments. Anna crashed into him as she raced outside, trying to collect each piece of clothing.

Lightning split the warring clouds for a moment’s truce as the sky roared. David sat at the bottom of the stairs, unmoved, wrapping his arms around his knees as he watched.