A Short Story

Sunday Blog 105 – 8th October 2023

I blame the travel, but I missed a deadline for a writing competition. For the lols I thought I would make it today’s Sunday Blog. It’s a fictional riff on a real stay in a writer’s cabin.

When I came out for my morning break, I was no longer alone.

I’d booked a cabin at the Katharine Susannah Pritchard (KSP—she’s too cool for a full name) Writer’s Centre, focused on finishing the goddam talk. I was trying to bring together all my ideas on the health system, to find the right words to generate a revolution. It was just so huge, I’d wrestled with it, labouring without end or result. Normally, this was so easy for me. What was wrong? Perhaps a short stint in a KSP cabin was just the thing I needed.

They gave me the cabin next to the holy of holies, KSP’s original writing cabin itself. She’d created this space to carve out time from all the non-writing demands that clawed at her time and creativity like an ivy strangling an oak.

All the cabins have been modelled on hers, with a few very welcome nods to the twenty-first century in terms of plumbing. Three nights it would be mine, and they warned me I would be all alone. 

I didn’t mind. Night one I made my way up in the dark to the Big House, entered the kitchen and rattled around, looked in every cupboard and drawer before sparking up the cooktop to make myself pasta and tomato, green salad, tzatsiki. Took a photo of my dinner just to prove to myself it had happened.

Next night I’ll be able to eat in my room, I thought. It was just a bit lonely, and I was locked out of the rest of the house. I crept to bed, determined to attack the speech with renewed effort in the morning.

On waking I prowled around the cabin, determined to make use of all the writers’ toys—the whiteboard was marked with the connecting ideas of my talk into some kind of frame. The magnetic word game lacked so many letters it wasn’t much use. But I sorted them out anyway, like I sort my Tarot cards, so I never get a reversed card in a reading.

So when I walked out of my cabin, at the very same time, KSP was walking out of hers. I stopped short. She waved me away as if to say, “Come on. No big deal! Apparitions and ghosts are how we roll around here!”

She lit a cigarette, exhaled almost violently.

“That bloody Bill Mountjoy!” she said as we watched her fug of smoke expand out into the sweet air and disappear.

“Are you working on Communist Party stuff?” I couldn’t quite keep the judgement out of my voice. “I thought you’d be working on a novel.”

Her deep sigh came from the earth itself.

“Touche” she said.

“I mean, I didn’t mean to sound critical or anything,” I scrambled, back pedalled.

“No, no. The cabin should only be for creative writing. I quite agree.” She blew another cloud of smoke out.

“Also.” I said, but stopped before testing out the next sentence. It was a branch on a tree that might hold my weight, might not.

She looked at me in her quizzical, earnest way. Invited me to blunder on.

“I feel I should let you know that I’m related to Bill Mountjoy.”

Her laugh bounced off the trees and valley, startled one of the crows and encouraged it to shift branches. “You have my sympathies.”

“Well, full disclosure. I never actually met him. He was my grandmother’s brother. I don’t think she liked him much either. He was the one that made it back from the First World War, but not all of him, perhaps. He lost his brother Johnny and gained a rage and a thirst that no amount of wine could slake.”

She listened. Nodded.

I started again, wanting to fill in the gaps between me and my miscreant relative who would go boozing with undercover cops and unintentionally undermine his beloved cause of communism. “I suppose he mustn’t have been the same after the war. And they were a poor family. His dad was a real bastard.”

Still, she said nothing, but there was an unmistakable click in the air between us. This was a skerrick of material she may use elsewhere, and her recorder was on while I talked.

“Last night, I found myself thirsty for wine. The kind of thirsty that is intrusive. Annoying. Shall I have the wine? Wouldn’t it be better to not drink? Isn’t everything I want—a svelte shape, healthy sparkling eyes and a lifestyle free of any cancer-causing habits—on the other side of alcohol?”

“Oh I know that horrid track,” was all KSP said.

“Anyway, Google maps sent me to the bottle shop just up the road, but it was obviously out of date. It then sent me down the hill, around some quiet streets and then bam!”

She startled just a little at the “bam”, which was in truth much louder than I’d meant it to be.

“Mountjoy Street.”

“Like a family street?” she suggested.

“I guess. Its placement next to the bottle shop seemed apt.”

Her laugh peeled out, rich and strong.

There was a silence as she smoked. She held out the pack to me and even though I’d quit smoking over forty years ago, my body just walked me up the ramp to where she stood, holding out the pack. My hand just reached out to the pack like an automaton and plucked a cigarette out. Just for a moment, I wondered if the neighbours were watching me pluck a cigarette out of thin air. But she was surprisingly whole and robust.

“Yes, surprise. Not just a ghost your hands pass through,” she commented.

Offered me a light, and I drew in the smoke, deep and rich.

“I shouldn’t smoke” I protested. But it felt so wonderful. My insides crumbled, resistance melted away. The cloud of smoke suddenly grew alarmingly and cloaked me entirely. Then it disappeared, leaving me standing there, alone.

The sounds of the bush pushed forward into the emptiness. Suddenly, I saw the shape of my talk dissolve on the while board and reappear in the form required. Before this phantasm could disappear, I bolted back into the cabin, erased the white board and traced the compelling new pattern from the lines in my mind.

And I sat down and finished the bloody talk.

I made sure I acknowledge KSP in the talk. Maybe I didn’t fully explain the nature of her assistance that had unfolded in the magic between the cabins. But I made sure not to waste the crumbs she left me. I could at least do that.

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