This is our third microfiction challenge.
– Write a 300-word story
– Write a comedy on the theme of secrets, or just write any darned story you’d like
– Post it on your own LinkedIn feed on Thursday, 9am BST
– Use the #microfiction hashtag and tag Simon Marshall into the post if you like
Lent on the railings on the promenade. Looking out to sea with the growing warmth of the early sun lighting my face from the east.
The cloudbank of daybreak was ebbing away and dispersing with each passing moment. The secrets of the night being unveiled as the dawn haze retreats. Night’s invisible and often solitary denizens slipped from sight, the overt brightness of the day illuminating the evidence of their presence.
Notebook and pen in hand. Because I’d seen him. Seen what he was doing and had to stop.
I had to write. How could I not?
Seeing him has given me pause for thought. More than that in fact. He’d given me pause to feel. And to feel deeply.
He was alone, as much as any of us are. Physically separate, disregarded, passed by, overlooked by those, like him, going about their day-to-day.
But I’d stopped. How could I not?
Stopped and observed and broken down. Laid bare in the moment. How could he know that by his actions, I was nearly in tears.
In that moment of fragility, I felt it all. The vastness of the sea stretching beyond my comprehension, too far for me to see, to understand the scope of something so familiar and unassuming. Then reel that back in, the vastness of the sea but then me. A speck, a mote, a minute trace of humanity within the wealth of the world, the universe.
How could this man, on this morning, transform me to this near ethereal consciousness before all too quickly slamming me hard back into the ground. My heart and body too tangible now whilst my mind still resides in peace in that near-divine momentary bliss.
I cannot say and you should not ask, how this all came to pass.
Keeping a secret
A secret is a secret because you don’t tell anyone else what it is – right?
Often, a secret is underpinned by a threat. My threat was real enough that’s for sure.
I’d left the evidence in clear sight, so ‘She who must be obeyed’ would see it. Just how she’ll react? God knows.
Anyway, before I I discovered whether the threat was real, I decided to scarper and head into town, fortunately the Gardner appeared to plug in the mower allowing my escape.
Called at Rusty’s place on the way to see if he was up for an adventure, but apparently not. Regardless, continued strolling into town, taking in the sounds, smells and all of it.
Noisy, smells of beer, food, urine and vomit assailed my nostrils.
But I was hungry, so went on the prowl for food. What to have? Curry, Chinese, Kebab, Pizza? Decided to follow my nose to direct me to the best place, which turned out to be the Kebab place on the high street.
I feasted out there and, reluctantly, decided it was time to go home and face the music related to my secret. So, that’s what I did.
She was back. Door ajar. Neighbours gathered. About to report me missing. Then I showed up.
Well. Amazed by the response and warm welcome, surely not deserved? I kept silent.
Then everyone disappeared. Now then. Holding my breath, waiting for my impending punishment.
Just me and her behind closed doors…
But no. “I’m sorry babes, I left you for too long on your own”.
Thank goodness for that. I didn’t mean to poop on the kitchen floor, but needs must and all that.
After all, I’m just a dog.
“It is fennel?”
“Is it cardamom?”
“Is it caraway?”
“It is not caraway seeds, no.”
“I don’t bloody know then,” Barry sulked.
Why did they always have to do this, he wondered. Why not just sit at the table and eat a meal and look at their phones like normal families? But no, just because his mum had had some god-awful childhood, she took her trauma out on Barry and Jess through these tedious parlour games.
“Is it Nigella seeds?”
“Haha! Nope. I won’t have that woman ruin my pie”
“They’re not named after Nigella, you know.”
“They are in this house. I can’t stand that woman. Why can’t she just cook like Delia does? Why is it all like some sexy phone line thing?”
Barry didn’t want to hear this. He didn’t want to know what a sexy phone line was. This never happened at Terry’s house. He started humming Dancing Queen to himself. He glanced to his left and saw Mum’s grin widen even further. Jess’s eyes crinkled as she mouthed the word “sexy”, and even grumpy old Dad chuckled and shook his head a little.
Was this really his family? He never seemed to get the joke. He had blonde hair, they were all mousy brown. He had blue eyes, yet theirs were dark chestnut. He liked Pop and ABBA, they liked indie and The Killers. They laughed, whilst he agonised.
Sometimes he wondered was he even…
“I know it,” Barry exploded “I know what your dirty little secret is.”
Their smiles fled and Mum gave Dad a furtive glance that told Barry he’d correctly worked it all out.
“There is no bloody extra spice in this pie!” he shouted.
“Haha! Brilliant,” said Mum, her eyes darting to Dad one last time.
End of the line
‘You can’t, I’m afraid. He passed away some years ago.’
The words were soft, spoken quietly, but they hit me like a train. Irresistible, inescapable, battering my ears and echoing around my head.
I mumble something, can’t remember what, then stand blinking and silent in the cold, urine-scented phone box. The voice speaks again but I miss it this time. Returning to the moment, with some difficulty, I force out the words,
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said.’
She spoke again,
‘Are you alright, son? Can I help you with anything?’
‘No. It’s too late now. I was trying to find my dad. I’ve been looking for him. I wanted to ask him something.’
‘Oh, dear!’ Now it was her turn for the long pause. Then she broke the silence. ‘Do you need a hand? Is there something I can do?’
‘No. Thanks. You’re fine. I’m all done.’
I hang up the receiver and lean my head against the payphone. Rain dribbles down the glass panels and the wind blows a couple of stray, brown leaves around my shoes. A secret revealed had brought me to this place, but it turned out to be a dead-end.
I shiver in the cold, then straighten up, take the returned coins from the change drawer, and put them back in my pocket.
And then comes yet another pause. My hand is against the door but it’s not certain that I am ready to leave my pissy cocoon and re-enter the world. The November weather isn’t encouraging and there’s nothing for me here, in this empty, dark town.
Finally, the spell breaks.
I push against the stiff door and take a hesitant step out into the murky glow of the little town square and an unknowable future.