The Deadline

WRITING EXERCISE #2

  • Your story must include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions (describing whatever you want):
    • SHINY, SILVER
    • COLD AND GREASY
    • SCRATCHED AND WEATHER-WORN
    • SWEET AND PUNGENT
    • INK-STAINED
    • SHRILL, PIERCING
  • One of these six descriptions MUST appear in the first sentence of your story. (The rest, wherever you like.)

The Author closed his manuscript, running ink-stained fingers over the scratched and weather-worn leather sleeve. The pages came together with a slight huffing sound, a sighed communion of secrets. The Author painfully straightened his hunched shoulders, feeling the bones crack as they shifted into an unfamiliar position. The Author’s ageing dog fixed him with a baleful stare as he stood and edged around the enormous grandfather clock that was currently taking up most of his small one-bedroom house. “Don’t give me that look, Scribe” he grumbled, as he squeezed himself into the kitchen and started to make himself a peanut butter and jam sandwich. “Sustenance is required if I’m to save the world”. Scribe, unimpressed, turned his stare to the uncurtained window which rose over the Author’s desk.

Outside, the world was in turmoil. Clouds boiled an angry red in the sky, accompanied by ominous snarls of thunder and illuminated with spider veins of quicksilver lightning. People were running about haphazardly in the streets, breaking shop windows and looting with abandon and without purpose. Others stood, mouths open, taking photographs on their phones and uploading them onto social media #endoftheworld (currently trending). Yet others were attempting to make every moment count: cradling babies, hugging grandmothers, falling into vats of previously off-limits ice cream, feverishly copulating, or whatever else people who had only minutes to live, did. Every now and then, police and ambulance sirens emitted shrill, piercing whines and it was to this soundtrack that the Author resumed his seat and re-opened his manuscript.

The wooden floors of his house groaned under the weight of their unexpected guest. The enormous clock had appeared out of the blue, in tandem with all hell breaking loose outside. Just another augury of the end of the world, albeit one seemingly just for the Author alone. The oddest thing about the clock apart from its presence in the first place was that it was going backwards. The time on its clock face was utterly inaccurate – it had started with both hands on 12 (even though it was 9 am on Sunday morning) and since then the hands had steadily moved backwards. The clock’s shiny, silver pendulum swung ponderously to and fro and boomed out chimes counting down the hours. The Author wouldn’t have had any idea how much time he had unless someone hadn’t helpfully stuck a post-it note on the pendulum with the number “72” written on it in thick black marker. He’d taken that to assume he had 72 hours to… do something. And he had decided that thing was to finish his book, because it was the one thing the Author had failed to do in his long and literary life. A bestseller multiple times over, he had retired in a funk of gloom because he knew that he had one final book inside of him, but, like a stubborn tooth, it refused to budge. Instead of pouring out onto the page like all his other books had, this one had stayed resolutely inside of him, clogging him up like a blocked drain. Continue reading The Deadline

The Ring

Just thought I’d try a little writing exercise, taken from an online monthly writing competition. I didn’t made the deadline to submit but enjoyed the process and story enough to continue. The only rule I didn’t keep was the 500-word limit – I think I’m roundabout 530. Close enough, I figure.

RULES:
Your story must take place at a PARTY of some kind.
Your story must include a BUTTON.
Your story must include the following sentence (which you will complete with one or more words): THE AIR WAS THICK WITH _______.

THE RING
The opulence was overwhelming. His stolen tux fit him like a second skin, and he could tell from the appreciative glances he was getting from other masked partygoers that he wore it well. Still, he had never before moved in such proximity to people like this, and found it unnerving.

Gorgeous women tossed manes of perfumed hair as they danced in a riot of impossible colours and fabrics. Men executed expert footwork as naturally as walking, slick as panthers. The air was thick with different scents, flowered perfumes and spiced colognes, mingling with dizzying potency.

The thief swallowed. He could throw an arm out into this flurry of wealth, quick as a fox, and walk away with something, anything, that could feed him for a week or more. The thought of meat for every meal made his stomach roar.

*

All of a sudden: his mark. The thief forced his coiled muscles to relax, and leaned into the pillar with an exaggerated nonchalance, gazing out into the rain-soaked night as if he were bored and wishing to get away. Sure enough…

“Drink?”

His mark held a shimmering glass to him. Beyond the mask, the green eyes were alight with merriment and a touch too much alcohol. The hand that offered the drink bore an ornate ring crusted with tiny precious jewels. They threw light into the champagne, greens, reds, blues glimmering in the liquid like restless fish. But the thief knew his craft well – it was not to the ring he looked, but into the eyes of its bearer. An opportunity like this was rare, months in the planning. He would not allow his desire, his hunger to betray him.

He accepted the drink, bestowing upon his mark a lazy half smile of thanks. The deception had begun.

*

Three hours later – long past the time the thief had allowed himself to be done with the trickery and away with his treasure – found the two of them sitting in one of the quieter rooms of the mansion. Partygoers swirled in and out from time to time, but largely they were left alone. Their glasses never emptied, topped up by waitstaff, silent and invisible as any thief.

As the hours waned, the masks had come off, the bowties and jacket buttons had come undone. They laughed easily and often and the conversation, like their glasses, never ran dry. If the thief felt any disappointment, it was only as if from a great distance: there would be no theft tonight.

*

Dawn had just started to thin the night when they parted ways. Plans to reconnect were made but the thief was all too aware of the lie that made those plans impossible to keep. There was a kiss goodbye, sweet and lingering, and a tight embrace.

And then he was alone.

Suddenly chilled, the thief thrust his hands into his pockets and felt his fingers close around something small, heavy and cold. The ring, catching even the nascent morning light, shone like a thing of magic against his palm.

Hunched against the cold, the thief began the long, slow walk home, wondering at what he had gained that night, and all he had lost.

For the rest of the world.


The events in Paris have made me angry, but not for the reasons you might think.

The outpourings of sorrow and support should make me feel happier about human nature and our ability to show solidarity for those of us in trouble. But instead, I just feel bitter and angry. Really angry.

The tragedy of Paris is the everyday reality for so many countries. Lebanon experienced something similar just 24 hours before Paris did – 41 people died in two suicide bombings in Beirut. Where were the outpourings and shows of solidarity for Beirut? Where were the profile pictures miraculously changing into Lebanese flags and dominating my newsfeed? Where was anything? Any mention of Beirut?

Where was the Lebanese flag on our Harbour Bridge and our Opera House? Or any other flag of any other country in crisis?

I am angry because I cannot feel the sorrow that is absolutely justified for the people of Paris who went through this horror on Friday night. As I write, for the first time, I feel a lump in my throat and a need to cry for those people. For the scared, for the confused, for the terrorised. For the families who lost their loved ones, for the friends that saw their peers being shot down, for the footballs fans who thought they were going to just another football match.

But the media is oversaturated by Paris and that (possibly unfairly) nauseates me and somehow takes me further and further away from what happened. All I see is the priority that is placed on tragedies happening in the West above anywhere else in the world – countries where this kind of thing is happening all the time, every day, every hour. I see the placing of importance of lives lost in one place over lives lost in another place.

Continue reading For the rest of the world.

Home

Image

A close friend asked me recently what ‘home’ meant to me. It’s not that we often delve into the philosophical during our frequent conversations together; she needed some information for a project she was working on and was interested in getting the perspectives of her friends and family. I was flipping through the answers she got from various other people and, in comparison to their one-liners, my own responses were rather long-winded. While this is laughingly typical of me (I have never quite mastered the art of being concise), I have a vague feeling that my answers to her questions were rather confused and convoluted. Weeks later, I still keep coming back to that question of what ‘home’ is and what it means to me – especially from my changed perspective as a fly-by visitor to the country I grew up in – a country I’m not sure I’ll ever truly return to again, except for periodic visits like this one.

It could have been because I lived a few of my formative years in Sydney that my bonds to Sri Lanka never felt terribly strong or permanent. I don’t remember much of my time here pre-Sydney. I was under 5 and have vague but happy memories of going to nursery and playing in my grandmother’s vast home and garden. Memories that old (or new, depending on how you look at it) are tied more to people, family and immediate environments rather than a country and sense of national identity. As children, I don’t think we ever dream there is a world outside the playgrounds we make for ourselves – except of course in the fancies of our imagination. For me anyway, anyone who wasn’t a fellow pint-sized sibling, or protective parent or grandparent, or stooping, loving Sumana, or sari-wrapped teacher, was either faceless or quickly forgotten. Continue reading Home

Aurora

Joker Card, by Chronoperates

I went out to a movie and came back dead.

Batman, the movie was.
One of those superhero movies
Where a masked vigilante finds himself in
extraordinary situations and somehow emerges
Triumphant.
Unscathed.
A hero who could never die,
who could take down a hundred men
without any help.

Then there’s me – in the most ordinary
of situations – at the movies with my girlfriends,
laughing about the cute boy in our class,
slurping noisily on my milkshake,
trying to drown out the thought of calories.

If someone had told me my life was in danger,
That I was going to die that day,
I would have laughed out loud.
Who would want to kill me?, I would have asked them. I’m just a kid.
My biggest problem is
the history test next week
that I can never seem to start studying for.
Life gets in the way, you know?

Besides,
I had more going for me than any superhero –
I was young. I was healthy. I was going places.

Was. Was. Was.

Where was my superhero?
I sure could have used one
when that boy came in and blazed his gun at me.
Yes, he was a boy. Who bought a gun because he could.
And decided to kill a bunch of people at a movie.
Because he could.
You can do that here, didn’t you know?
Here in America, we call it freedom.

He had orange hair.
And he had on a costume, like he was playacting.
The way we used to do when we were young,
throwing fake punches and cocking our fingers.
Pow! Bang, bang! You’re dead.
Except this time, the gun was real.
My life was real. And then it wasn’t a life anymore.

I didn’t get to see how the movie ended.
Did Batman save the day and get the girl?
Did they leave room for another story?

I didn’t get to see how my story ended.
This couldn’t have been it. I refuse to believe that it was.
Don’t I get a sequel? Another chance?

I wasn’t done.

It’s not fair.

*Inspired by the tragedy of the Aurora shooting – where 24 year old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58. 

Skoonheid (Beauty): A discussion

NOTE: Contains spoilers

Francois and Christian in ‘Skoonheid’

At the wedding of his daughter, Francois van Heerden, thin-lipped and cold-eyed, watches a young man from across the room as he laughs and talks with friends; and if it wasn’t for the length of the stare, you wouldn’t know why. Francois is a man who has become the mask he must have donned years ago, from whichever point in time that he made the conscious decision to deny who he was.

His life is reflected on his face – it is a mask and the mask is without expression. He and his wife sleep in the same bed, yet they do not look at each other when they make conversation, let alone touch. He watches dispassionately from across the road as she embraces someone we assume to be her lover and then drives away without murmur. He appears to be a regular at a meeting of white Afrikaan men – no “faggots” and/or “coloureds” allowed – who have unappetizing and unfeeling sex with each other before going back to their suburban, heterosexual lives.

Yet, under this detachment in Francois lies something that puts us on edge, although we cannot at once put our finger on it. If the adage “calm before the storm” could have face, it would be Francois’s.

Continue reading Skoonheid (Beauty): A discussion

God Only Knows (Beach Boys cover)

Image

The greatest love songs cover all kinds of love, and that, I think, is this song’s triumph. It’s not just about romantic love — you can sing it to your lover, but it would be just as true if you sang it to your child, your best friend, your mother. Furthermore, it’s not about sweeping statements and dramatic declarations. It’s a jolly, rollicking little tune which takes as its message the one thing we have all sighed to our loved ones at some point in our lives when they have come through for us when we needed them the most: “God only knows what I’d do without you”. It’s a song of simple but glorious gratitude. And it makes me terribly happy.