Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for September 2015

Savage Writing: A Little Stuck

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This week’s task was “Tales of the Unexplained.”


I’m a bit stuck at the moment. It happens. I tend to get stuck in a little loop, and it’s the more I worry about it, the more stuck I am and the harder it is to break free. It always starts when my eyes get itchy. They get itchy, then I twitch, and then suddenly I’m back where I was ten minutes, an hour, a day ago. I repeat, and I repeat, until I get to the end and – if I’m bored or relaxed enough – I just sort of slide out and blink and carry on like nothing happened.

I can’t change anything. I just have to sit back and watch through my eyes like they’re a movie screen, hearing myself talk (invariably I’m saying stupid things) and watching myself act (I’m so much clumsier than I give myself credit for). It’s a little frustrating. I don’t tend to get stuck in a loop longer than a day, thank God, because those are the really boring frustrating ones. Why didn’t I get up five minutes earlier so I didn’t miss the bus? Why did I buy that salad for lunch and not realise that it had ginger garlic dressing on it? Why didn’t I bring my umbrella today of all fucking days? It doesn’t matter; I can’t improve anything. And so much is dull. No, tell me again, Dan, how your weekend was. It was so interesting the first time. Spreadsheets are even more fascinating when you can’t even type things into them.

I’ve never been able to explain it, and no-one’s ever believed me when I try to tell them, so I keep it quiet. I’m more used to it than I was as a kid – and it was more useful then, I was able to study twice as hard by taking in all my homework and textbooks twice over, and you get more perspective on your humiliations the second time you endure them. Anyway, I’ve learnt now that when I feel my eyes itching I should just relax and sit back into it, and soon I’ll slide ride out the loop again and keep going.

I’ve learnt that. But I’m stuck now, at the moment. What happens is my eyes start itching when I exit the hospital doors, and then I’m suddenly by the parking meter again, and I have to watch myself fumble and drop my 20ps, and laugh too loudly when I tell Jenny a bad joke on the way back to the car. So far, so normal: I’m used to my clutziness, my bad jokes (it’s quite satisfying, no-one being able to hear you laugh loudly at your own puns).

We walk into the hospital. We sit and watch TV. This is where I get frustrated. I keep telling myself to turn and look at her, see her, take her in. Instead I talk to my side while keeping my eyes on the tiny screen in the waiting room showing some dreadful daytime chat show. I didn’t know anyone on it the first time I saw it. Now I know the guests’ and presenters’ names and lines off by heart. And I scream at myself to turn my head just a few inches and look at Jenny.

The nurse calls us in. I look at her arse as she walks in front of us. I cringe each time I have to repeat that glance.

We talk to the doctor. Now I’m stuck, I watch his face as he speaks. He’s in his late forties, greyed hair, lines on his forehead that foretell that he doesn’t like what he’s going to say. He keeps his face neutral but there’s the odd edge, the occasional terminal rise and starting crack in his voice that shows that he is not made of stone. I appreciate that, as the loops go by. He lowers his tone when he says “aggressive”; he raises his pitch and speeds up when he talks of a plan of action, trying to bolster us without even realising. I appreciate that, more and more.

This is what I wait for, now, with each loop: the moment when I turn and look at Jenny. Her hair is loose today. She is growing out her fringe and it hangs, parted in the middle, with its tips near the bottom of her eyes. She is wearing blue stud earrings, and most of her lipstick has rubbed off during lunch. The doctor’s words don’t hit her – I can tell that the second, third, fourth time. They bounce off her skin and don’t sink in. She nods, and sets her mouth firm, and discusses the plan like it’s a business transaction. She refuses to believe in anything except a perfect ending.

Then she looks at me, and in her eyes I see the base of her facade break. It hits her then: the concept of loss. Mortality. Me, a widower.

It’s an incredibly strange feeling, being trapped in your own head. Walking locked-in syndrome. Can you call it crying when your eyes don’t water and you can’t control your breath to sob?

She thanks the doctor, arranges other appointments. She holds my hand so tight in the corridor that I think she’ll crush my bones. But I relish that each time I loop round: her skin, tight on mine, her wedding ring digging into the base of my third and fourth fingers. She smells of shampoo most of all, even with all the money she spent on that perfume she’s wearing.

We come to the hospital doors, and she turns to me.

‘We’re going to beat this,’ she says.

She turns away before I can see that she’s about to cry. Every time, I admire how she worries about my feelings above hers, how she doesn’t want to burden me with despair, not at 2pm, not in public, not even when the world would be most forgiving of it.

The doors open, and we step out. I think about how much I love her. How I never want to be without her.

Then my eyes start to itch.


Written by G.J.

17/09/2015 at 7:51 pm