Monday, 13 January 2020

The Shipping News

This week's writing is inspired by Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize winning book, 'The Shipping News'. This darkly comic novel is packed with idiosyncratic characters, places and happenings. Four lists were developed - names of people, names of places, names of knots and names of boats. These were all placed on small pieces of paper and made into four piles. Each writer chose one from each pile and had to use them in a short story. The results speak for themselves!


    Alvin Yark stretched and yawned. He was in the space between dreaming and waking - a surreal mix of colours and thoughts.
    "Oh what the hell," he thought, turning to the bedside cabinet. On it lay a classic piece of Victoriana -his great grandmother's brooch -a breast-pin of hair.
    He remembered what they said about his grandmother, that she was frugal and hardworking, bringing her children up to be free of vice. He'd held that close to his psyche - not to lie, steal, or defraud anyone.
    Beside the brooch there were the remains of his last relationship - knitting needles with the fragments of her last project. With a feeling of emptiness he pushed the needles away. Perhaps he was too moral. That's why his girlfriends walked out on him. They said he was too critical and expected too much of them.
    He crawled out of bed fingering his telephone directory. He was leafing through the numbers hoping to find someone who would talk to him. "Hello" said the voice on the phone. "Oh, it's you," it went on. "Are you sure you're not a saint yet?" Then he heard the dial tone.
    After a few calls, which were about the same, he gave up in despair. Was it him or them he wondered? Decided it was a combination of both. Personalities at odds with each other. A clash like a clash of cymbals, a horrendous noise.
    Then he remembered his best friend who had taken the plunge and joined a dating site. A friend who had got married eight months later. "Worth a crack Alvin," he thought to himself.
Fingers trembling with anxiety he keyed in some dating websites. That's when he saw her. A redhead with green eyes. In her intro it said, "I enjoy reading and gardening. Am interested in science and I work as a lab assistant in the local hospital."
    "Perfect" he thought. "Beauty and brains."
    It was only about half an hour later he received a reply to his email. "You sound lovely" it said and "I would love to meet you."
    They arranged a time and date in three days time. For the next three days he could hardly eat. Anxiety in knotting up his stomach like a half-hitch.
    The morning of the big day he dressed carefully. "Not too formal" he thought, tossing aside his one suit he used for job interviews. He put on his dressy yet casual moleskin and jersey.
    He was waiting at the museum at the specified time, but he couldn't see her. She said she'd be wearing red. There was no one that he could see.
    Then wincing with horror, he saw a fat lady with a bad dye job walk towards him.
    "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, beauty comes from within," he chanted inwardly to himself.
    "Alvin, is that you?" she slurred. She'd been drinking, he could tell.
    Surprised and disgusted, he turned to leave. Then he saw her face. She was crying.
    "I know you weren't expecting this," she said. "It's my sister's photo," she explained with sadness.      "No one likes me in a romantic way. But I am a lab assistant. I only got drunk because I knew you wouldn't like me."
    He weighed up the possibilities and gave it a go.
    He looked back a few years later and knew he'd made the right decision. They got on like a house on fire, married and lived reasonably content ever after.

- M.F.


     Wavey gulped, and the sea water coursed across his tongue and up into his nostrils.  Coughing and spitting he lunged upwards to the broken surface, tangling in line and ropes, buffeted by fishing boxes and the earlier catch of the day, now limp but with eyes that regarded him, unemotionally, as an equal at one with the ocean and the tide.
     Grasping the boat's rail, now underwater and on its side, he first knelt then stood, and as he raised himself his head cleared the smashing waterline and he coughed himself back to life.
    High above him on the deck he could see the dutch cringle tantalizingly out of reach, his only life raft locked away securely so it couldn't roll overboard in heavy weather.  Now unattainable the cringle taunted him, mocked his years of experience and skills, and his always careful preparation.
    Old Jackie from the Finger club had warned him about this;  not to be so careful that your lifeline is out of reach.  Wavey looked at his hands, split and bleeding from trying to stay out of the water.  One was missing a finger _ that was a marlin, twenty years ago.  It had flipped and rotated on the line and the snaking nylon had looped around his finger, taking it away with the fish.
    How long could he stand here, up to his neck in the ocean?  The water was cold but it was the waves' chop and swell would take him, he knew, down into Capsize Cove.

- Kate Jenkins


    Bunny pointed the bow of the boat toward the shore.  She'd never been here before, but thought it looked like a safe place for the night.  The Polar Grinder could withstand most currents and weather, but Bunny didn't like sailing her at night.  Fred jumped overboard with rope in hand, tying up tight to an old wreck on the shore.
    "Handy you taught me the mooring hitch yesterday," he yelled back.
    "Yeah, I was getting sick of getting wet every time we stopped anywhere," she replied.
    On shore they got a fire going, before pulling out their maps to find out exactly where they were.  Running her finger down the coastline, Bunny noted Narrow Cove, Lost Cove, Middle Cove, and then the one where they'd stopped - but it had no name.
    Bunny picked up an old piece of board lying in the sand and carved out some shapes, before stabbing it into the ground.  "I hereby name this No Name Cove," she declared, before taking her baked potato out of the fire embers and settling down for a well-earned meal.

- Christine Philp


    The wind was always wild at Home Rock; it blew off roofs, knocked down gates and made the horses skittish. Mavis Bangs hated living there, the perpetual howling gale made it impossible to have a civilised conversation; impossible to hear the gramophone; almost impossible to think.
    The wind was especially wild that Good Friday; it whipped up the waves into a towering crescendo and dumped detritus all along the beach rocks. When Mavis came down to gather periwinkles, she found the seaweed piled in strangle knots a hundred yards from the water's edge. As she walked over it, it made a shrill sound, as high as a horses's whinny. It was the sea song, calling to be free, and it echoed the call for freedom in her own soul.
    She walked slowly and purposefully, pausing now and then to scoop up a jewel of seafood entrapped in the green tangle, and listened with all her might to the ocean music; telling her to forget her gentle English upbringing and embrace this new untamed natural beauty to which her fisherman husband had brought her. With each step Mavis felt the trappings of civilisation recede further into the past and happiness and acceptance rushed like a wave over her.
    And for a moment, the wind ceased its relentless blowing, so she could hear more clearly.

- Helen Ledger


    It was a day and night of the howling Autumn winds which were gaining strength, but never once did it demolish the lodger’s household. The daily hunger pains and the average mans’ great capacity to down a few ales’ led to yet another guinea fowl (hereby known as the Gammy Bird) being decapitated ready for yet another guests’ meal.
    There were times when Benny Fudge would have been grateful if his young lady friend would saunter by, and in thinking so, Benny Fudge would play with the love knot of her platted hair.
    There after the open fire crackling with the odd sparks from burning red pine logs would hasten to burn to ash totally when it was time for a silent night in other parts of the lodger’s house.
    After a couple of nights of dodging treacherous and relentless winds on land and at sea, Benny Fudge gave up his activity of playing Roma Numbers (with all players who lost a round having to forfeit a few silver coins). Even the ship’s new captain could never surpass Benny Fudge, the Sergeant At Arms, at a game of Roma Numbers!
    The ship’s captain was never to be seen out of it, or as we say, totally wasted. Until now the ship’s crew could always hold their liquor like those in the story of Jason & The Argonauts. And at 5am on this, a fine Autumns morning, Benny Fudge commanded all crew to embark for another few days of relentless trips among a few other seasonal transporters!

- Graeme Wilson

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