The Yellow Dress

I had this short story published in the local newsletter. I would like to put it up here as well.

 

The Yellow Dress

By Wendy Lodwick Lowdon

He preferred this venue on Flinders Street because it clung to the formalities of ballroom dancing. This was the third Saturday he had propped himself against the wall a few yards from the entrance. Unlike most of the other attendees he came alone. He liked a beer after work but the yarn, yak and yawn of his colleagues sporting conversation bored him. This place of music, swing and colour proposed different possibilities.

He lit another cigarette and watched the smoke spiral into the cloud hanging below the gold-starred, blue ceiling. Although the year had scarcely fare welled winter, it was a warm September night. The slick men and the bouffant women, heated from a fast foxtrot after a quick step, churned out gusts of perfume. He felt slightly sick and wondered if he would leave. He had already essayed a couple of invitations to dance and had weathered one refusal and endured the acceptance, with whom he had lumbered through the dance steps while she gabbled incessantly.

Dresses, with cinched waists and adorned bodices, flowed past encircled by monochrome arms in a cycle around the huge ballroom. He could feel the flex of the sprung boards of the dance floor and the rhythm set by the drummer tapped urgently. He surveyed the gaggle of giggles propped in bunches along the walls and his eye was snagged by the swirl of a yellow dress. It was the yellow of the eye of a daisy, of wattle, of a gold ring and he liked the face above the sweetheart neckline: an open face; quick and expressive.

The yellow dress gave him a soft welcome, such a relief from the brittle diamond reactions he’d learnt to dread. She was like feather in his arms and they swung smoothly and in lovely synchronicity through steps of three dances until she was panting for breath.

While they rested, they conversed; they asked each other questions and listened intently to answers. In time the music swept them out of their seats and into the long glide of a waltz.

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Didn’t twig at all

Some writing plans just fall into disuse. If I were to continue my analogy – fade and crumble. I have been far too busy with the bigger projects to be posting snippets. Yes, we are about to launch our Leaf by Leaf Collection of Short Stories The Call of the Sea. It is very good even though I say so myself.

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Twig 2

I’ve lost the ticket. I rummage through my stupidly huge handbag. I become a clot in the passageway as I fumble though the cash and receipts in my wallet. I lurch away from the thin lips telling me I am blocking the door. I have a moist brow, my scarf is too tight and my hands are hot. I stumble into a dark corner, when I need light, and crouch and empty my bag onto the floor then, ten depressing minutes later, I refill it. I stand disconsolately for a moment before turning away.

I shove my hands in my jacket pocket and there is the ticket.

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Chinese New Year

My participation was always from the periphery; I was merely an observer of the excitement of Chinese New Year but always the colour and intricacy of the preparations fascinated. The celebrants wore bright, new clothes, gave red envelopes and sweet talk was exchanged by those who had studiously ignored each other for the other eleven months of the year. Children were unleashed from the tough regimes which dominated their lives. Squares of thickened syrup and fruit and balls of glutinous rice with spicy fillings were offered with careless generosity. There was an increase in pilgrimages to the local shrines which smoked with incense and burnt cash and there was the proliferation of elaborate paper decorations.

Colourful, patterned paper swags swung above and around every entrance. Doorways boasted paper red columns painted with the gold characters of blessing and aspiration. Musicians’ dramatic swooping melodies competed with the myriad of bells which tinkled incessantly. Everyone sported paper creations bouncing on long strings and candles glowed inside tasseled lanterns.

Most wonderful to me was the dancing of the dragon. Its advance into one of the wider streets was heralded by several men drumming and clashing cymbals and then the ball-carrying acrobat appeared dancing backwards and tempting the dragon forward with a large ball. The dancer threw the ball made of twisted cane and decorated with ribbons in the air, flipped himself through a standing backward somersault, caught the ball and waggled it under the chin of the exotic dragon; a dragon with a huge paper face of multi-hued paper and great big googly eyes which rolled in their sockets; a dragon with a long centipede back made of a wide strip of richly embroidered and fur-edged silk; a dragon with as many as twelve legs. The legs underneath the large, outsized head followed the taunting ball as if magnetized and dragon’s other legs kicked and bucked as they contracted and stretched the brilliant caparison in artful sinuosity.

The athleticism of the dancers amazed me. They kept up the illusion of the dragon threatening and then being guided away from the fragile human dwellings for a length of time which seemed superhuman. Once I followed the dragon dancers off the main boulevard onto a grubby side-street and saw the unveiled men steaming and streaming with sweat. They panted, drank and laughed until it was time for Chinese Dragon to vaunt its vivid and illustrious plumage, and be beckoned away, in the next arena.

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Do You Twig?

The art of building a story can differ.
Some people start with the central pole of the narrative and duly espalier branches and leaves to decorate their well-structured tree.
I start with the twig
Usually I have no idea as to the type or shape of the tree to which my twig, holding its handful of leaves fanned to capture light, belongs. They are sufficient unto themselves: a slight description, a momentary focus and a microcosm
Now and again I energetically follow the forked route from a twig, to explain their appearance and I arrive at the heavy, skeletal structure of its branch. If I have reached that point moving onto the trunk, and how it is rooted, is a fast process. There is immense satisfaction building a tree from a twig! My collection of short stories, Here and There, all grew from a twig.
I do want to give the ‘twigs’ which remain just that, merely fragments of prose, a chance to wave around a bit. The purpose of this preamble to presenting you with series of Twig beginning with T1.

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A couple of competitions

Entering a piece of writing into a competition can galvanise a writer. Without a deadline procrastination or dithering with detail can prevent a writer completing a piece of work and putting it forward to be read. The purpose for most writers to present material to a reader. There is nothing so glorious that to have a reader comment with enthusiasm and respond favourably to a piece of writing. It is even great to have a critical comment as that also proves the writing was worth the candle.

Keep an eye out for competitions. Complete a piece of work and make sure you make that deadline. There may be a cost to entering; to having your work considered for publication may involve a writer sending money as well and that is a different story and involves different considerations.

Here are two competitions offered in The Oldie for which there is no charge. Send your entry for the Jeremy Lewis Prize: 400 words which you recount a memory in which the events you describe took place. Send it by the 31st October  to the following email address: publisher@theoldie.co.uk

Write a poem, maximum 16 lines, on the topic Shoulder to Should. This entry, which must be entered by 15th October, is to be sent to the following email address: comps.theoldie.co.uk

 

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Kite People

Kite People

I can’t draw.

Can’t paint my mind’s eye

On paper and make you

See how heavy people

Skim across the land;

Scud along, close to the ground,

Like kites seeking

That uplift.

Can’t share the image of

How people, heads forward,

Arm flaps akimbo,

Scissor legs juddering,

Chase gusts, wanting to hoist

Weighted bodies

Into the sky.

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Dither and Delay Tactics 13/3/2020

Not much writing but this time I have a very very good excuse. For the last three months we have been settling into a routine with our second dog. He is a rescue Australian working dog (he certainly has us working hard), two and half years old, loving and willing. However, a young kelpie is active animal and he has us walking us more than five miles a day (yes, we are getting fitter) which includes a lot of ball throwing, moreover, he is taught the house rules which have to be repeated several times and he is given toys and games to play which engage for us considerable periods of time. And, unlike us, he still has bundles of energy to spare.

He came with the name Simba. One of the difficulties of adopting a dog in that it comes with a name to which it responds but is not necessarily the name I would have chosen. My attempt to alter it to Simarrillion or Simmer or Symbol was met with resistance. My son likes to stand in front of the alert dog and intone in a deep throbbing voice ‘Simba, why have you forgotten me!’ Even though he has the colouring of Scar! Mostly he is called Sim.

Isla, the small kelpie heeler cross, rescued five years ago is both pleased and dismayed by the interloper. Serious amounts of time go into making sure her habits and affections are attended to. Sim defers to her in the matter of food but he will steal her toys and he can travel backwards faster than she can go in any direction but then Isla can use the dog flap, and Sim cannot, so there is always an escape route. His athleticism is extraordinary and his joy is to take a ball out of the air while he himself is airborne. Several times Isla has been tumbled over by his rushing enthusiasm; long-legged Italy too often kicks little Sicily. At the end of the day, though, they will lie down together on the rug and she likes the companionship at night or when we go out.

It all sounds like hard work but there are rewards. Every night we walk a short distance along the lane and I see stars and moons sometimes in glory,  sometimes seeping around the corner of clouds or smudged by man-made light but always different in mood and position. Even going out on a dark dark night is fascinating. On all of the dog walks I encounter animals and plants; it makes me aware and appreciative of their seasonal variations. I am infected with the optimism of my dogs who are convinced the day will unfold treasures and refreshed by our uncomplicated interaction.

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Dither and Delay Tactics …. 1/2020

How many of you realised, as I did not, how often I dithered and delayed at VI …. so the number of excuses for not writing a piece of fiction were considerably more than I expected to see when I glanced over the headings of my author’s blog.  So a new set of headings – see above – especially as it was the length and demands of the festive season prior to and after the first day of 2020 which has kept me from writing any fiction,

Short stories and poems had shuffled, not even half-baked, aside while I wrote Christmas greetings to a hundred sundry folk, issued and accepted invitations and correspond about a bleak election in a mild winter. Then I wrote thank you letters and sent New Year salutations. I wrote the last entry into the Christmas Book I have kept for 27 years and retired it to the trunk under the guest bed. I wrote to dear friends to make arrangements to meet in April. I wrote minutes and notices and lists.

And then there was a lull! I wrote a review for my science fiction blog. And I wrote a very small short story for Oswestry Writing Group which I copy below.  Yes, yes, yes! I actually wrote something:

Empty Bottle

Ben clattered the bottle as he shoved open the front door. It spun at his feet as if it had been flicked by a boy hoping to win a kiss. It was a green wine bottle with a white label and it was empty.

Ben felt a sneer disfigure his face and words bubbled furiously off his tongue. ‘Bloody hell, Paula! Bloody drinking again!’ The rage, which had been fed by his run-in with Baxter at the office and engorged by close encounters with incompetent drivers on his way home, surged and he booted the revolving bottle with savage force.

The bottle flew along the corridor and smashed the opaque glass door at the end of the corridor. The explosion threw shards of glass back as far as his feet.

For a moment Ben was aghast. He was shocked by the violence of the rebound. Then he realised the bottle, the damned bottle which had caused him to lose his temper, was still intact resting atop the glass fragments of door. His rage came roaring back.

‘Paula!’ he bellowed. ‘Look at this mess. Look at the damage your bloody drinking has led to. Again!’ He waited a few scant seconds. ‘Paula. Paula!’

Ben shouted his wife’s name so loudly his voice cracked. He fell quiet. For a moment he thought he might cry. His heart was seesawing in his chest and his head thundered with blood. He blinked his eyes until the sting subsided and the jagged mess of glass came back into focus. The wine bottle was glinting poisonously in the light from the kitchen.

Ben picked a careful path over the glass in the corridor and he paused to pick up the empty bottle which he held like a club in his right hand. The kitchen was as empty as the bottle. There was not a dish out of place and clean surfaces; spick and span just as he liked it and yet it was unsatisfactory.

It took Ben several moments, swinging the bottle around like a Geiger counter, that there was no food! The fruit bowl, the jars which normally held nuts and dried fruit, the sugar bowl and the butter dish were all empty.

Ben carefully placed the bottle on the melamine table top, walked across the kitchen and opened the fridge. Empty! The freezer was just a white cavern and the cupboards were bare.  Ben gulped down a hysterical giggle. His breathing sounded more like panting.

‘Paula?’ and his voice trembled. ‘Paula, he whispered. He turned around and around in the kitchen like a windmill; his arms flailing as he tried to grasp the totality of the emptiness that was engulfing him. A waving arm caught the neck of the empty bottle and tottered to the edge of the table, fell and smashed apart on the kitchen floor.

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Dither and Delay Tactics VIII and XI

How do you put off writing? Get yourself a young rescue dog! One week ago Dave and I and Isla, the eight year old small kelpie, welcomed a long-legged 2 year old male kelpie called Simba into the house. We have not sat down yet during the daylight hours. He is a happy and sweet dog but busy busy busy. Fortunately he likes to fetch balls, likes the long walks and he wishes to please, he adores Dave, so we are making lots of progress but by the end of the evening we are TIRED. Image may contain: dog

 

And then there are the Christmas cards. When I pick up a pen it is to write a few words to old and true friends – to pause and remember good times. It takes ages because it also involves trotting over to Dave remind/ask him and we fall into conversation about ‘that was when/where’.

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A couple of fragments

 

Fragment I

Jeff paused before he plugged in his shaver into the socket beside the basin in his hotel. His hand trembled as the memory ambushed him; maybe the smell of the Lily of the Valley soap had triggered this vivid tumble into childhood.

He had been staying with his grandmother. Steering his toy truck in rapid turns around the sitting room carpet to avoid her brisk thrusts with the soft bagged, hard edged upright vacuum cleaner. She had been wrapped in a thick apron and had a Players cigarette firmly lodged in the corner of her mouth. The musty dusty monster had roared as it chased him around the old Kidderminster carpet sucking at his fingers and the laces of his shoes. Finally the din ceased and Jeff watched as she levered the two-pin plug out of the wall with a nail file which fell out of her pinny pocket as she escorted the cleaning machine back to its cupboard.

Jeff had appropriated that file in a flash. It was made of a tough thin metal and the hook at the end was ideal for tinkering with wheels of his truck. He imagined his tin truck into a tram which travelled for a while on the tracks created by the carpet design until the whole scenario led him to the electric socket and the file became the electric connector.

Jeff had been thrown across the room. His grandmother had thumped and shaken him back to life, lathered the burn on his hand with honey and wrapped it in strips of cloth. His head had throbbed for days.

Jeff shook himself into the present like a wet dog. He pressed the fingers on one hand onto the dark scar in the palm of the other. He rubbed the stubble on his face several times and carefully put the shaver back in its case.

 

Fragment II

Cara fumbled the change into the mean-mouthed cslot of the parking meter. One coin dropped onto the paving stones and her nails rasped on the rough surface as she scrabbled for it. Once the ticket was on the dash and with her briefcase in hand she walked briskly to the Town Map positioned near the entrance. The angle of the sunlight blurred symbols and the names of streets and she spent fretful moments bobbing or craning her head until she was able to elicit how to proceed to her destination.

Cara headed uphill on a narrow pedestrian path almost touching closed doors and rough sandstone walls. She was unpleasantly aware of the constant rush of cars and gusts of exhaust fumes. She hurried and held to such a fast pace by the time she reached the brow of the hill and the Town Square she was panting. She stopped and rested her hot hand on the cool black twist of a lamppost until her breathing eased. A few steps further and, screwed onto an old tudor building, the name of the street she was seeking glared at her. Just a bit further down the street she could see the elaborate lettering which spelled the name of the shop in which she had a vital appointment. Cara straightened her back and walked forward. Halfway there she had to give way to a large splay-footed man in a duffle coat as most of the footpath was occupied by an enormous flower filled urn. She brushed her fingers through a small bush of lavender and she could still smell its sweet sharp scent when she pushed open the door.

 

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Dither and Delay Tactics VII

Well, well, well, I have taken putting off to a whole new level; I am astonished to see it is more than eighteen months since I last wrote here which is symptomatic of ‘since I last wrote at all’.

Of course, one does have to define writing. I have written letters to friends and family in Australia which are long with family and local news and indulge in a swipe or two at the state of the nation. I have written minutes for the Science-Fiction Group, Oswestry Library Friends and Leaf by Leaf Press. I have written to my MP, despite my conviction he is too one-eyed to consider any other position, cleverly constructed missives to which he must reply in person and not brush me of with a photocopy of party policy which I can easily access on my computer. I have written to media organizations complaining about a doubtful presentation of information and amid all of the bland and unsatisfactory replies have received one apology and action plan to improve which I have framed – it is worth the effort. I have written reviews and commentaries and, in large print, the talk I delivered on the History of Australian Immigration between the Wars. I have written notes to focus my learning on a MOOC about the Law of the Sea (currently studying Dangerous Questions. Why Academic Freedom Matters University of Oslo) I have written in my journals about ‘stuff’; lots of moans and groans and the occasional literary effort.

And there’s the rub! The real writing, molding words into functional, stirring stories and poems has stalled.

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