//Flash fiction : MACHO

His voice is raised a little more, he says, “Ten more reps bro! You’re killing it!”. The instructor’s crotch is right near my head, I can almost see up his shorts.

I do the ten reps. The instructor, he says, “Bro, I think you can beast this, gimme one more set”. He’s leaning over me and his tiny gold chain with a cross on it dangles above my face.

After I’m done with the set the instructor helps me put the barbell back, his hand strokes against mine. I sit up and dab the sweat on my face with my towel. I catch people looking over in our direction, when they see me seeing them, they look away. 

“Man, you’re a machine”, he says. Yeah, a machine, but I know he really means a “Freak“. The instructors arms aren’t as big as mine but he has better definition on his forearms, he has beautiful ravines between his muscles. When I stand up the instructor is a whole head shorter than me.

“Chicks must be throwing themselves at you”, he says, looking up at me. Yeah they throw themselves at me. Truth is, most women when they get up close, they’re a little intimidated by my size. Most women, they’re attracted to the idea of me. In the animal kingdom most females are attracted to the strongest males, it’s about survival, nothing more.

I tell him I think I’m done for today, that I’m gonna head for the showers. He says, “Yeah of course bro…”, he looks around to make sure everyone is watching us. Which they are, which they always do. I’m the guy that everyone wants to be, big, broad and bulging.

“…see you next week bro”, he grabs my hand and pulls me in for a slap on the back, like we actually are bros except he can’t reach his arm all the way round me so he just slaps my shoulder a few times, he presses his body against mine making my shirt stick to my sweaty body.     

Whilst I’m walking away he shoots me with his finger and makes a clicking sound, I don’t get it. Is it supposed to mean something?

I shower and get changed.

I’m walking across the car park carrying my gym bag when a trio of housewives, cougars in yoga pants pass me.

“Hiiiii…”, they all sing in unison, waving, carrying their mats under their other arm, puffing out their chests and doing that thing they do; meticulously placing one foot in front of the other so their butts swing from side to side like some kind of mating ritual designed to get my attention.

In the animal kingdom it’s mostly males who do most of the pageantry to attract a mate. I saw a documentary about birds in the rainforest, them jumping around and flashing their feathers, saying look at me, look at me.

I nod and curl my lips, forcing a smile.

I get to my pick-up and chuck the bag on the passenger seat. 

My body aches. I just sit there soaking in the soreness. I can see the instructor through the window of the gym. He’s helping to stretch out one of the cougars, pressing his body against hers. The others just stand around watching, waiting for their turn.

It trickles down my cheek, over my lip and I taste the salt. I start taking short, rapid breaths, the salty water and snot starts pouring out of my face. Why am I so weak?

I start wailing, like really moaning. I’m happy I paid the extra for the tinted windows. I wipe my arm under my nose and there’s a long shiny snail trail from my wrist to my elbow. Seeing it glisten I think to myself; I need to work on my forearms. I’m gritting my teeth so much I’m afraid I might break them.

I don’t know after how long but I start to calm down. I reach for the box of tissues in the glove box and dry my eyes. I take a look in the rear-view and my eyes are all red and puffy. The instructor is standing in some Yoga pose and the cougars are copying him as best they can.

“I love you”, I say softly.

On the way home I buy a box of donuts, glazed ones, the ones with all the coloured sprinkles on top. It’s ok, I’ll work it off tomorrow at the gym I tell myself.

//Flash fiction : DELIRIUM

[The following piece is a an idea I would like to develop into a short story]

Malcolm blames himself for the accident, I can tell. When you’ve been with someone this long you pick up on these things. It’s like I can read his mind. 

We’ve been married for almost seven years,and we were together six more before that. Our seven year anniversary will be this September. Your wedding day is one of those big events in your life you’ll always remember, like giving birth or your mother’s funeral. 

Then why is it that the little girl that’s sitting outside waiting in the taxi, the one everyone says is my daughter, how come I don’t remember her?

The doctors said it was common after a head injury, especially ones that result in a prolonged coma. Most likely there’ll be some memory loss they said. But give it sometime, those memories should hopefully come back. But what if those memories weren’t there in the first place? 

I’ve gone over the events leading up to the accident again and again, reliving it and I just don’t remember a creepy little girl being in our lives. 

I remember packing up the tent and putting it onto the back seat with the two sleeping bags, I remember having to show Malcolm how to attach both of our bikes to the roof rack again, he forgets everything, which is ironic really, considering my present circumstances. 

I remember Malcolm driving and being upset about something I’d said. I remember him taking his eyes off the road for just a second. I can remember right up until I saw  something in the corner of my eye in the headlights, maybe it was a deer, and then I’m screaming and reaching for the steering wheel. 

The next thing I know I’m waking out of a coma and every time Malcolm comes to visit there’s a little girl who I don’t know and then later, when I’m feeling a little better the doctors and the nurses are telling me how sweet my little girl is, the strange little girl dressed in adorable dresses who comes everyday to visit her Mommy. I didn’t buy it, something wasn’t right. 

I wanted to go home, I didn’t want to stay another night in the hospital. So I tell my husband I’m feeling better. I tell the Doctor that it’s all starting to come back to me. Hannah, yeah, my daughter, I’m starting to remember things now I say. But it’s not true, not really. 

The taxi driver helps Malcolm lift me out of the wheelchair and into the back seat, my legs are still a little weak. 

The girl sits next to me and just looks at me the whole time. What a weird kid, or whatever it is.

Craning his neck round the front passenger seat to look back at me,at us, Malcolm says “Hey Hannah, tell Mommy how excited you are to have her coming home”.

She doesn’t say a word, she just looks up at me with those inhuman eyes of hers. 

Hannah. I don’t like it, it’s not a name I think I would have picked for my child.

She doesn’t say a word to me the whole way home. 

The taxi driver offers to help bring me inside but Malcolm politely says, “Thanks, I’ve got it from here “. 

Honestly, I’m starting to feel sad about how guilty he feels about all of this. 

Malcolm gently drops me onto the sofa, the way his arms started shaking I thought he was going to drop me in the hallway. Can someone gain weight whilst being in a coma? 

There’s a handful of cheap party balloons pinned to the wall and a shiny, silver welcome home banner, hanging across the TV.

He fusses over me, which is quite nice. 

He gets me a pillow from the bedroom and the blanket. He cooks me dinner and helps sit me up so I can eat it, asking if I’m OK, if there’s anything I need or anything I want. I tell him no, I’m fine, that’s its just nice to be home. 

Then I catch “Hanna” staring at me.

I just want her to get out of my house. I don’t know who or what this imposter is but I need to keep up the charade, mother and daughter, yeah, sure, why not. Other wise they’ll lock me up and medicate me again. This kid’s got everyone fooled. I need to play the slow game with this sneaky one. 

//Flash fiction : WILD THING

That boy was a wild thing, that’s what they tell their guests who ask how they’re doing. The mauled remains of dessert still on some of their plates.
They say they’ve started him on a new course of treatment and it seems to be working.

They say the boy must have been doing drugs or that he was watching too much TV, the shows nowadays have so much violence in them, they say it was the music he was listening to, it just encourages violent behaviour you know, that’s what they say.

They take a sip of wine.
They compliment each other on how well they’ve handled the boy, yes, yes and others agree.
Yes they say, it does take its toll.
They just wanted their baby boy back, they say, dabbing dry eyes with an unused napkin.
They wanted him to be the little angel he was before all of the trouble began, before the boy started screaming at his poor, parents when they searched his room for drugs because they heard there was a crisis. That the Hendersons had found a tiny bag that looked like herbs in the back of their daughters underwear drawer and that their boy had been spending too much time with that one.

Yes they say, it’s been a difficult time.
Swallowing a mouthful of wine, they don’t understand why he turned to drugs, where he got them or where he hid them for that matter. They take another shot of wine and they just don’t understand why someone would do such a thing they say.
One of their guests announces, through their pineapple flavoured vapor, that they blame the schools.
An agreeing chorus of nods from everyone sat around the table. Yes, the schools are too Liberal these days, they teach their children ridiculous things.
Things that back when they were kids you would be beaten for, but for Christ sake you can’t even do that. There’s just no discipline in schools nowadays, that’s the problem, and you can’t hit your child any more because it’s “abuse” they say, making bunny ears.

They say when they were younger their parents used to hit them and they all turned out fine, right?
Another chorus of nods.

There aren’t any side effects? someone at the other end of the table asks.
No they say, not really.
He cries a lot but they aren’t really tears, no he doesn’t really get sad anymore,they say, he’s always smiling.

His behaviour has changed, that’s the important thing, now he listens to what they tell him to do. Sure he spends a lot of time in his room but this is the real world, they say, he needs to get used to it.
Maybe he’s lost a little freedom they say, but he’ll be thanking them in the future when he’s a respected, well behaved member of society.

He never learnt how to fit in, that was his problem they say, he always wanted attention.
Their hand quacking, they say he was always me, me, me.

They gave him everything, he never wanted for nothing, they say. Money doesn’t grow on trees, you need to work to put food on the table, he never understood that, he was lost in his own little fantasy world, all he ever did was twirl and prance around the house.
No, they wouldn’t pay for him to study dance, what type of man does that? No, their little boy was going to be a real man, like his father.

//Consider this an introduction…

Image result for consider this book cover

Yesterday I read all of Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Consider This: Moments in my writing life after which everything was different”, in less than six hours.

 I think that was a new personal best.

 I’d ordered it online and had been waiting over two weeks for it to arrive. I was eager to get my hands on a new Palahniuk book.

Honestly, I hadn’t read anything of his for a long time, the last book of his I had bought was a collection of short stories; ‘Make Something Up: Stories you can’t unread‘ and that had been a few years ago .

Most of his books I’d previously read had only taken me on average a few days to finish. 

I remember in high school I read ‘Choke‘ in two days, that was my previous personal best.

I’d always been fond of most of his writings. ‘Pygmy‘ and a few of his shorts in ‘Make Something Up‘ being the exceptions, but only because at the time they were a little too experimental for my tastes. His style, for the most part anyway, had been easy to read and so absorbing of my attention.

If it had been any other writer I’d probably have skimmed ahead to see how long the chapter or short story was and if I had deemed it too long I’d have tapped out.

I have a short attention span.

I bought ‘Consider This‘ because I had decided to teach myself how to write short stories, I had consumed all of Chuck’s craft essays on ‘Lit reactor‘ and was ecstatic to find out he was finally bringing out a book on writing. I was entirely aware that I wouldn’t magically become an amazing writer just from reading his book, I don’t think any book has that power, but I knew his book would have some incredible insights, and it did not disappoint.

I especially found the section on Authority very useful. My present concern for my own writing at this stage is how to make my stories believable and have the characters appear authentic. Now this sounds a little contradictory as Fiction is essentially a fabrication, it isn’t real , it never happened.

By believability and authenticity I mean to be able to make the reader surrender their disbelief and just be consumed by the story that no matter what you write, whether it’s a story about aliens, or ghosts or monsters, they will be compelled to keep reading it.

I’ve written a list of writing commandments from Chuck’s advice, I’ve named them ‘Tenets of Minimalist writing’. I’m not going to tell you what they are because they are for me, not you. Also, go buy his book and write a list of your own commandments.

Anyway, I’ve stuck mine on the wall above my desk next to a piece of Ray Bradbury’s advice; “Don’t Think”. He was referring to what Chuck said Tom Spanbauer describes as “shitting out the lump of coal”, the struggle to write out that raw first draft.

I’m trying not to think Ray, really, I am.

But I can’t.

So for now I’ll just think out loud.