Sunday, 15 January 2012

Portfolio Pieces

It’s the thought that crisis bites. 

They sat, as it was customary to do, around an enormous table. The table stretched from one side of the Grand Hall to the other, with two sitting at each end and dozens sitting along each side. It was laden high with Builder’s Tea and Instant Coffee, Tesco’s Bourbons and Costcutter’s Custard Creams, buckling under the weight of all the complimentary refreshments. The water cooler hummed pleasantly to itself in the corner, seemingly unaware of the grandeur of the event that was taking place that evening.

Very soon the guests would be taking part in an Incredibly Important Political Debate, one of universal significance and validity, and they had travelled from across the globe in order to attend. Chinese Panda sat contentedly at the table between Bolivian Boa Constrictor and Kyrgyz Mole, all of whom were discussing the current joviality in the Middle East. Down the other end of the table, clustered in Alpine solidarity, sat Italian Bat, French Deer and Swiss Marmot. They were similarly discussing the development of cheeriness between Israel and Palestine, between Iraq and Iran. Only one of the representatives from the Middle East had been invited to attend that evening, and keeping it a secret from the rest of them had proved extremely difficult. Saudi Arabian Pelican, in the middle of it all as usual, had been bribed somewhat into silence, and his presence was proving a little awkward. Chitter chatter rippled across the table, everyone in anticipation of the arrival of their prestigious host.

After what seemed like quite a long wait, God finally appeared.

“Welcome, everyone, thank you for your attendance. I hope the representatives that are the focus of our discussion are not here tonight, and have no awareness of our intention to meet?”

Everyone cast a sideways glance at Saudi Arabian Pelican, who grinned inanely and nodded in confirmation of their ignorance.

“Fine,” said God, unenthusiastically. He hovered cross-legged in the middle of the table, and absent-mindedly picked up a custard cream. Taking this as a cue, everyone else tucked in, ravenous after having stared at the refreshments for such a long time. The tea was lukewarm and the biscuits had gone soft, but nobody seemed to mind.

“Let us begin. If I understand correctly, American Bison, you have called this meeting in order to rectify the recent peace that has occurred in the Middle East?”

“Correct. Due to the new-found understanding between Israel and Palestine, Israel has decided to end the Free Trade Agreement with us. We were receiving $20 billion worth of import from Israel each year! Do you understand the impact this has on the American economy?” American Bison had risen from his seat, blowing steam from his nostrils as he grunted his case to the table. “It is now more economically viable to seek import from the European Union. It is entirely unacceptable.” With that he sat down and furiously inhaled a large mug of coffee.

Belgian Swan, who represented the European Union, rose from her seat to retort. “You will find, American Bison, that those of us who implicitly chose to trade fairly with Israel continue to do so. Throughout the peace agreement the EU has managed to retain all of our trading agreements. Suffice to say that your behaviour towards Middle Eastern countries of late has been abysmal at best and undoubtedly vicious.” Her wings flapped wildly and knocked over the mugs of several unsuspecting countries in her path.

English Badger stood up to speak, but in fear of insulting either Belgian Swan or American Bison, he swiftly sat down again and gazed longingly into his empty cup of tea. He desperately needed another, but after the initial rush nothing but crumbs and dregs remained. Although everyone continued to listen to Belgian Swan politely, who was still berating American Bison for his uncivil behaviour, some countries’ focus had started to wander. Indian Tiger was seeing Spanish Boar in a new and delicious light.

After hissing out her final grievances, Belgian Swan returned to her seat and Singaporean Bullfrog attempted to command the attention of the room. Unfortunately, Canadian Racoon appeared to be less interested in what he had to say on Middle Eastern politics and more interested in what his fat, amphibian hind legs might taste like. In his excitement Singaporean Bullfrog hopped wildly across the table, occasionally pausing to gesticulate, without concentrating on where he was going. With a final poignant remark, he hopped backwards unsuspectingly into the open jaws of Mexican Coyote.

For a mere moment, all was silence.

Then for quite a long time, all was pandemonium.

Nonchalantly picking the crumbs out of his beard, God sighed. He stood up, picked his way through the chaos and, with a sense of deja-vu, hit the flood button.

This is the first piece for my portfolio. The task was to write a surreal story and I got myself in a right tizz over it. The "furiously inhaled" bit is crossed out because my tutor didn't like it, but I can't think of what else to put there! Suggestions gratefully received.

It had to get better

She sat, blurred and grinning, in a gutter. The drain beside her gurgled pleasantly. Home was here now. The house she had grown up in was miles away and mostly forgotten. If she concentrated, she could remember the low ceilings, the swirls in the coving sloppily done. The carpet in the hall was heavily patterned, to hide the dirt. She could feel the grit and hair under foot, as though she was there now. With eyes tight shut, she clenched her toes in the moonlight. It was not recommended to go barefoot at number 34, or Dirty Floor as the girls at school called it. The hallway. She could remember the hallway. The huge door, too big for the house and aspiring to grandeur, dominated the long hall which seemed to narrow towards it. Pictures sat on walls, copies of paintings in cheap frames, sneering down disapprovingly on the surroundings. The light by the door had never worked. She had shuffled through the darkness to escape.

The stairs loomed ahead as she found herself taking a stroll through her memories. In the middle of the hall, the staircase, with its deep, uneven steps, stretched out endlessly. The varnish had all but gone from the wooden bannister, worn away by years of fingers and neglect. She reached out and felt the rough familiarity of the post. Her father had said it was a newel.

"Newel." The word billowed out into the night. She opened her eyes in surprise and the house drifted away. The darkness continued to cascade around her. Closing her eyes, she told herself the spinning would stop. It did, and she was in her father's study, to the left of the stairs. Books were stacked row upon row, reaching up past the chipped picture rail to the ceiling. The old dining table, abused and dilapidated, sat ignored against the far wall. Cracks ran across the wooden top and the legs were crippled with rot. In the opposite corner was a space, between the book shelves and behind the door, that was just big enough for her to squeeze into. It was here - she had never forgotten that - she would sit as her parents screamed fire and brimstone at each other. She would wait for her father to return, beaten down by her mother and her obsessions, to take her hand and tell her everything would get better. She would be a famous jazz singer, and they would all live happily in the city together. It had to get better.

The kitchen beckoned, calling to her from the back of the house. Her mother's domain, from where she ruled over the household; the tyrant, the hoarder. As the kitchen materialised in front of her, she tried to forget the festering cups where old tea dregs bore fruit. She tried to forget the piles of boxes that would, allegedly, someday be of use. She tried to forget vase upon vase of dead flowers, the glass opaque with stagnant water. Her mother could never throw flowers away. “Always remember the dead,” she demanded, “You cannot let go of the memories.” Nothing got better. She sighed, opened her eyes, and watched the house melt away again. It hadn't felt like home since her father had signed up. From her current spot between a drain and a puddle she gazed into the dusty midnight sky. It was always cloudy in London, as though the inhabitants shone too brightly for the threatened stars to look upon. The city was shrouded in jealousy, and she was to be envied indeed.

Maybe it was the smog that made her head spin; it was in her lungs, it penetrated her soul and smothered her mind. It was invasive, just like her city. Every inch of her was filled with London, from the smut of the East, through the ever-illuminated West to the South, where your accent was welcome and your pint half-full, to the woozy and hypnotic heights of the North. Running her hands through her newly bobbed hair she surveyed the street. Music poured out of the open door of the Coconut Grove as a couple of bright young things started making their way home, heads thrown back in laughter, fur coats skipping over the pavement. She had been in the nightclub herself not too long ago, dancing wildly. When the room had started whirling around her, rather than her around it, she had decided to get some fresh air.

She stood up and swayed momentarily in the darkness. One foot determinedly dragged itself in front of the other. Her forehead creased in concentration. The pavement ebbed and flowed before her, but she focused on her destination and staggered resolutely down the street. Somewhere in the unrecognisable distance, someone was playing a saxophone. The melody leaked out of a window and into her head, mixing with the noises of late night London. “JAZZ!” her mother squealed in her ears, “Not my daughter.” She slipped sideways, her face suddenly against brick. The voice reverberated around her brain. There was a pause. Everything went black, everything was silent. She could see the silhouette of her mother, hysterical and enraged. It wasn't so scary anymore. Smiling to herself, she opened her eyes and pushed herself off of the wall.

Walking seemed to get a lot easier. As she turned the corner onto Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill suddenly stood proudly in front of her. Her hands were shovelled into the warm pockets of her winter coat, and her nose turned pink from the brisk midnight air as she slowly made her way towards the summit. The sky was unusually clear at the top. She gazed towards the heavens. Orion’s Belt was visible, “Which for North London”, she thought to herself, “is nothing short of a miracle.”
Her father grabbed her hand, “Hold that thought. I want to show you something. Look, you can see all the way across London.”
“I know. It’s beautiful.” He pulled her close to him, and pointed out across the very early morning skyline. “You can even see St Paul’s.” They stood for a moment or two, looking over their city. She could smell him, a mixture of pipe tobacco and old leather gloves.
“I miss you.” She whispered, still staring out over the horizon.
“I know. Life is hard. Some people are fortunate, and some people are less so. You, my dear,” he squeezed her shoulders, “are one of the lucky ones. Never forget that.” She turned round and looked at the empty hilltop. The trees were inextricably intertwined, their limbs knotted: a branch here, a bough there, a stem binding them together. They danced easily in the breeze. The ground was still now. She knew that the morning would arrive with a headache, but for now, right now, everything was perfect.

This is the second piece. The task was to write a story that involved a location where the person was sad and a location where they were happy. The last 200 odd words are mostly stolen from other things I have written. Cheeky! Let me know what you think of both of them...all advice appreciated!

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