Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for September 2013

Savage Writing: The Imposters

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One day at school they asked us to write a story about aliens. They gave us sheets of paper with thick black lines to write on, next to a box where we were to draw the aliens we had invented.

Today I can’t remember what everyone else wrote, except for my rival Hannah, who made a rapping pink boy alien who travelled by skateboard and wanted to see every country in the world. I only remember because I was jealous of her cool idea, because I remember looking at her smiling alien drawing and wondering how she always drew so prettily and how she never got the ghostly running-out felt-tip pens like I did.

My aliens had bodies that looked like they’d faded in the wash. They had fingerless, suckerless tentacles that appealed both to my sense of horror and my lack of artristic talent. They had grey helmets with noseguards because we had been studying the Vikings, and each helmet was shaded by pencil instead of pen, because graphite gave it that metallic sheen on the paper. They were sinister, I thought, with their teeth-heavy cartoon mouths and flared nostrils. But I only drew them in that form on page three, the climax of the story. On page two, I drew the generic spaceship above the earth. I couldn’t be bothered to colour in all of space, so the red rocket and blue-and-green globe floated in a white sea peppered with asterisks.

One page one, I drew my mother and sister.

I called my story “The Imposters.”

I enjoyed writing it, and I liked that I needed more pages to tell the story than everyone else, even Hannah. Then I forgot about it. From that I can guess that I didn’t receive any comments on it from Mrs Patterson, because I always tried my best to get her to say nice things about my work, and I always hated when she complimented Hannah’s work and not mine. I don’t think Mrs Patterson said anything about the alien stories – she was probably eager to get us back to spelling tests or learning about World War Two. The project was done, my piece was thrown into my folder of work, and I didn’t think about it again. Until parent’s evening.

Mum came back from parent’s evening with a white face that seemed even whiter in contrast to her freckles.

‘Daisy,’ she said, ‘come here a minute.’

She sat me down on the living room floor, and put my folder of work on the coffee table. I ooh-ed and aah-ed and fished out some of the drawings I liked most – the one of the dragon flying in front of the moon, the wizard with the purple hat – but she stopped my hand, and placed in front of me “The Imposters”.

‘You wrote this for school?’ she asked.

Yes, I said.

She pointed to the drawing on the first page. A lady with brown hair and freckles, a girl with brown hair up in high bunches with Minnie Mouse hairbands. The way I drew it, the Minnie Mouse hairbands were nearly the size of the girl’s head. My sister Ivy always insisted on those hairbands, every morning when mum put up her hair.

‘Who are these two?’ she asked, voice low. I wondered if she was tired, from the way she said it.

‘The mother and sister,’ I said. I told her how the story was about aliens that took over people’s bodies, and one day the person telling the story realised her sister was acting strangely, and then when she went to ask her mother about it, the mother was also acting unusually.

‘Then she realised they were aliens,’ I finished up, ‘and they took her to space so she wouldn’t tell anyone, but she stole a spaceship and ran away.’

‘Oh,’ Mum said. ‘Does she ever find her real mother and sister?’

I hadn’t thought about that part.

‘No,’ I said firmly, knowing that the best stories were dramatic. ‘They are gone. The imposters took them away forever and she’ll never see them again.’

A sad ending seemed better, I thought. Hannah would never be brave enough to do a story with a sad ending.

‘Why did you call it, “The Imposters”?’ mum asked, her voice still low, face still white.

‘Because that’s what you call people who pretend to be someone they’re not,’ I said. ‘Don’t you know that, mum?’

She shut the folder and took it away. I ran after her, asking whether Mrs Patterson said nice things about me, but she didn’t answer. My dad came back from his walk with Ivy and then it was bathtime.

I pinched Ivy when she came out the bath later. I had been thinking about my story, and what it would be like if it were true and Ivy really was an alien.

‘Ow!’ she cried, bursting into tears.

‘Daisy, don’t pinch your sister,’ Dad said.

‘She’s not my sister,’ I said, ‘she’s an imposter. Alien, imposter sister!’

And then the strangest thing happened. Mum burst into tears as well.

I was terrified. Mums weren’t meant to cry – they only cried when pets died or when there were sad films on TV – but still she sobbed, and it was all my fault. I had hurt Ivy plenty of times before, so that couldn’t be why. Somehow I had unleashed a powerful force without realising it, like a superhero. An awful, evil superhero who could make even the biggest people cry.

‘Bedtime,’ Dad said, hustling us both away, shielding us from our crying mother with the bulk of his body.

I lay under the covers for a while, stewing in my own guilt. I felt even worse than the time I was told off for calling Hannah a bitch. It was too early for bed, I decided, and good heroines always said they were sorry when they did something wrong. So I slipped out of bed and back downstairs, sneaking up to the living room door as I heard my parents talking.

‘I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it,’ Dad said to Mum. ‘She doesn’t know.’

‘She knows,’ Mum said. ‘I’m sure she knows, somehow. Why else would she have done that? Calling us “imposters”…’

She wiped her face and dad hugged her. So that’s what it was. That word hurt her, somehow, the word “imposter”. I didn’t understand, but maybe it was like vampires and sunlight. I opened the door and they turned to look at me in surprise.

‘Daisy, get back to bed,’ Mum said, sniffing, standing up. I took a deep breath.

‘Mum, I’m sorry I made you cry, I didn’t know saying “imposter” hurt you. If it’s a bad word, then I won’t say it again.’

Mum and Dad looked at each other. Mum still seemed afraid. Dad shook his head at her in reply. He sighed and opened his arms for a hug, and I ran into him, hoping I had made everything okay again.

‘Daisy,’ he said. I heard his heart beating under my ear, faster than it normally thumped. Mum sniffed again.

‘There’s something we need to tell you.’


Written by G.J.

19/09/2013 at 11:13 am

Savage Writing: Good Morning World

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Theme for this week was “routine”. I tried to be a little more descriptive than normal. According to the group I failed in that about halfway through 😛 Oh well!


She’s never appreciated how much work it is before. Or how long it takes. Shower, shave, that’s fine, but once she’s in front of the steamed-up mirror she isn’t sure what to do. She wipes it away with the sleeve of her fuzzy lilac bathrobe, and it leaves streaks and lines of droplets over her reflection, a reflection she desperately hates.

Skincare, probably. But she’s already washed her face in the shower, right? She even used the fancy creamy stuff that refuses to lather up like she prefers. Jenna bought it especially for her for her birthday, in a cute pink bag with two other inpenetrable potions. What was the difference between shower wash and shower cream anyway? The backs of the bottles hardly told her, since they were in French. It still made her giggle to see them sitting in her shower. “Creme douche.” Douche cream. Heh.

Jenna hasn’t told her what to do about her skin except moisturise – ‘You have to moisturise, babe!’ – so she unscrews the lid and mars the virgin swirl with her hefty finger. After a few moments of rubbing it over her cheeks and chin, she feels greasier and less clean than before she showered. This’ll give me spots, not help my skin, she thinks, running the tap and washing most of it off again. I don’t get it. Am I the only person past seventeen who still has spotty skin and greasy hair? Everything in the toiletries aisle had been for dry skin and dry hair and dry fucking gash. Does every woman just dry up the second she leaves high school?

Skincare is done, she figures. Next is hair. She pads to her bedroom and takes the hairdryer off the floor, watching herself in the full length mirror as her hair flies vertically up from the blast. A dressing table, that’s what Jenna had said: ‘We need to get you a dressing table, babe. You need a place to sit and get yourself ready for the day, a place to keep all your crap.’

It sure was expensive crap, all the lotions and things Jenna had told her to buy. But Jenna had immaculate dyed-blonde hair that never put a strand out of place, and make-up that was always just on the tidy end of natural, and clothes that screamed out ot the world that she was a hot lady. And Jenna had taken her under her wing and said ‘Of course I’ll teach you what I know, babe!’

Her hair isn’t even dry yet, but she’s run out of patience. She won’t be shown how to style and straighten it until later. ‘One thing at a time, babe.’ This is taking long enough. She glances at her bedside clock and the red lights mock her. She’d only just be getting up now, normally.

Clothes. The biggest minefield. It used to be so easy: jeans and t-shirt. Jeans and shirt when fancy, shorts and t-shirt when warm. Simple. Now a whole language lies before her, a language she can’t speak with oblique complements and ditransitive verbs and subjunctive agreement. If I were to wear the above-the-knee skirt, that would be dangerous, but if I were to wear the below-the-knee skirt that would be frumpy, but if I were to wear the knee-length skirt with the bright red tights, that would be worse than the previous two. It’s like a logic puzzle, a math conundrum, where she has to figure out whether the long top looks better than the short top that is comfier by 2.56 percent. Where the error margin is nonexistant and giving the wrong answer could mean lying dead in the gutter by the end of the day. Fun.

She realises she is panicking a little. It’s 7.52 already. Images of every woman she’s ever met runs through her mind, from her mother to the Queen to Carol Vorderman. In the end, she chooses a black pencil skirt, and a navy jumper. No point going crazy on the first day.

Finally, make-up. She won’t have time to eat breakfast at this rate. She returns to the steamy bathroom and stands in front of the mirror. Now this, she’s been trained in. Maybe not since she was ten, the way Jenna has, but trained nonetheless. She squeezes the foundation onto her fingers and then to her face, painting over every scrape and scar and blemish. A tiny bit of blusher, lightly brushed onto her cheeks to make them seem sharper than they are. ‘But don’t go mad,’ Jenna said. ‘We don’t want you looking like a drag queen now, do we?’

Nervous laugh, high and rattling like a hyena in a machine-gun. She’d been so good, otherwise. It didn’t do to think badly of her for that. Who else would have accepted her confession? Who else would have gone from hugging her shoulders to jumping up and down, screaming ‘Of COURSE I’ll help!’? Who else would have sworn to keep it a secret from their family?

She falters at the eyeliner. Jenna said to use liquid but pencil seems safer. Within a few seconds of pressing the stuff against her eyelid, she can see why. A thick, too-pale mark appears two millimetres above her eyelashes, leaving a skin-coloured gap no matter how low down she thinks she’s drawing. The line wobbles through different thicknesses as it goes from corner to edge. The left eye is even worse.

Fuck eyeliner, she decides, rubbing it off again. Eyeshadow and lipstick too. I don’t want to look like I’m partying anyway. She grabs the mascara and applies it easily, only dabbing away a few black dollops with Jenna-sourced cotton buds.

Shoes. Bag. Jacket. She goes to the hallway and stands opposite the mirror, looking at herself in full.

And she looks stupid. Her hair is wet at the ends and hanging limply on her jacket. The jumper is loose across her near-flat chest, and the skirt’s hem is uneven. Her jaw is angular and her chin broad, as if she is from a cubist painting. She wishes she could file it away as easily as she did her nails last night, but that’s for the future.

‘One thing at a time,’ Jenna said. ‘New job first, then you can tell Bob and Mum and Dad. Then we think more about the doctors, and the future. You won’t look like a real – like a – you won’t look anything like me at first, of course, but as long as you’re closer to what you wanna be, babe, that’s what matters.’

Jenna was the best sister-in-law she could have asked for.

She takes in a deep breath, unhooks the images of Hollywood beauty from her mind, looks at the whole of herself again. Passable. Ugly, but still recognisably female. It only took over a hundred quid and an hour of work. And this was how it was going to be, from now on: this morning’s routine would be hers forever. She did not relish it, but if it was necessary so she looked more similar to how she felt inside, it was worth it.

Finally, the last piece of her new routine. She says her name to herself in the mirror:


Strong, yet womanly. The outcome of years of confusion, nights of soul-searching, of courage springing from the deepest terror: Andrea. Here she was, new routine, new person. Andrea.

Andrea opens the front door and steps out onto the close. She is running late.

Written by G.J.

04/09/2013 at 10:28 pm