© Joe Miller and James Natto
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS (short stories)
by Joe Miller and James Natto
The second instalment of our themed collection of extra-short short stories
Contains foul language
May also contain traces of nuts
* indicates italics
THE POLITICAL WIFE
She’d come to the conclusion that Tommy was more après-ski than ski. His skill at “working the room”—how horribly American that sounded—couldn’t be questioned. He had charisma, certainly, and plenty of the right sort of hair. But the speeches—well, they weren’t difficult to follow, but what, in the end, did they mean? What was it that he was so passionately in favour of? Change, of course, and fairness. Those came up a lot. But what exactly did he mean by those words?
This kind of thing just never arose in their domestic conversations. She’d never even asked him why he’d gone into politics in the first place. It was just what one did. So she smiled dutifully throughout the speech, and clapped, and stood, still clapping, at the end, but she knew at that moment that she’d made a terrible mistake. Everything had been fine until she’d started engaging with the real ideas—the ones his speeches always seemed to be skirting around—instead of concentrating on the right dress for the occasion.
Now she felt horribly constrained: she wanted to be hurtling down the ideological piste, not back at the lodge tucking into the Gluhwein of change and the fondue of fairness. Perhaps she’d even give politics a go herself.
“Tommy, dear,” she said, when they got back to the house in Holland Park, “we can’t go on like this. I’m so sorry, but the thing is, I think I’m a socialist.”
“Not to worry, darling,” he said, “I may very well be one myself.”
THE TASTE TEST
She laughed nervously and said: “It tastes a bit like chicken.”
His eyebrows rose up his forehead like synchronous caterpillars while his fingers tried to strangle his pen. Then a single word struggled out of his mouth like a POW emerging from an escape tunnel.
“Well…yes,” she said. “I mean, a little. I…I haven’t actually eaten much chicken but, well, it sort of reminds me of it. A bit, anyway. I think.” She stuttered to a halt.
For some months he’d been entertaining the notion of marrying her. But now…
He looked down at her.
“How long have you been my secretary, Deirdre?”
“Four years, Mr Brownlee.”
“I don’t ask much of you, do I?”
“No, Mr Brownlee,” she said, though his request had been unusual.
“And have I ever asked you to do anything like this before?”
“No, Mr Brownlee.”
“It’s a privilege I rarely extend to female members of staff, you know. You do realise that?”
“Yes, Mr Brownlee.”
“It’s important,” he said, “to offer opportunity to all employees, not just a select few.”
“I do appreciate that, Mr Brownlee. It was just, well, it was a bit unexpected that’s all. You’ve never asked me to do anything like that before.”
“Very well, Deirdre. That’s all. You can go back to your work.”
Marriage was out of the question.
“Thank you Mr Brownlee,” she said rising to her feet, still clutching a tissue tightly in one of her hands.
“Oh, and Deirdre?”
She turned at his office door.
“Send Bob Simmons up, will you?”
“Yes, Mr Brownlee.”
“Come in, Bob,” said Brownlee a short while later. “Sit down. Now, what do you think of this?”
Simmons chewed steadily for a minute or so.
“Great,” he said, finally. “Tastes like chicken. That’s a winner.”
MAKING IT BIG
“If you think that's a big one you've got a lot to learn,” she said.
I knew she was right, but I’d never had an invoice for over a million pounds before.
“Seems an awful lot for tax advice.”
“It’ll save you an awful lot more.”
“And what’ll I do with the money I save?”
“You could get a hospital named after you.”
I was never quite sure whether Janis was my secretary or my accountant, but I did like her.
Everyone wants something, and I got rich by delivering one of the things that everyone wanted: a no fail, no effort penis enlarger. It went viral, global, as soon as it hit the market. I went from poor zhlub to billionaire without an R in the month.
Now it looks like I’m going down the hill just as fast as I went up.
Apparently, when everyone has a big one, no one has. So people started ignoring the one-use-only warning on the package. In the first week, it was just a couple of guys who went over the top and haemorrhaged to death. Soon, though, it was dozens, and then hundreds. And I have no doubt that, despite all the publicity, it’ll be thousands next week, if not tens of thousands. I’m tempted to say that humanity will be better off without these morons, but as the instrument of their undoing, perhaps I’d better not.
Of course I am protected, for now, by the disclaimers and warnings, but I’ve no doubt they’ll get me somehow. So I’d better endow that hospital double quick, before the lawyers get all the money.
Why can’t people just be satisfied with what they’ve got?
THE LURE OF THE GREEN
“Anyone who thinks it’s easy to kiss and tell has never tried it.”
“Really?” he said. “I’d have thought the financial inducements on offer were sufficient motivation to overcome the difficulties.”
They’d fallen into conversation on the city’s riverbank.
He came here often. The water flow soothed him, fortified his patience and his occasionally wavering faith in the future.
She’d left a drinks party early, frustrated at finding no one suitable for her purposes.
She didn’t normally speak to strangers, but he seemed harmless.
“You must earn a lot,” he added.
“Sure,” she admitted, wondering whether to continue; though he was a good listener.
“But it’s hard work you know, keeping up the contacts, staying on the invitation lists. And expensive. The clothes, the flat to maintain and everything. People don’t realise. Then there’s the targets. The best kind are married, but you still have to know how to pick out the ones with potential. That’s not easy, either.”
“I suppose not.”
They were both silent for a minute or two, each wrapped in their own thoughts.
“Try *me* then,” he said.
She frowned, puzzled.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m perfectly serious. What have you got to lose?”
“But what? I could be the key to your future. Anyway, my reputation isn’t that important to me. Life’s short. Grab opportunity where you find it.”
“I suppose,” she said.
He held her gaze, unblinking.
“What the hell,” she said, after some moments. And she leant over and kissed him.
As their lips parted, her body tingled and her skin seemed to renew itself. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from her, yet she was not at ease.
“Oh fuck,” she said.
The frog smiled at her.
“Right then, princess,” he said. “Time for a dip.”
“This is the fourth book in my rock'n'roll trilogy,” she said. “I published the first three through Vanitas Press.”
She’d been pestering the agent for months with letters and emails, and he was disappointed to see she looked nothing like the pictures she’d sent.
“Wouldn’t that make it a tetralogy?” he said.
“No, it’s actually quite a happy book. The hero is Byrt Cocayne, lead singer of the Blynd Tygers.”
He could hear the Ys as she said it.
“It’s pretty raunchy, but that’s rock’n’roll for you. There’s quite a few scenes of incest,” she said, “but it’s set in the Bristol area, so that’s normal.”
“That’s very interesting,” he said, “but as you’ve already gone the self-publishing route, why do you need an agent?”
“I’m a serious writer, and I want you to promote my work.”
“I see. Well, leave it with me and I’ll see what I can do.”
As he rose to see her out, she frowned, and pulled a revolver with a silencer out of her handbag. If it was a replica, he reflected, it was a convincing one.
“Sit down and listen,” she said.
He sat, and she started reading. The gun ensured he didn’t laugh.
After a couple of chapters, he said, “This is extraordinary, truly extraordinary. You are clearly a remarkable talent, and I would be delighted to promote all four books of your trilogy.”
“Oh, thank you. I had a feeling you’d like it if only I could get you to listen.”
He ushered her out and said, “I will be contacting you *very* shortly.”
Thank Christ, he thought. Now I can dump this piece of crap and call the police.
Outside, she was waiting, revolver at the ready, for the familiar sound of manuscript hitting wastepaper bin.
THE BRIMSTONE MADONNA
The first thing she noticed was the smell. Or perhaps, more accurately, the lack of it. She prided herself on her olfactory sense. She’d once been told that she should have been a disease nurse. So she was puzzled.
The second thing was the light. It was bright and somehow opaque, yet not dazzling. But she could see nothing.
Nor was there anything to touch, to feel. Nor any familiar sounds to provide meaningful clues.
Maybe she’d been kidnapped. A hostage held in surroundings designed deliberately to disorientate. They were in for a disappointment then, unless they wanted the overdraft. And surely she would remember. Recall the fear. Yet she was not afraid. On the contrary, she felt at peace.
She decided she must be dreaming and would soon wake up, kick Eamonn gently on the ankle to turn him over then snuggle up to his broad back, praying that neither of the girls would wake too early. She could navigate the contours of her husband’s body like a well-worn map.
The new child would soon be born. It wasn’t his but he’d never know. Anyway, she took confession regularly. Caitlin and Neala couldn’t wait to have a brother.
But she was not dreaming.
The light seemed to clarify and she found herself looking down.
A woman dressed in green was holding a tiny, mewling baby. And surely that was Eamonn, kneeling by a bed with his face pressed into the sheets holding another woman’s hand?
The man sat back, tears waterfalling his cheeks, and she saw that the woman was her.
Ah, she thought. Now I understand. And she faded gently from the room.
The first thing she noticed was the smell. What *was* that? It was on the tip of her tongue.
He’d presumed he would have felt a sense of wonder when he cradled the new arrival in his arms. And he’d presumed right. All his life he’d wanted a proper Scalextric set, and now it had arrived. It was his pet project to collect all the toys he wished he’d had as a boy, and this was the last of them. All hail ebay, he murmured to himself as he felt the weight of the box, giving it a little shake to hear the squeak of the polystyrene inside before he unwrapped it and delivered the contents. The set wasn’t brand new—it was sold as “vintage”—but the seller had assured him that all the pieces were there and in working order.
He joined up the sections of track and plugged in the transformer and the controllers. His fingers were trembling as he carefully twiddled the brushes on the underside of the perfect little silver McLaren, and the perhaps even more perfect little red Ferrari, lining them up just right.
Thank God he had a bit of time to himself today. Elaine didn’t really appreciate his hobbies—the Subbuteo and the Hornby trains, and now this—and tended to niggle at him while he was making his meticulous preparations. She could be so selfish sometimes.
The race was just getting under way, left hand silver and right hand red, when the phone rang. The machine can get that one, he thought, narrowly avoiding a crash at the crossover point.
“Bob, it’s Kate,”— Elaine’s sister—“there have been some complications, and they’re going for an emergency caesarean. When you pick this up, can you come down straight away?”
The red overtook the silver in a perfect manoeuvre on the inside track.
The midwife said she’d never seen anything quite like it.
“Look at it,” said Angela Bush, still bristling that the midwife had been named Angel Blush. The production’s guidelines required that the characters be named by majority vote of the cast. “Have *you* ever seen anything quite like that?”
“Not one quite that size, I concede,” said Perry Ambrose, who was playing Doctor Panegyric in ‘The Horse’s Navel’. “But this *is* an experimental production, dear.”
“Peter?” said Angela.
Peter Pell, artistic director of the little amateur theatre, was a psychotherapist by day.
“I remind you, Angela, my role is one of facilitator rather than traditional authority figure. You must take responsibility for your reactions and demonstrate those to the audience. That is essential to the play’s parturient dynamic.”
“But it’s a twelve foot tall vagina!”
“That’s *your* interpretation. Remember, we are challenging the time-honoured conventions of space, tension and language.”
“So,” she said, “I’ve got to go into this…this giant fanny, and emerge with, well, with what?”
“There will be an assortment of objects inside for you to choose from. These will be changed for each performance and it will be for you to interpret what is most appropriate on the night.”
“Eh, excuse me, Peter?” said Dick Bimpott, leaning through an exit door.
“Not now, Dick,” said Pell, sharply.
“Yes, but, there’s a bit of a national emergency…”
“Fuck you, then,” muttered Bimpott, exiting once more. “Think you’re Sir Peter bloody Hall. You can find out for yourself.”
Above the Corn Mill Theatre, only a few thousand or so miles out in space, a small comet was hurtling earthwards. It had only just been detected. Shaped rather like a monstrous penis, it was heading centre stage. Experts were describing it as a possible extinction level event.