Short Fiction - Felicity Figures It Out


This week’s post is a short story and possibly not a very good one at that but it had just had to be done.

I heard a discussion this week about a grammatical rule that I had never heard of before. 

I immediately felt (as I occasionally do) that there might be a story to be built around this little factoid so I resolved to give it a go.

I've written some of these on the blog before. There's one here and another here.

For me, these type of stories are more akin to devising a crossword puzzle than any kind of meaningful literary endeavour. The words get erected around the primary foundation, the characters are bent to suit the trick. 

Still, they're fun to do. For me at least.  

Here it is: 

Felicity Figures It Out

“So all I can ask you, most humbly, is that you please consider the situation and return with all haste what is so very precious to me.”

Felicity’s plea was modest and impassioned and seemed to hit home with the twelve small faces who stared up at her from behind their tiny ink-stained desks. She could not imagine which of her beloved pupils had acted in this way against her. Could it be Bosede, who looked so guarded and who would not meet her eye this morning? Or could it be Dikelede, whose exceptional poverty was widely known in the village?

For a moment, she held out some hope that her transparently emotional approach would be enough to see her stolen torsade bracelet safely returned to her possession with no further harm done.

This hope lasted for all of thirty seconds, when the English teacher Simon Dufrene careened into her classroom.

“What’s this I hear? What nonsense is currently afoot?” His jacket was askew and his moustaches trembled. “Show me the culprit, present him to me this minute.”

Twenty-four brown eyes in the classroom widened. Twenty-four lips tightened. Twenty-four tiny fists clenched tightly.

“Simon, there is no call for mayhem.”

“Mayhem? I’ll show them mayhem. I will not leave the colour of them upon the ground.”

Felicity coloured a little herself at Dufrene’s lack of composure but she held her own as she knew she must.

“Really, Simon, we have had a small moment of confusion which I am well on the way to resolving satisfactorily. Your intervention is every bit as much appreciated as it is unnecessary.”

Simon Dufrene took a long moment to quietly try to grasp the import of what he just been told. Failing spectacularly, he returned to his default position of high-volume bluster.

“The note, show me this famous note.”

“Really, I don’t think- “

“Show it to me!”

Felicity was reluctant in the extreme to produce the note but Simon was the senior teacher in the mission school and she could not refuse his demand to see it. She slipped it from her sleeve. The note was written on a sheet of foolscap which had been yellowed from the dust of the village. It had been folded as many times as necessary to render it very small against her wrist.

“Confounded liberty,” said Simon as he unfolded the sheet. He read it in two seconds flat and then exploded all over again.

“Who wrote this?” he roared at the twelve terrified children in the classroom. “I know one of you wrote it so who was it?”

The children all looked to each other to see who might confess but nobody did.

Simon produced his pocket watch and made a great show of flipping the gold cover open and studying the time displayed therein.

“I shall give you thirty seconds,” he said, “and, in that time, one of you will confess to stealing Miss Adams’ heirloom bracelet and will, for his or her trouble, receive six of the best from the cane in my office. “He looked up from his watch and his blue eyes appeared hooded and mean to the young assembly before him. “But, mark me on this, if nobody confesses, I will take each of you in turn to said office and I will gift you twelve of the best across the backs of your legs and before I am done, by heavens, somebody will speak.”

The room trembled. Felicity trembled too but she tried not to show it.

“Simon,” she said, “while I greatly appreciate your assistance, I think it would help my standing in the classroom if I were to deal with this in my own way.”

Simon thrust the note back into Felicity's hand, crushing it a little as it went.

“This cannot stand. A theft, a ransom note, by God’s blood. It’s a damned outrage and it shall not stand. I shall show you, Felicity, how a gentleman takes command.”

He glanced at his watch again.

“Fifteen seconds. Who will now speak and save his comrades?”

Adise, at the front desk in the classroom, stood up tentatively. Dufrene’s eyes fell upon him.

“Was it you? Do you confess?”

“Sir, I would gladly confess to save my friends and if I am permitted to do this, I will.”

“Did you steal the bracelet?”

“No, sir.”

“Then sit down and be quiet.”

Felicity read the note in her hand once again. A childish script, a rudimentary grasp of spelling and grammar. One of these children had to be responsible. There was nobody else.

The note read as follows:

“Missyadams. I have taken your jewellery away from yu. Leave two shillings under the village Baobab tree and it will come back to yu in safely. I offer you 10,000 apppologys but my need is verry grate.”

“That’s it. Time’s up.”

Defrene produced a lengthy bamboo cane as if from thin air and commenced to swishing it around, cutting the air in the classroom noisily and leaving a tangible vapour of discord in its wake.

“Who shall be first? Who shall taste the consequences of their continued silence?”

Felicity stared at the note. In a single moment, she saw what she had not seen before. She surprised herself by not being very surprised at all.

“Simon?”

“You must not try to reason with me, Miss Adams. Discipline and the Rule of Law must prevail.”

“I quite understand but may I ask you one question?”

“A question? At this critical moment?”

“Just one.”

The cane cut the air impatiently.

“Very well then. Just the one.”

“Thank you.”

Felicity hesitated a moment.

“Well?”

And then she took a very deep breath and proceeded.

“Do you have some regard for me, Mr. Dufrene?”

“What?”

“This is my question. Do you have regard?”

Dufrene looked anxiously at the twenty-four brown and two green eyes that were fixed on him.

“I think you must know, from my genteel advances of late, that I do indeed have some considerable regard for you but I don’t quite see- “

“And do you aspire to impress me as a gentleman of power?”

“Really, Felicity, have you lost your mind?”

“And would you do one terribly important thing for me if I were to most humbly ask?”

Dufrene paused, dumbfounded.

“Would you?”

“I suppose I would.”

“Then let me ask you this. Will you now return my Mother’s bracelet to me?”

“I will, by God, I will. I will leave no leg unmarked in my quest to do so. The culprit may not produce it forthwith but I feel confident it will soon appear underneath that brute of a tree without need for payment of any ransom.”

Felicity pressed on.

“You misunderstand me, Simon. I am asking whether you will return it to me for I am now quite certain that you have it in your possession.”

All was silent in the room.

A droplet of sweat formed on Dufrene’s brow and trickled down his nose.

“You are impertinent. I am your headmaster.”

“You have my bracelet. I know for a fact that you have it. Will you now return it to me?”

Dufrene stared at her in open disbelief, his cane poised as if to strike. Then, ever so slowly, he dipped his free hand into his jacket pocket, removed a small packet and placed it into Felicity's outstretched palm. His voice dropped several levels so that only she would hear it. Everyone in the room heard.

“I apologise.”

“Accepted.”

He turned to leave but spoke over his shoulder as he went.

“How did you know?”

“It’s not important. A trifling thing.”

“Please.”

“You wrote the note as one of the children might but you also unthinkingly penned it in accordance with a certain rule of grammar. A rule these children could not yet know.”

“It was the numbers, wasn’t it?”

“It was. You wrote 'Two' and '10,000'.  One to one hundred should be written as words…”

“…anything higher should be written as numerals.”

Simon Defrene nodded sadly as he turned to exit the classroom.

“I only sought to impress you,” he said, “To display for you my true power as a gentleman.”

Felicity also nodded as she closed the door gently behind him. The latch clicked shut decisively as she whispered gently to herself.

“You failed,” she said.

Just a Phase I’m Going Through


I’m going through a phase.

“So what?” you might well ask, “Everybody is always going through a phase, what’s so special about your one?”

Nothing, obviously, absolutely nothing at all. Except that this is my space for writing in so I get to write about my phases. Get your own space and talk about you own damn phases there.

Sorry, sorry. That was a bit rude. It’s just another part of the phase I’m going through.

So what it this phase, Ken? Why don’t you tell us all about it?



You’re still here? I thought you’d have buggered off after I snapped at you. Well, okay, if you insist.

I’m going through a phase of thinking that every writing thing I’m currently doing, including every writing thing I’m proposing to do in the near future, is a load of old shit. That includes this blog post. Which is no surprise, seeing as how this blog post is a load of old shit. Or is it? Is this just another part of the phase I’m going through?

Oh dear, this is going to get messy, isn’t it?

Oh, and before I go on, this is not a cry for help. Deep down, I know I’m fucking brilliant and I don’t need you to tell me that. So don’t. It’s just that, on that superficial level where phases tend to reside, I just reckon my writing has gone to fuck, gone to shit, gone to all the swear words.

But, don’t worry, it’s just a…

Thinking about it, it's possibly the only tangible downside of being loose online pals with lots and lots of really great writers. The fact that I get to watch them write great stuff and innovate and battle and be incredibly productive and succeed. Basically, I get to see them get their shit done. It makes me feel a bit silly sometimes. It makes me feel like I haven’t done as much as I should have done and that what little I have managed to do should have been done a damn sight better.

Allow me to make some excuses for myself.

Many, not all but many, of my loose online writer acquaintances are professional writers. They get to give their full energy to the task. I am not a professional writer, never have been. although I do always try to write with all the professionalism I can possibly muster. I have to squeeze my writing into late night hours and borrowed weekend sessions while the body of the week is taken up with all that other stuff I do. The stuff I don’t talk about on here. My real life.

Time and quality are inextricably linked, in my mind anyway. In order to produce something substantial and coherent and valuable, it helps enormously to have a continual period of time in which to dedicate your heart and mind to it. I can never find that. When I retire, in about 15 years’ time, I hope to do so, if circumstances spare me that long.

That’s my excuse.

I know how it sounds. It’s the eternal refrain, isn’t it? The excuse of all the would-be writers all over the world. “I would be great, if I could only find the time.” Let’s all face the truth together. The great ones found the time. It doesn’t matter how they did it, they did it. They got that shit done.

And, again with the excuses, I really have managed to get some shit done over the years. Twenty-Eight produced plays for theatre and radio, many of them long-form, some of them produced many times over. A short film that got made, a pile of long and short scripts that didn’t. A novel that didn’t get published (‘wasn’t good enough, ‘will never self-publish… that’s a blog for another day). And then there’s this blog, eleven years’ worth of it, every week. Over half a million words, some of them almost passable (that might be the Phase talking). So I think I have earned some licence to bitch a little about the lack of continuity available to me for my writing.  

Short form stuff works well. Long form stuff is harder. You can write anything in tiny bursts like the ones I get to work in but I certainly find it way harder to corral the tiny bursts into something really substantial.

Something that would be ‘A Product’.

If I’ve learned one thing from watching my loose online writer pals it is this: You need to have a product to sell. A book, a play, a movie script. Some product. You can be the best writer in the world. You can have a vast Twitter following and you can convince the world that you will be the next best thing after the current best thing. But it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that thing… The Product.

For all my plays and short stories and failed novel, I don’t really have The Product. I have lots and lots of stuff but it’s all either one thing or another. Too short, too old, too weird. I don’t have a single long form product that’s worth flogging far and wide and finding somebody to take it on. I don’t have that embryonic West End hit, that potentially wonderful film script, that biddable novel draft. In the case of one of my full-length teenage plays, a very famous playwright told me, “You have a hit there” and, in fairness, it has seen quite a few productions and done well for me. But it’s still not a full three act theatre play in the old sense. It’s a modern ‘hour in the theatre’ type of deal and that is fine in itself but is never going to rock the world.

Longer form work, that’s where the continuous time is needed. Smaller things can be done, inch by inch, hour by hour, midnight by midnight. But the long form masterpiece needs a locked room, isolation and a considerable headlong run at it.

At least I currently think it does. It could be this phase I’m going through.

This will pass. All things pass. I will force myself to bang on with the long form stuff I continue to thrash out, night by night. I will love it all again and see some vague potential in it, enough to keep on keeping on.

Just probably not today.

Possibly tomorrow.

We'll see.


Provisions


Last week, I had to spend one night in an airport hotel before flying back home early the next morning. I don’t do that terribly often, not being the jet-setting type.

By the time I got into my hotel room, it was late in the evening and I was extremely tired. I had a glance around the room. It was modern and clean and big enough for two, although there was only me. I put down my bag and hung up my jacket and did what I usually do when I end up in a hotel room in the evening. I went to the window and looked out.

There wasn’t very much to see. The brightly illuminated car park several storeys below, the red tail lights of the cars on the adjoining motorway, the twinkle in the sky from the queue of planes lining up to land. Not a living soul in sight. Just lights and darkness, darkness and lights.

I looked back into the room. I felt over-tired yet restless, not quite knowing what to do. I could go down to the bar but that wasn’t really my style. Besides, I’d been travelling for hours to get this far and I had a very early start. I needed to rest.

So, once again, I did what I usually do in these circumstances. I filled the little kettle at the bathroom tap, clicked it on, unwrapped one of the two teabags and laid it in one of the two cups, tag and string hanging over the side and, when the kettle had boiled, I made myself a cup of tea.

With UHT milk and water from a bathroom tap, it wasn’t the Rolls Royce of cups of tea, not by a long shot, but, still and all, it was wonderful. As I sipped my tea, I found myself becoming at peace with the space I found myself in. I pulled out the tucked-in bedclothes (I hate those), set the alarm on my phone, and arranged my book on the bedside table. It wasn’t home but it would do for a little while.

All thanks to the cup of tea.

I think I need to be able to do something for myself in order to know I am someplace where I am welcome and where I, at least temporarily, belong. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The simple act of making a brew was enough to add my own tiny contribution to the standardised commercial preparedness of that room. It made me feel okay.

And that was it. I would have never thought there was anything to be blog-posting about in that tiny occurrence. 

Until I came back home.

I was listening to the radio on the day I came back and there was a lady on there speaking very passionately and very lucidly about her situation. She is running for Local Government somewhere in the Country and she is an Asylum Seeker who has lived for over nine years in Ireland’s Direct Provision system.

The Direct Provision system was established in 2000 to house asylum-seekers entering the Irish State in search of international protection. It was initially described as an interim system which would provide accommodation for a six-month period while people awaited an outcome on their application.

Like I said, this lady had been in the system for nine years and is still there.

She said lots of interesting and clearly genuine things in her interview and I wish her well in the upcoming election. I feel she would be a strong addition to local politics in our country.

But one thing in particular stayed with me from her interview and you’ll soon see why.

Paraphrasing like mad here, she was asked was she able to cook her own meals in the government facility in which she was being accommodated. She confirmed that she was not, that all her meals were provided for her and her family.

And that’s when my heart really went out to her and to all the thousands of people who live in similar circumstances, while their doubtless complicated applications are being processed.

I thought back to my meagre self-made cup of tea and how it had welcomed me and made me feel that I had staked some tiny claim on the place where I now found myself. I thought how much longer that single night might have been for me if I had not had the ability to provide for myself in that simplest of ways. And then I multiplied that feeling by a thousand, several times over. A thousand nights, a thousand people, a thousand meals not prepared with their own hands.

I don’t pretend to be smart or to understand the intricacies of the world. I only really know what goes on inside my own head, and really only some of that.

I do know that the ability to prepare some food for yourself and for your family is food itself. It is sustenance for your heart and for your soul. I know that the absence of that is something that could only ever make your day, and your life, and the country you find yourself in, a lot bleaker and a lot less welcoming than it needs to be.

If only for a day or two a week, if that woman could cook something for herself and her family, how much shorter would the night be for them? How much easier might they sleep?

Quite a lot shorter, I think.

Quite a lot easier.