My excellent medical physicist friend Mandy Price came across Fun Palaces (a celebration of science and art run by Co-Directors Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings with the ethos: Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist) and got in touch with me to see if I fancied collaborating on a very short piece of fiction for their #WriteScience competition. I did! We chatted about her job (she helps maintain the right balance between image quality and radiation dose for examinations using ionising radiation) and x-rays in general, threw around some ideas and came up with the short story we’ve got here – which the lovely judges chose as one of their favourites.
This weekend, you’ll find Fun Palaces all over the country with all kind of exciting events for people of all ages. Mandy will be doing cool x-ray things at Brockwell Lido in Tooting, I’ll be sharing some stories in Leith and there are hundreds more to choose from – find a Fun Palace near you.
Because Mandy is a clever one, she also made some snazzy postcards with her own x-ray art on the front. We’ll be handing these out but you can also see a wee copy below or listen to me reading it online!
Some weeks, the world seems to be conspiring against you. And when one of those weeks rolls around, I often find myself repeating the title of a book by one of my favourite authors like a mantra: When Will There be Good News? When? WHEN?
Then I have to remind myself that, really, I already have my share of good news. True, I could have done without cutting my finger on the recycling cans, chipping my tooth on Friday night’s dinner, losing my hat at the museum, getting a reminder for a smear test, receiving some disappointing writing news and finding out about hassley flat stuff all within the space of a few days. But overall, I am a lucky duck.
I get to spend lots of time making up stories and earn my living by putting some words beside some other words, I know some very lovely people and I have tested all of the cafes in a two mile radius and rated them for coffee and treat excellence (in my head, anyway). Last week even had a few highlights of its own, including mother’s day fun, gossip with a pal and a flash fiction of mine in The List, thanks to lovely literary editor Kirsty Logan.
That’s enough to be going on for now and fingers crossed this week is going to be just a touch luckier when it comes to minor injuries and annoyances!
The wee group of nurses comes in every Thursday night. They’re all pretty girls, but he’s taken a shine to the redhead. Twenty years ago he would have told her so, now he just watches. Plenty punters do crack on, they get a bit of banter and some lovely smiles but that’s it.
The nurses laugh a lot, which Paul likes, and that time one of his boys slit a finger open on the lime knife, Paul’s redhead bandaged it up for him beautifully.
For them, Paul has started adding a case of those teeny tonic bottles to his beer order. Not that they drink so many G&Ts, no Friday hangovers allowed.
This Thursday, there’s a new nurse.
‘You work in the hospital as well, love?’ Paul said.
‘You like the nursing then?’
‘The rest of the girls there, seem to live for it.’
‘They told you they were nurses?’ she said, jerking her head towards Paul’s favourite table with her lips twisted up. ‘That’s a medical physicist, two nuclear medicine consultants and a radiology specialist.’
Paul looks at her, then back to his wee group. They’re chatting and laughing just the same way they always do.
This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.
August has always been one of my favourite months. I live in Edinburgh, how could it not be? Although, to be truthful, there have been plenty of times I’ve lost patience with the crowds, especially as I’ve had plenty of badly paid jobs in the centre of town over the years. Still, that’s just natural (for Lynsey’s) grouchiness and it’s normally banished with the help of some excellent comedy shows, talks and performances.
This year is looking to be even more exciting than most for me, as not only will I have a nice week off to run around seeing things, but I’ll also be doing a few readings myself.
First of all, on the 11th, I’ll be taking part in the Inky Fingers Minifest, with a lunchtime reading. I will do my best not to put anyone off their nachos, burritos and other tasty Forest fare.
I’m on in the Forest Café at 12.30, and looking forward to kicking off my holiday in style with a half hour slot.
Then, on the 14th I get to take part of the Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Having spent a couple of years helping out on the box office in the past, I am super excited about this.
Story shoppers are on every day at 4pm sharp, and we get to enjoy 15minutes of fame in the Spiegeltent at Charlotte’s Square.
Just to add to my excitement, both Inky Fingers and the City of Literature Salon (which I’ve been to a couple of times recently) have been featured as top literary picks by the Guardian. Ah Edinburgh, I do love you so!
For the last week or so I’ve been having trouble remembering what day it is. This is a sure sign I’ve been too busy, but as much as I’d like to step back and get my bearings again, there just isn’t any time for it right now.
I took on a bunch of freelance work in preparation for the long hoped for day when I cut my work hours. Unfortunately this will have a drastic impact on my salary do I’ve been trying to save/stockpile money. I’d be doing better at this if I didn’t keep getting lured in into bookshops… I’m also spending a bit of cash attending various readings and writing events, but I consider all of that money well spent.
Tonight Ink and I are nipping through to Glasgow for a natter with writery and comicy types (fun times) and tomorrow I’m off to Oxford to give a day of copy training on Friday (nerve wracking times).
Then next week I’m going to head off to Manchester for a night to take part in the Flash Mob Literary Salon where I’m planning to read my shortlisted story and meet lots of lovely writers.
After that, I’m planning to sleep for a few days then get back to my early morning writing regime. I decided to take a break from it this week and just get up at the normal time to try and avoid sleep deprivation, but it’s making me feel super nervous already. If anyone has plans to invent some kind of magic machine that will squeeze more hours into the day, please do tell.
When you are upset the skin beneath your eyes darkens. You move more slowly and sometimes cease to move at all, even though I know that inside you are racing. When you are upset your face is stiff and when you smile – and you do because you love me still – the line between your mouth and your cheek makes a crease that fades a few moments later. When you are upset you look older and also ageless. When you are upset it is too often my fault.
And when that expression, that nothing, appears on your face I am reminded of the danger. Each time it surfaces I have to add it to the last time I saw it, then the total to the time before that. When you are upset I can feel it everywhere, whether you remain in the house with me or not, and I know that each of the mistakes I make is something real, something tangible.
Each mistake is a stone that you pluck from your insides even as another grows inside of me. It is warmed from your palms when you cast it into a thick glass jar – it clicks off the other stones with a sound like shattered teeth. And each time I see your eyes stop and turn glossy I know you’re ready to drop another in.
I am waiting dreadfully until the jar fills and live in fear of fostering one so heavy that it smashes the entire jar. I don’t want the jagged fragments and smoothed stones to tell the story of the relationship we tried to have. I don’t want someone else to see you when you are upset.
Sometimes it seems as though my life holds no greater pleasure than listening to someone basterdize one of your songs.
Those darling awkward children of yours that needed far more coaxing than any of the slappers who’d slink in and out of whatever bed you were inhabiting at the time. How nice of those girls to try and take your mind off whatever private torment it was that was responsible for the brooding look of yours. The one you would have trademarked if you could have.
The one I’d sometimes catch you refining in reflective surfaces – any old one would do, didn’t matter if it was a picture frame holding a masterpiece, it would be your own face shining on the glass that would captivate you. You were probably secretly ecstatic about the advent of CDs despite your posturing to the contrary – just another shining repository for your limited yet much lauded talents.
You’ll never have any idea how much I personally enjoy the mangled chords of your babies and sickly voiced renderings of the lyrics I used to find scribbled and strewn around the house in fragments like poor bleating sheep separated from the flock. People used to joke that I’d have heard a sneak preview every time you went for a morning shower – but they really should have known that you are far too serious an artist to have been capable of cheapening the lyrical process in such a way. You believed that your songs were not the fodder for morning ablutions. You believed they were transcendental.
Nothing is quite like the thrill I get when I imagine the concerted rictus of your smile when the latest brain dead starlet reaches to the bottom of that construct she thinks is a soul and belts out one of your best with such carefully wrought sincerity.
I’ve bought all of the singles you know. The ultra thin jewel cases are hidden in a small stack that slides and threatens to tip every time I open the drawer. Was this the kind of iconicity you dreamed of? Careful what you wish for mister, selling your soul turns out to be far less glamorous than you might have thought.
And I used to be convinced that the most I could hope for was that you would blur into obscurity and that I’d only have to deal with reminders every now and then rather than what seemed like every minute of every fucking day. I longed for the time when I could fume and mourn over something the way the women around me were able to. Never did I think that the Christmas bargain bin would yield such delights for me.
I couldn’t have planned a sweeter revenge, no I never could have achieved one, because how could I ever compete with, or affect, the only thing that could get close to your heart? No, I had to let the world do it for me. I had to let the march of time drown your genius in the same way it engulfed the young girl you once swore you’d die for. The girl survived though, even though you couldn’t see her any more, or didn’t bother looking for. I find her again whenever your songs come on the radio and I begin to dance and laugh as my heart soars with childish glee. I like to sing along and when I do I wonder if you can’t help yourself from doing the same.
She waits for him eagerly. Stamping her feet and flexing her cold-cramped hands. Always a Friday afternoon, always around this time. He happy that it’s almost the weekend, she happy to sell another copy, despite the shame.
Their eyes meet and spark everytime but she knows it’s hopeless. This Friday though . . . She’d never of thought of herself as a poet but, like magic, the words had spilled out of her and onto a crumpled flyer.
She’d copied it out nice at the shelter and sent it off and now there was – a message for him in amongst all the miserable messages. A Thank you that’s almost an invitation. Her name in print. Then he appears, a head above everyone else, a smile already tugging at his mouth.
“Alright?’ He asks.
“Not bad ta.”
“It’s bitter cold.” He says handing over a shiny pound coin.
“Tell me about it.” She gives it to him.
“You take care now.” He’s walking away and she watches him go. Abandons her post even though she’s only sold two issues, so that she can watch him round the corner too.
If only she could see his face when he reads it, the words might change everything. Words she couldn’t say out loud but were good enough to print. Her fingers tingle as she stands amongst the disapproving shoppers and watches him stride briskly away, pausing only to chuck the cheap magazine into a waiting bin