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Short stories

Sometimes I get to edit my own stories and I've entered them in a few short story competitions.

A story I wrote,
'The hole in the doughnut' won the 2010 Best of Times short story competition.

I won the 2012
Spilling Ink short story competition with 'Three minutes'.


The hole in the doughnut

It was a nice day, and then his guy I’d never seen before sat down and dipped his doughnut in my coffee.


There was a warty thing on his nose, and his canines gleamed like the fangs of a predator. He looked around, then leaned towards me. “There are two kinds of people in the world,” he said.


 
And I said, “Uh huh.”

 
And he said it again, “Two kinds of people.” Then he said, “There are those who accept the roles allotted to them in life, and there are those who question the roles of those who allocate the roles.”

 
I sighed, put the quick crossword to one side, and looked at the ocean. I hoped my silence would deter him, but I wasn’t very optimistic – I could tell he was after more than a soggy doughnut.

 
The sun was warm and the sea was blue. Down on the beach a kid was yelling “You’re a weirdo, you’re a weirdo.” There was a clatter of plates and a guy at the next table asked for another flat white, please. A woman laughed, and I wondered if she was laughing at me.

 
My intruder came at me from another angle.


 
Two kinds of people – there are those that subscribe to dualistic thinking and those that do not.” He sat back. He might have been announcing checkmate.

 
All I wanted was to sit in the afternoon sun, watching the sea, watching normal events unfold in the approved manner. Instead, there were crumbs in my coffee and a lunatic at my table.


 
“And which kind are you?” I had to ask eventually. Trouble with me is, I’m too polite.

 
“Ah,” he said.

 
“Well,” he said.

 
“Now,” he said.

 
“What you are asking me,” he said, “is a matter of categorisation.” He said it slowly so I understood: c-a-t-e-g-o-r-i-s-a-t-i-o-n. Got it?

 
“And when it comes to c-a-t-e-g-o-r-i-s-i-n-g,” – he raised a lecturing finger and I imagined it going up the hole in his doughnut, “there are two kinds of people: there are those that include themselves in one of their categories, and there are those that claim their categories apply to everyone else, but not to them.”

 
My head hurt. Was that three lots of two kinds of people so far? 


 
“And which kind are you?” I asked again.

 
Me?” he said. His eyebrows played a starring role in his look of surprise. “Well, I’m not someone who can see the point of putting people in boxes.”

 
“Ah. Well. Now,” I said, waving my finger at him, “I think there’s a good case for it in some circumstances.”


 
His eyebrows sagged. He shook his head. “When you cling to rationality, you are clinging to the bars of your prison.” Where did that come from, I wondered. He obviously saw himself as a Zen master.

 
He took a bite of his doughnut. If he dunks it in my coffee now that he’s chomped on it, I thought, I’ll know he’s just plain weird. But he topped that.

 
“But,” I said.

 
He sniffed and rolled down his right sleeve.

 
“What,” I said.

 
He blew his nose on the cuff of his sleeve.  

 
“Erk,” I said.

 
Then he rolled his sleeve up again. Yes he did.

 
At the counter they charged me for his doughnut. And when I glanced back at him he was already drinking my coffee, reading my paper. I turned to see if the waitress was smirking, but her gaze was locked on the sea.


 
When I’m bothered, I go for a walk. The more bothered I am, the longer the walk. I’ve had a lot of exercise, the last couple of years.

 
Being on those cliffs, watching the Brahminy kites glide on motionless wings – they are things that usually make me feel like I belong, like I’m a ball bearing in the cycle of life, but now they just made me feel unwanted, like a grain of sand scratching at the eyeball of a vengeful God.  

 
It was sunset when I sat down for a rest at a picnic table right out on the headland. It’s a wonderful view, usually, those jagged hills with the sun going down behind them, but right then all I could see were rows of teeth devouring blood-red clouds. I sat for a while, but I could tell I had more walking to do.

 
I’d received a shock, and I didn’t want to deal with anything else unexpected. I looked down at the table. FUCK YOU it said in big, angular letters. Nothing unexpected there. But then I looked at the fine print just underneath FUCK YOU.  This is what it said, right there on the picnic table, in a small blue script:

 
The sky is an upturned bowl of blue

And the stars are holes where the light gets through.

 
That got me walking again. Poetry. You could string together a series of cryptic crossword clues, and it would make as much sense. Maybe I’ll do that some time and submit it to a literary magazine before it goes broke.

 
Cryptic crosswords – when Susan left me, I had to stop doing them. There was always at least one clue I couldn’t get, and I couldn’t stop wondering what it meant. Closure, you see – when Susan left, I couldn’t handle the lack of closure anymore.

 
The sky is an upturned bowl of blue. I wished I’d never seen those words, but  now it was too late. I couldn’t stop myself wondering what they meant. And the stars are holes where the light gets through. It was true that ever since Susan left, I was constantly looking for  illumination of some kind.  Could this be some kind of clue?


 
As I went along the road next to the beach, a woman about the same size and shape as Susan gave me a self-satisfied smile. The bumper sticker on her BMW said, “Another beautiful day in paradox”. I could tell she was laughing at me. I imagined scraping a broken bottle along the side of her car, something I would have loved to do if I’d been a different kind of person.


 
I imagined my doughnut dunking sabre-toothed intruder waving his finger at me and saying, “Ah, but if you were a different kind of person, you wouldn’t need to damage her car.” He had stolen my coffee, my paper, and my peace of mind.


 
It was two years ago Susan left me. She’s an accountant, but she said I was boring. Not in as many words, but the message was clear. She has long blond hair which she keeps naturally blond with bottles of stuff that I used to trip over in the shower every morning. That’s one problem I don’t have any more.


 
I had been appalled when Susan told me Salvador Dali was more sane than I was. That’s when she’d started looking at me different, and burning giraffes and melting clocks began to invade my dreams. Two difficult years, and I was just getting to the point where I felt like I was in control again, when along comes this lunatic with his doughnut and his stupid kinds of people.

 
Two hours later, it was dark and I was tired. I came to another picnic table. A shadowy figure was sitting there, but just as I approached, he disappeared into the night. I was glad to see him go, because I wanted to sit down, and unlike some people I’ve met, I wouldn’t have intruded on someone else’s privacy. The black sky was full of unholey stars and their light was not illuminating anything for me. There were a hundred insects circling the nearby street lamp, aimless and urgent as a herd of poets.

 
You won’t believe the next bit, but I’m telling you anyway, because my legs are tired and maybe you’ll be able to help me find closure. Right there on that table, on a greasy paper bag, there was a doughnut with a bite out of it. The hole in the middle was gone. There was a blue pen lying there with the cap off, and in small blue letters, right there on the table top next to where it said KYLIE SUX, someone had written:

 
The sky is an upturned bowl of blue

And the stars are holes where the light gets through.

A paradox is a star in your mental sky,

And it shines for those who

-- ENDS --

Three minutes

 Ramona found existence a puzzling business and wanted to come to grips with it. Simon was obsessed with Ramona’s body and wanted to come to grips with it. Simon’s girlfriend Eva wanted a drink of water.

 

Ramona had met Simon and Eva in the chai shop downstairs that morning. To her surprise she had heard herself agreeing to share a hotel room with them, and depending on how you interpreted the conversation, she may have agreed to go trekking with them in Darjeeling next week.

 

Simon told himself again that he had befriended Ramona because she looked lonely.

 

Eva, if she could have read his mind, would have been amused at that thought, but not in a nice way. She went to her backpack to get a water purifying pill to put in her drink bottle. She was hot and thirsty and tired of Simon and tired of being asked what is your native country, and what is the purpose of your visit? And no, she did not want to buy hashish or opium or a cheap Rolex, but another week of this and maybe she would change her mind about the opium.

 

Ramona lay on one of the beds in the grimy hotel room, felt the sweat trickle down her neck and listened to the roar of the traffic in the street below. She wondered whether men with impressive biceps always wore t-shirts with extra-short sleeves, and what was it about Simon that reminded her of the guy near the Gateway of India who had tried to sell them marijuana cocaine hashish anything very chip just for you.

 

Simon could see Ramona in the mirror. Just come from an ashram, she had told them, so he knew she would not be the sort of person to be swayed by good looks alone. That was why he decided to impress her with how considerate he was, and turned his attention to Eva.

 

Eva stood sweating under the ceiling fan, twiddling frizzy hair on a frazzled finger. She was irritated by the way Simon was looking at her, and more irritated by the way he was pretending not to look at Ramona. She wondered why they were stuck in a room with a bimbo that never said anything. She considered asking Simon to go an buy her a lassi, but rejected the idea on the grounds that he would probably come back.

 

Ramona wore a vacuous expression that made people smirk at each other and think of blonde jokes. She was not unaware of how she was perceived, but right then she was more interested in focusing on her breath going in and out, like the teacher had told her to.

 

Simon turned the fan up, and with an eye on the mirror to check that Ramona was okay, he offered to get Eva a cup of chai.

 

Eva said thanks, but the fan was no help, it just recycled hot air like he did, and chai was h-o-t, which was what she was trying to avoid, and she thought to herself maybe she would go to the ashram Ramona had been talking about, and Simon and Ramona could go trekking in Darjeeling without her.

 

Ramona grew tired of watching her breath and fell to wondering if a mantra would be better after all. She decided that Simon didn’t really look like the guy near the Gateway of India, it was an energy thing, and she decided that Eva didn’t look very friendly, she seemed kind of sharp and tired. The way Simon kept looking at her in the mirror made her uncomfortable. She decided she would go back to the ashram and let Simon and Eva go trekking in Darjeeling without her.

 

Simon was wondering about what the sleeping arrangements would be like when the three of them went trekking together in Darjeeling. He put his arm round Eva, and asked if he should get her a lassi.

 

Eva explained that his arm was about as cooling as a cup of chai, and wondered if he might like to go and lie down on that bed over there. She ignored the offer of a lassi on the grounds that it was never a good idea to be indebted to Simon. She decided Ramona looked like she was too dopey to find her arse with both hands, but Simon would be happy to help her. She looked at her watch to see if the pill had been in the water for three minutes yet.

 

Ramona thought maybe her tight-fitting singlet was inappropriate in India, and asked herself who she was, once all worldly attributes were discarded.

 

Simon stood up, sat down on his backpack, stood up. He cared deeply about Eva, of course; he would never willingly hurt her, but she kept finding fault with him, and the feelings that he and Ramona clearly maybe had for each other, some things you can’t ignore, meeting her like that at the chai shop was not just a coincidence, it was not just a physical thing. He fell to fantasising about getting involved with Ramona and wondered if she would be as critical of him as Eva was, once the first sexual obsession wore off.

 

Eva fell to wishing she preferred women. She looked at her watch to see if the pill had been in the water for three minutes yet.

 

Ramona stopped asking who she was once all worldly attributes were discarded, and began to ask herself who had been asking the question. She turned onto her side, so that Simon would stop staring at her tits, and wondered why Eva had let Simon insist the three of them share a hotel room.

 

Simon contemplated Ramona’s worldly attributes in the mirror, until she turned away. Was he just imagining it, or was her left breast really larger? He admired the sensitive way Ramona was ignoring him. Clearly, she realised how insecure Eva was, and didn’t want to add to her worries. Eva, on the other hand, seemed to be angry with him 24/7 and completely unaware of how considerate he was being, some people are just not very aware, sometimes.

 

Eva saw Ramona turn onto her side and thought maybe she was not as dumb as she seemed, but fancy wearing a top like that in India. She looked at Simon pretending not to look at Ramona in the mirror. She cast her eyes to the ceiling and scratched the back of her neck. Then she looked at her watch to see if the pill had been in the water for three minutes yet.

 

Ramona thought maybe Eva wasn’t so unfriendly after all, and maybe she was just having problems with Simon. She thought to herself how hard it was to focus on just one thing for any length of time, although Simon had been doing a pretty good job of it.

 

Simon had an uneasy feeling that Ramona had known he was staring at her in the mirror, so he peered earnestly at the mosquito bite on his chin, but stopped when he realised Ramona could no longer see him now that her back was turned.

 

Eva shook her head in wonder, and looked at her watch to see if the pill had been in the water for three minutes yet.

 

Simon looked at Ramona’s back turned towards him, saw the derision on Eva’s face and decided it was too much to expect women ever to understand him.

 

Ramona focused on her breath and wondered if Simon and Eva would be disappointed by her decision not to go trekking with them.

 

Eva decided all the wonders of India could not compare with Simon’s capacity for self-delusion. She looked at her watch to see if the pill had been in the water for three minutes yet.

 

Simon thought Eva must be premenstrual, and wondered whether he was going to have to put up with that sort of thing from Ramona too.

 

Eva looked at her watch and decided enough was enough. A great peace descended upon her as she reached for her water bottle.

 

Ramona found existence a puzzling business and wanted to come to grips with it. Simon was obsessed with Ramona’s body and wanted to come to grips with it. Simon’s former girlfriend Eva raised the drink bottle to her lips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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