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Six very short stories.

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FORTNIGHTLY FICTION

By SIMON COLLINGS.

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1. MISSING When we got to the viewing place it was much busier than we’d expected. There’s a sign there, ‘Sublime View’, and next to it the place you’re supposed to stand for the perfect shot. Know where I mean? The spot where they painted the pair of feet? People were hanging around, jostling to have their turn, and William just kind of snapped. ‘Let’s get in the car,’ he said, so we did. His face was set like…I don’t know how to describe it. Like he was grieving. We drove down the hill and at the bottom he suddenly turned off onto this track heading out into the desert. He didn’t say anything, just kept driving until we hit the gully and the car wouldn’t go any further. Then he got out and started walking off into the bush. That was about three hours ago.

2. THE HOTEL Coming to and finding myself without a stitch on I decided I would try to get back to my hotel, which I estimated was about ten minutes away. Fortunately the avenue was crowded with people, and by losing myself in the throng I was more or less able to conceal my nakedness. Pressed close against the pedestrians around me, it was hard for anyone to notice the full extent of my predicament. There was a marked chill in the early evening air, and the warmth of the bodies surrounding me happily afforded some protection against the cold. But the crowd moved slowly, so slowly that at times we appeared to be making little progress. I had no choice but to follow the general advance as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by trying to force a way through. I could see up ahead a neon sign with the name of my hotel on it, though I didn’t remember the hotel being on this street. Perhaps there were two hotels with the same name, I thought. I was sure mine had been on a side street. I had no means of checking of course, and in fact I was no longer sure what the name of my hotel was.

3. J’AI REVÉ DE TOI She is standing next to the window looking out on to a garden, her face caught in profile against the light. There is no doubt that this is A, the curve of the mouth is hers, the forehead, the neck. She must be 19, 20, framed by the window of a room I do not recognise, a room I once knew perhaps but have since forgotten. She is wearing a pale cotton t-shirt and denim shorts. Her feet are bare, her blonde hair cut short, the way I remember it. On the t-shirt can just be made out the words: j’ai revé de toi. She is completely still, as though I am looking at a photograph of her. Then she turns towards me. ‘Do I know you?’ she asks.

4. A CUP OF TEA While we were having tea at Mrs Tattinger’s, a young man I hadn’t seen before came into the living room. He was bare-chested, in knee-length shorts, and pulling on a length of rope, as though hauling something in from the garden. Mrs Tattinger seemed not to notice. After a great deal of effort he managed to cross the room, disappearing off to the left, I assume into one of the bedrooms, where he appeared to be securing the rope. He then crossed back and went out through the door he’d entered by, disconnected the rope from its load, and re-crossed the living room, carefully coiling the rope as he went. I wondered if this might be the nephew she had once talked about. I took another sip of tea and asked about her rheumatism. After a few minutes the young man reappeared, entering once again from the same door as before, and the whole procedure was repeated. Still Mrs Tattinger gave no sign of being aware of his presence. It was only during the fourth occurrence, and then without looking up, that she called out to him: ‘You ought to stop for a cup of tea.’ He seemed not to hear and continued to persevere with his task as though we didn’t exist.

5. THEORY And it is certainly arguable that, at some deep level, Wordsworth saw in the person of the blind beggar the incarnation of the unseeing Milton, the brief text hanging upon his form a token for his works, works which Wordsworth himself wished to supplant. This sudden revelation, however obscurely apprehended, of not just the physical blindness but also the intellectual blindness of the 17th century poet, is experienced by Wordsworth both as an ‘admonishment’ in relation to his ambitions in the literary sphere, and as a spur to his aspiration toward greatness – not for its own sake but for the betterment of Man. Indeed, one might even suggest that here is another of those instances of Oedipal rage which Jerome Freidhof argues so persuasively Wordsworth displays toward Milton in several other passages in The Prelude.* Or one might argue, following Debord, that Wordsworth here effects a subtly disguised detournement with the object of exposing, even if only subliminally, the hollowness of vision underlying Milton’s achievement. If readers find this fanciful let them ask themselves why it is a man with impaired vision who strikes Wordsworth amongst the throng, rather than a woman with a cleft palate, or a legless child.

* Freidhof, J., ‘Wordsworth’s Oedipus complex’, Journal of Abstruse Literary Theories, vol 6, issue 4, Nov/Dec 1986.

6. THE MEETING My train had been delayed and I was ten minutes late arriving for the meeting, so when the taxi pulled up outside the hotel I jumped out, paid the driver, and rushed through the door. The hotel foyer was not what I had expected. The walls were dark red, and instead of the usual reception desk there was simply a small table, placed just inside the door. Behind it sat a young woman who was wearing nothing but a negligee. In some confusion I asked if this was the hotel. She smiled, but said nothing. I started to feel flushed, and turned to leave, but found that the door through which I had entered was now a wall covered with the same red flock wallpaper as the rest of the room. I felt the surface for signs of a secret panel but the door had vanished. The woman behind the desk was observing my predicament with amusement. The only way out seemed to be through a curtained archway on the other side of the room, so I crossed the room and stepped through the gap in the drapes. I was on a narrow, brightly lit stage. The footlights dazzled me at first but I gradually became aware that I was facing a small auditorium filled with people who were watching expectantly. ‘Does anyone know how to get to the hotel next door?’ I asked. A few people tittered. ‘Please,’ I said, ‘will someone help me?’ This provoked a more sustained burst of laughter. Then a song began playing over the theatre’s sound system, a Nina Simone number – ‘Do I move you’. The woman from behind the desk had just slipped on to the stage behind me. She was wearing a long red evening gown, split to the thigh, a feather boa, and silver gloves. She glided across the stage towards me, and slowly began undoing my tie.


Simon Collings lives in Oxford and has published poems, stories and critical essays in a range of journals including StrideJournal of Poetics ResearchCafé Irreal,Tears in the FenceInk Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse and PN ReviewOut West, his first chapbook, was published by Albion Beatnik in 2017, and a second chapbook, Stella Unframed, was released by The Red Ceilings Press in 2018. An archive of his work for The Fortnightly Review is here.

 

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