Last week I said I would post a story every weekend for the next three weeks, so here's number two. Please let me know what you think of the style, characters and story; I'm hoping to use this exercise to get audience feedback for book three. If you want to see a character expanded, see a plot idea within these shorts, or just like the style, please let me know.
This short was inspired by a single line in a 'hot club de paris'.
AT THE DEALER'S TABLE
She watches me with the same warm suspicion she has for the casino customers. Peering at me from over the breakfast bar with a judging smile; or is that a projected insecurity on my part? On the night we met she was wearing a shirt and red waistcoat. Bow ties don't exactly complement a woman, but she still caught my eye and I bee-lined for her table. Now she's wearing tight jeans and a flowing top and the combination do her a lot of favours. Still, I quite liked the bow tie.
‘So have you been at the casino long?’
‘About a year, but I’ve been at others before.’
She lays the cutlery down in front of me with the same nimble fingers that dealt me that winning hand. I’m no card expert, in fact that night was only my third time in a casino; the odd poker night with friends has taught me that I'm not at all bad though.
Looking at her again I weigh my odds and something tells me it doesn't look good. Not an outright, this is going badly, but more a complete failure in my foresight; like shaking a magic eight ball only to get ask again later.
She is beautiful and while I’m not bad looking, I’m a little overweight and I was never a popular kid. Add to this the 600 quid I won that night, the fact that she readily let me buy her a drink and I’m still wondering if she’s wrongly picked me as a card shark with a bag of cash.
Paul says that she’ll have seen a damn sight more won on a hand of poker than £600; that she’ll have had a lot of men come on to her, most wearing far nicer suits than mine and that he’s sure she'd know a real card shark from a mile off.
‘The real test,’ he says ‘is how long she’s worked in the casino. If it's a few days then you might be right. Anymore than six months and you're in, so work the question in early.’
I run the answer over in my mind; about a year, but I’ve been at others before and I remember those nimble hands and the effortless way she pushed the cards across the table. She brings the food over and we exchange all the pleasantries and it's not awkward because it really does smell great and I'm enjoying her company. Then she sits down, she pours me a drink and she looks straight into my soul and asks so what do you do?
It takes me a second to respond and as I do I remember more of Paul's advice from the night I met her.
'Go careful with poker, mate. When you're at the dealer's table going home gets harder.'
It occurred to me a few days ago that my blog so far as has been predominately aimed at writers and supporting writers. It's funny that as a storyteller we tend to grab hold of other writers and spend our time working and producing material for them because we know they have common interests, understand what we're doing and love reading. Its really easy to forget that we don't need other writers as much as we need readers. To assume every reader is a writer is like assuming every film lover is a filmmaker, its just not true and means you're not reaching your audience (look there I go again 'you're not reaching your audience' its ingrained).
So - Dear story lover,
Over the next three weeks I'll be posting a short story every week. What a crazy idea, hey!? I'll actually be sharing some stories. What I'd love to ask you to do is to read. Once you've read to tell me what you think and if there was any characters you loved, any plots that should be expanded; if you'd like to see the idea widened out into a novel, or just want to see one of the characters again, let me know. I'm not too far now from finishing my second book, so this is a chance for me to put some ideas out into the world and see what book three might become.
p.s. Here's the first:
At 79 the journey from home to see my little Marie is getting tiring. Still, as I sit here next to my beautiful daughter and her loving husband, I can feel a buzz that has always filled me before the curtain goes up. Tonight, like all the nights for some time, I’m on this side of the curtain. I’m sat on the hard school chairs, the ones that clip uncomfortably close together. Rachel and I are sat thigh to thigh and I can feel her excitement. Her little girl is about to stand on stage. I'm delighted listening to her occasional deep breathes; the proud mother of a proud mother. I like how life let's you reflect on the person you've been and understand your past a little better. Rachel and I always shared a passion for dancing. But she was born with a set of her father’s feet; both left, far too big and designed for falling over. She became an artist. She found her passion there and I’m so happy she did. Marie is different, she thinks in movement not images. When she dances she seems to float and she loves it.
For a school hall the venue isn’t bad, especially to say it doubles as the cafeteria—I’ve danced in worse. There is a shining spotlight on a red velvet curtains, highlighting the space where Marie will soon stand. We have a duet of passion, her and I. Music and movement. We have a special intelligence that is made for it; an awareness and bodily control. I think her ability might even be better than mine. When she moves she is in her element and, as a child, she never stops moving. The freedom of it is still familiar to me. I remember how it feels to live with your passion, to exist for it. I miss it terribly.
With age my body has betrayed me somewhat. I should feel lucky. Not many women close to 80 still have their health and their brain. I do miss the rumba, swing, the Charleston. I tell Marie all the time, Your body is your greatest tool, look after it, my sweet. She says, yes Nana, and goes off to find another packet of crisps and a jam sandwich. Still, at her age she can eat anything. That is the beauty of youth.
I can feel my insides tighten; part excitement, part worry. It was the same when I was behind the curtain. Tonight it isn’t fear for myself, it is fear for Marie. Not really for tonight; she is young and this will be a fantastic experience whatever. My worries are for the future. Will she find a way to use this passion? Will she be able to live comfortably and happily if she does? Will I live to see it? I so hope I do. I pray she doesn’t have to fight all those battles I fought. At my age it's clear that life would be boring if it was easy, but I still don't want her to feel an an ounce of pain. What an old fool. I don’t want her to be held back: for being a woman; not being from the right background; being the wrong colour. When I found dance I made it my tool and while others stared towards America, as a place of aspiration, I travelled to Asia. I learnt about cultures and movement I’d never seen. I was one of the first to find Yoga; I find it hilarious that its now in every worn village hall, tucked inside pockets of village green societies. For all my joy and friendliness, I was a little reckless and maybe a little selfish. Travel sorted that. I hope Marie will travel, though I know Rachel will hope she doesn’t.
As the curtain shivers and ascends, it reveals her. My, Marie. We knew she’d start, but seeing her there alone, centre stage. Wow. I remember those days. I wonder how she feels. At her age she probably doesn’t care at all. It’ll be later that she’ll feel sick with excitement and worry. She sits stock still. Her poise is perfect. It is one of the hardest parts, the composed stillness, but she does it effortlessly. That comes from starting young.
First her head rises. The smile on her face runs right off the stage and infects us all. The buzz I get inside might be from her, or from the music. Then I remember it is the blend of the two. She rises slowly, spreading her arms and looking to the sky. Then she begins. I hear Rachel exhale, quietly but forcefully. She can’t have taken a breath since the curtain went up. We watch her glide across the stage. She has a presence that escapes her day to day. This is what dance has done for her, what it did for me. She is quiet child; the same as Rachel, the same as me before. What I love about this part is its ability to go beyond. The performance sweeps you up and everything else is forgotten. This music and movement is rooted so much deeper than the rest of our world. That’s what I learnt when I travelled. Everything negative is swept away; we are entranced by it. In this moment my Marie is beyond. Beyond culture, religion, class, gender, colour or language. Rachel grabs my hand as Marie pirouettes and throws herself, so gracefully, across the stage in one perfect arc. The movement ebbs and flows and my emotions follow; as if on a tidal drift, controlled by Marie and the music. Right now she has no idea of the power. I hope one day she will and she’ll use it to breakdown whatever challenges she finds. She has that energy. I can see it in the movement, and the vigour, and the power, and the presence. I watch her sway, dash and settle. Sinking back into the sitting position from which she began. The applause goes up, and in that moment I know. She’ll be better than okay. Nothing will stop her. If this is all I get to see of it, I’m happy.
Ben Warden - Editor of the #SFFiction project and author of 'Life Without', which made the top ten literary fiction e-books on amazon.