Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead. Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.
(The prompt is my own; can I write mostly in the second person?)
Emma: ‘Hi James. You never want to talk. You always think you can do things without help. That’s why they call you a Spitfire Pilot at work, you always expect to win on your own. You couldn’t accept the help offered when you were diagnosed with cancer; you barely accepted the treatment proposal your oncologist suggested.
Remember what you said? ‘I’ll come back to you.’
Your arrogance was breathtaking, really.
You wanted me to tell your mother. ‘I’m too busy.’
She’s your bloody mother.
You tell me to loosen up. Remember that story – you called it a joke – you showed me that time after I’d tried to explain why I was upset with your continued failure to engage? I kept it. Here.
Her diary: Tonight I thought my husband was acting strange. We’d made plans to meet after I’d been shopping with girlfriends, ones he doesn’t really care for. I was a bit late, and I thought that’s why he’s moody. Conversation was stilted. I suggested we go and have a chat somewhere quiet. But he just sat there, nodding and mumbling. I asked what was wrong but he said ‘nothing’. He said he wasn’t upset and it wasn’t me. I told him I loved him as we went home but he just nodded again. It was like I wasn’t there. At home I fixed us a drink but still he wouldn’t say anything beyond I shouldn’t get upset and then he went and watched the TV, sort of goggle-eyed. Eventually when it was clear the silence would continue I went to bed. He came about 30 minutes later and said nothing, just turned his back and went to sleep. I cried; I don’t know what to do. I’m certain his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.
His diary: Motorbike won’t start and I can’t figure out why.
Sure, in the right context this is funny but just when I’ve told you that we need to open up about what matters to both of us and say if anything isn’t working so we can fix it, taking the piss is like a kick in the teeth. You know I worry and you just don’t care.
James, you need to think what you want; when you’re ready to tell me, then we can speak.’
James: If you were here now, Emma, I’d tell you how quiet it is without you in the apartment. You don’t understand, really, what you’ve done, leaving me with everything, including the booze. That’s plain cruel. You’ve let me sit in this room with every ornament, every trinket – all of them a memory of you because you collected them all. This room – our battlefield – everything about it is like a nerve ending coming back to you: the sofa with the eyebrow shaped blood stain where you stabbed me; the wood block flooring with the Harry Potter-esque gouge from the fire tong you threw at me; the scorch on the curtain from Harry’s lighter when you threatened to set the place on fire if I went out for a quick drink.
Let history record you are the violent one Emma. You are the one of swing moods, prone to elaborate explanations for your absences that are so bizarre, so complicated that I was sure they had to be true. Was I stupid? Maybe you kept track of them in that diary of yours, every little thing like a latter day Pepys. Though you have the imagination and memory to pull these tricks and be consistent in remembering them.
And the ‘joke’ you kept – typical that you’d keep it. How did you know you’d need the ammunition? Were you planning this humiliation that far back? You talk about context. You threatened suicide, remember? You had the Stanley knife and one of those dyno-bands to tourniquet your arm. Shit you terrified me and I did the only thing I knew to do when the depression gets you like this. I try and make a funny. I get it, you don’t just cheer up but I didn’t know that then and I still don’t know what I’m meant to do.
And then you accuse me of being selfish and self-centred over my cancer scare. First what about the depression? You wouldn’t go until my suggestions were confirmed by them and then you ignored the advice. No medication, no therapies. So then I get ill and you’re in bits. What choice did I have? Make it a drama and watch you fall apart or play it down and keep you together while I tried to sort it out? And for someone who keeps an exact record of everything you got what was said wrong. He never said I needed urgent treatment – that was you. It was never life threatening anyway. And mum? You said you’d speak to her. ‘Let me tell Joan; it will be easier.’ So again I made a joke. I said I was too busy anyway. You knew it was a joke and now you make me out to be an arsehole.
They say you marry your mother and you both have the ability to make a drama out of a moment’s indecision.
I’m not going to write this down, Emma. I’ll tell you if you pick up but really this is privileged communication and for my head only. But I will send you this.
I love you. I don’t want to be alone or apart from you and I worry about you when I’m not there. Come home. We’re good for each other.
Emma: That’s it? Love you and come home? You are clueless, aren’t you? You think you can spend years wearing me down, sucking all the emotion from me and then expect me to accept it? You never really trusted me, did you? My family is complicated; you knew that when we met and you told me you understood (you lied but I forgave you) and you would support me (you lied and I’ll never forgive you). You even seemed to tell me you would be patient with the late night drives home or wherever dad had holed up. You always made it into being about you. You remember when my kid brother lost his parakeet. You took the piss out of that but told me to do what I needed to. So when I went home and missed that dinner you went ape. You wouldn’t listen to me explain so here’s the thing. The difference that time – like most times – was I had told you how important that bloody bird was to him; just because you couldn’t imagine anyone being attached to a bird, doesn’t mean no one is. But instead of telling me the dinner was ‘a must’ – odd that comes out the day after – and you were up for an award you let me go. Even then I’m still not sure why this would have been so special; it’s not like an intimate date for two, is it? Just a bunch of penguin-suited arse-tappers out on a self-congratulatory piss-up. And you won without me being the smiling girlfriend, all huggy-proud of her ‘man’. Hey, you’ve won a bundle and I’ve clapped myself raw, so what if I missed one? Your boss made a snide remark. Yeah well, don’t be so sensitive. My bro needed me more than you and had you an ounce of empathy you’d understand and lie about the real reason I was absent. Instead you make me the joke, me the twitcher-nutcase. You should have LIED you jerk. Everyone but you can make up a decent excuse; you’re a right little George Washington goody-two-shoes at times. You need to decide; either we can talk, openly and honestly – and try and renew that lost sense of trust – or we might as well call it quits. I don’t want to but this is about you. Do you?
James: ‘Hi Emma. I got the vm and this email. Boy, that’s some excuse me. You expect me to be the one needing to do some thinking, don’t you? How many distortions and half-truths are there here? You won’t remember any of them, or at least not the critical ones. But you and I, we have a shared history so I’m not about to give up on you. Yes you have reasons to be upset with me. I’m not perfect but neither are you. If we accept you’re right and I’m a closed book and need to open then you need to be willing to listen and try and take some of the emotion out of everything. I’m closed because you drench me with your emotions and I can barely breathe let alone swim. Are you willing to meet, to try and see if you’ll give me a second chance?’
Penny: Hi Emma, James. I’ve been watching you for the last hour. Some reconciliation. Both of you came early so you weren’t surprised by the other. You had to take up a position that you saw as giving you an advantage. You know what you both are? Me-ists. It’s always about the ‘me’ with you two and never the ‘you’. You don’t believe me, do you? That this meeting, this new dialogue will only change if you can to seeing the other person and not just talking at them. You only talk about ‘you’ when you criticise and ‘me’ when you want the high ground. Whatever either of you do or say, this period of extrospective thinking will have to end. What neither of you see, what you’ve never seen all the time you are together is you cannot have a relationship entirely in the first person. You have to spend more time in the second person, exploring what that second person wants, needs, feels. So long as you avoid the error of involving a third, then come on you two. You love each other and there’s no reason why two ‘me’s can’t become a ‘we’.