Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: Fiction

The Last Selfie

The last moments are the scariest, he thought. As he had been told. Apparently you first bob like a cork. Then you are swamped. Then you stretch your arms out to push yourself out of the water. And giving up, your arms and legs climb upward. Then downward. Thus overloaded you sink to the bottom faster than an anchor. So much time to contemplate, he thought.

The wave had already broken and the spray filled the sky. So much power, so much grace, how fortunate to witness. He reached for his phone. But there was no coverage. There’s no one to tell it to now. No photo, no text, could he break into the internet using his thoughts? But there, there was so much bile, cat videos, fake news that would overwhelm his story. Although it might go viral he thought, the last selfie of a drowning man. The channel between him and the point was now frothing green and white. Apparently once you sink to the bottom, it’s like falling asleep and drifting off. He really was annoyed now. He was never going to get his few seconds of fame on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram now. He looked and now the trough was full and flowing towards him. And then the water started building up again. He looked up and saw the spray over arch him again.
A second wave. He assembled the new facts of his predicament with studied detachment resolving to record and relate it for another time. The wave fell and crushed him silent.

Baby Crush

A bald head crowned by a few curls peeks out. Two eyes large and watchful wait and see what I might do.

I’m not moving. I stand silent. I’m a daddy statue.

Tiny hands cover her eyes. She tries to catch my gaze.

No way. I’m having no part of it. Not yet.

She opens them. She peeks carefully at me. Then covers herself with the blanket.

“Peep bo!” The blanket speaks.

That’s my moment. My eyes close. Although I keep the good one only an eighth open. Enough to cheat. Enough not to get caught.

Each time she closes her eyes, I open mine. Each time I see her open her eyes, I close mine!

Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. “Peep Bo!”

“Peep bo!” I say again. Before the blanket went on.

I chuckle as the blanket giggles and rolls on the floor. Then smile at her laughter while she wriggles her way out. Usually she beats me to it. Then as she unwravels…

“Peep Bo!” She got me that time.

The blanket again wraps itself up. It giggles and rolls on the floor. Then she crawls out. And stands a little taller than this morning. Now her jumpsuit is too small for her. But that’s no matter now.

Two arms stretch to the sky. She starts to waggle her fingers. Twinkle twinkle? Yes i’m happy to sing that with her. But no peeking. Otherwise she’ll catch me lip syncing.

Then she stops stock still.

No. I was lucky there. Then not so lucky.

“Jump game.”

Oh no! Daddy workout time.

Arms stretch high. “As high as the sky.”

I squat down. I waddle towards her. I put my shoulders under her arms. Then my hands around her waist.

I lift her up. Until her head is level with mine. Her eyes are already laughing. Daddy’s doing the heavy lifting now.

I stand up and throw her high into the air.

Giggles, then laughter.

I stop just before I let her go. I’m not a dad, I’m an astronaut trainer. Besides she’ll never get vertigo from me!

“Again. High as the sky.”

More deep squats. More overhead presses. My knees ache. My shoulders sing. I sneak a glance at my burden.

She’s frozen in time!! One arm up, one arm out, frozen in a ballet pose.

Carefully I shift her to my stronger arm. I lean forward, most weight pushed backward and draw back the coverlet, sheet and blanket. Then i place her in her bed as if one false move would be the last. She slumps flaccid in her bed. I cover her up. I start to lightly leave…

Her hand finds my finger. And crushes it. I hold my breath. I listen to her breath slow and deep measuring eternity one second at a time.

Yes parenthood is a vocation, it’s not a job. But if someone can tell me how to remove a child’s hand from my finger without waking her, I’d be really grateful!

The Glass Slipper (3)

Celebrities, I now realise, live in a perpetual fog. And nowhere more so than on the red carpet. This night I’m slow prancing through a warming mist of light. Camera flashes and phone selfie stick shots leave me blinking rapidly and staring dumbly. Further along, the spotlights surround me like a hot cloud. I’m suited up, white shirt, black tie, the male uniform of universal fame. But I do look good, I have to admit that. So my social feed tells me anyway.

Ella like a vision is in front of me. The classic fairy tale goddess : tall, blonde, slim, leading everyone’s eye towards her. Remember, I thought, people don’t stare at beauty like that, they just hold their gaze for longer. It’s her night, after all. That much this simple man does know.Right now, I have little idea why I’m here. It’s an opening night for a product Ella is endorsing. Something, something, folate. I start to fall behind.

“Folate? What the hell is Folate?”

I’m open-mouthed staring at the TV. My reality mega celebrity wife is yet again endorsing another product. And no-one has told me about it. She’s saying what a great health supplement it is. Which is of no use to me at all. I don’t know a thing. And that secret leaks out very quickly. For my followers have tapped into my confusion. According to the social media feedback, that is. The joke continues, smart wife, dumb husband. Not dumb I say to myself. I just do what I’m told. She’s the ball gown, I’m the plastic handbag. And so long as it stays that way, I will have ongoing success.

There’s Ella, in glorious 3D. So real I could almost reach out, tap her on the shoulder and ask, “What’s it for?”

But it’s not me doing the asking. Or the tapping of the shoulder.

Out of the misty light, the voice spoke to me, “Good evening sir, I hope you’re well tonight.”

I squint. I try to see who is talking to me. A smiling urbane gentleman of the old class I thought.

“Thank you, I am”, I replied. As my eyes adjusted, I could see who it was. He was a head taller than me. He was perfectly clean shaven. He had green eyes that were both piercing and twinkling set in a pleasant thin face. He was dressed in a thin grey woollen suit and wearing a earpiece. I couldn’t work out why he was not behind the silken barrier. Then I looked at his badge. And then he spoke again.

“You can’t go any further.” His voice hardened slightly as he emphasised all the words. The scene now starts to make sense to me. Here I am speaking to the most well mannered security guard I’d ever met. And now he is very diplomatically telling me my night was over. I looked behind him. He had firepower on his side. On his left and right were two heavy set men. Now these were the security men that I would cast in the role, I thought. Exactly alike, they were dressed in jet black suits, short, squat, standing silently and watchfully. If my new found acquaintance had asked to burrow they would. But they were more suitable for scrummaging. When I saw men like that coming for me, I always threw the ball away. Although it didn’t help. But this time I stood still.

I said nothing. I was outnumbered. I was told the reason. I was with a rival company. They had orders that it was best I be turned away. The pop and flash of cameras continue as if these were fans asking for a selfie or even an old-fashioned autograph. But not for long, as the real star is moving on.

I started to say, “I’m with Ella.” But I thought better of it.

I decided to be an anonymous celebrity for now. I stayed in the fog. I waited for rescue. Any other reaction I realised would be all over the media in seconds. I looked down at the phone. “What’s happening Jack?” was the theme of the feed. “Who are these people?” they asked. Tempted, I started to tap on my phone. Remembering the advice I had received about social media, I pulled my hand away. I chose to shut up and wait for the lifeline.

When it happens, it makes me believe in science fiction. Yet again, out of nowhere, John and Tash materialise. My producers, who had been avoiding me for reasons unknown for the last week turn up at the time of crisis.

I always thought of them as the perfect couple. Interchangeable. One could substitute for the other. As they do right now. They step right up to the security supervisor, so no-one can easily listen. Two people invading his personal space. The security gentleman doesn’t flinch. He is inscrutable. He tilts his head down to listen. All I can see is his bald head with a light sheen of sweat.

John or Tash speaks first, the other continues the sentence, without the other even stopping for breath. All I hear is the phrase, “Endorsement conflict.” My head just tick tocks as I look from one to another. I know I still look as stunned as I did during the camera, phones and spotlights on the red carpet. I look down. My feed is full of a jumble of emoticons, some funny, others puzzled, of course, some obscene.

John and Tash stop at the same time. They both look at me. They speak in unison, “Don’t do anything until we tell you.” I think to myself, yes, mostly that’s what I usually do, but not always. Especially when I have an unexpected surprise and try and fix it myself. Just like when I tried to placate Ella after she shattered the glass slipper. But we fixed that, didn’t we?

They continue to speak to the butler. I think to myself, he would make an excellent butler. But his tone is firm. Then without speaking to one another, John and Tash start calling on their mobiles. I’m stupefied by now. I think I hope the camera’s aren’t zooming in on my open flapping mouth as well. They’re speaking as one person to different people. “How did they do that?”, I thought. “How did they decide who called who and who went first?”

Meanwhile, twilight surrounds us. The lights, phones and cameras have moved on, seeking Ella’s long gaze. I’m sure she’s thinking of me. But that would be reality TV being too real?

The next thing I hear is a whisper. The two of them talking into my ear. How can they get so close? “Text her and tell her you’re not feeling well. And then go home.” I do as I’m told. It always works. My new found security detail escort me to the waiting car.

The Glass Slipper (2)

The TV screen went black. For three seconds. A sliver of white light appeared. It flickered, flashed and exploded, filling the screen. It was a white out. For three seconds. The screen panned back. The torch started searching the room. Spotlights painted the walls, shadows wavered and stopped. It found two shiny high-heeled shoes floating in the air. The crystal slippers began to spin slowly.

The screen went green-grey. A figure could be seen sleeping on a bed. Ella.

“Will these new slippers win back her heart?”

Another pause to build more suspense.

“I hope this works,” I said.

I wasn’t acting. I looked away. A short clip replayed the fell events of the previous week. I looked away. The shouting, the crying, me trying to calm her down, finally culminating in the smashing of the old glass slippers. And then I made it worse. I tried to reconcile. But I was only doing what I was told.

The week that had been was superficial casual reality TV fare. We were kept occupied, too busy to think for ourselves. We had spent a great deal of time together. But we had spent little time alone. For they had chosen activities that didn’t require us to communicate at any depth. The last week had been an interminable spin of social activities and commercial endorsements. We had ended up being both half-awake and half asleep but too tired to argue or discuss anything. This frenzy of activity was also interlaced with a lot of old footage of us being loving assuming the fans would think things were great.

For Ella wasn’t talking to anyone. As her husband in reality I had even less idea of what was happening. The producers, directors and script writers, when I saw them seemed more energetic than usual. I didn’t think there was a problem until they sent Ella away for a commercial endorsement without me.

That all happened quickly. I had woken early, showered and had gone downstairs to browse for some breakfast. While I made my coffee (ensuring that this week’s brand faced the cameras), I looked out the window. Our coastal home away from home was sited on a peninsula facing east. It was early, and the sea was still blue grey. But then there was that pink-red glimmer that preceded dawn. I watched it as was my habit. Then I saw movement near the bedroom. I saw a a clutch of assistants quickly ascend the stairs. I was signalled not to take any notice. So obediently I didn’t.

But it was only a few minutes and then they returned with Ella. Tall and blonde, the camera caressed her like a lover’s glance. She was stylishly dressed and ravishingly beautiful. I thought for a second, perhaps, she and I? And then she, assistants in tow fled out the door, presumably to another pre-managed, highly-planned but seemingly impulsive media event. Ignored, I went back to my real occupation. Social media lurker. Reading the comments and advice. Ignoring the nutters and crazies but attempting to find a consensus and follow it. After all, that’s how I stayed popular.

For both of us, this had been the first moment of pause since the breaking of the slippers.

And then John and Tash appeared. They were the veteran husband and wife couple who had produced many reality TV shows. They were so close they finished each others sentences. Somehow I felt they wanted the same for myself and Ella.

They spoke together and said that they had sent Ella for the day and wanted to see me for a long meeting. I felt like I had been called into the principal’s office again. I always thought I was in trouble with them. And the meetings followed the same pattern. But today they would offer me a way out. A new set of slippers and a new hope for both of us.

They had already spoken to me about my actions after the slipper was broken. I had acted without authority and they had had to sort it out. I hoped that conversation wouldn’t be repeated.

My response was to say I had only done what I was told to so. After the incident, I simply asked my many followers what to do next. It had always saved me from the freeze of indecision. And this was a major crisis.

I typed the situation as I saw it and asked the usual what do I do here? (#whatshouldcharmingdo).

And then yet again I became a screen watcher. Replies, counter replies and controversies all started streaming into my feeds. Some of the contributors were familiar and they said what I would expect. The usual trolls and misogynists more or less telling me to show her who is boss (or worse). Some of these were quite direct in the means and method of application. It had never even occurred to me to take control like that ever.

I waited. I had been through this before. It was the jury handing down a verdict. Part of being a well-known celebrity was the required bowing down to your followers. Most found it a drawback of fame but it was an upside for me. All I had to do was find out what the majority wanted. And stay famous.

Then the usual unfollowers. Words, often mis-spelt, to the effect that you were both horrible and now I don’t believe in you anymore. And worse. I just hoped those numbers didn’t rise too much. Otherwise we wouldn’t get our bonus.

Then finally the feminists with a message especially for me. Then the trolls calling them worse names and threatening more evil than they would ever say to Ella or even me. I kept away from the ongoing battle between misogyny and misandry. Then the comment directed at me, “Ella has finally rejected the male-dominated constructs as exmplified by the glass slipper.” Yeah right. I hadn’t done the degree. I’m sure even the fairytale didn’t mean that. Besides I had no idea what it meant and how insulting it was meant to be. So I ignored it. Besides I could always block. So I blocked the troll.

Then the marriage counsellors. With them it was either I give in to her or she give in to me. Rarely if ever they said we should give into each other. Besides how would we manage giving in to each other if our followers didn’t like it? It would be fatal for us both.

But in the end there was a majority decision and it was final. They suggested I return to her and make it up to her as soon as possible. Maybe they liked seeing us make up. I know I did. It had worked before. Nietzche was right about reality TV, one lived the same life over and over again! But I hadn’t told John and Tash the producers. And there had been consequences from that action.

I kept my thoughts to myself but inwardly I was disquieted. Even during a public romance watched by many millions, there had been tiny cracks and fissures. But me being me, I just papered over those worries and made sure that she stayed happy. I had also assumed that such disturbances were the result of the very public attention and affection that we both received.

She had lost her temper before but only over minor trivialities. And that made great drama for our audience until she was distracted and moved onto something else. It wasn’t until I reflected carefully that I realised the truth. What I had missed was that those occurrences were becoming more frequent and more intense. I really didn’t see the warning signs. I was too infatuated I suppose.

I waited an hour. My thought was I’ll return and we’ll be reconciled.

Someone had suggested that I surprise her a little. So before climbing the stairs, I took my shoes off. I had been advised to be silent and stealthy and enjoy the moment of surprise. I ran up the stairs on tip toe so I wouldn’t be heard. My heart began to race with both exertion and more than a little anticipation. I imagined that I was not the only one that felt that way. I imagined millions of people holding their breath too.

I stopped short at the door. I didn’t knock. I threw the door open. I ran to Ella. I didn’t really notice how she was until much too late.

Ella was standing by the windows. She seemed to have effectively wrapped herself into a ball. Her head was bowed, her shoulders shrugged forward. She had drawn herself into herself.

She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me at first. So that part of the plan had worked.
I slowed down as I came closer. I spread my arms wide to embrace her. As soon as she heard my foot fall, she turned and faced me. She was crouched down. I had no idea if she still thought the cameras were off.

All the same she let me embrace her. I leant a little forward as I always did expecting the embrace to continue and be embraced myself. It didn’t.

It was like a dream with me still in it. I can still bring it to mind even though the hurt has gone. She unclasped her hands. She lifted them in front of her face. She stepped back a pace. She put both hands on my chest and pushed me backwards.

Apart from the shock and surprise, I lost my balance and wobbled like a toddler. I stumbled a half step I think. Then I nearly fell on Ella. That was too much for her. In all of that she had not spoken to me.

She jumped backwards. Her back was now against the bedroom window.

Then she looked at me. I will never forget that look. It was desperation and anger and sadness all in one place.

I was angry at being rebuffed. But then this new look-at the time I didn’t know what I was seeing. I locked eyes with her and tried to search her soul for this new sadness.

But those eyes pushed me away as well. It looked as if she had gone back home to her stepmother and stepsisters! But that was my initial guess. My first inclination was to comfort her.

“Don’t touch me. Don’t go near me,” she said.

“Ella, we’re on, they can hear you,” I whispered. But I knew that every whisper carries further on the internet.

I moved forward a little then moved back. I felt her desperation and need for comfort and I felt that she had been alone too long.

In all of my life, all the counsel that I had received about loving women came to naught in that moment. I had to think of something else but I couldn’t.

I chose the most cowardly course. I left the room and left her to herself.
And in the aftermath I had to face John and Tash. I had acted too hastily without consulting them. They said they had a storyline to preserve. My reply was I had followers who depended upon me. Inwardly, I felt caught between many masters: the producers, the audience, and Ella.
And today, they began, “We want you to recreate the fairytale…”
I watched (as did the millions) as the floating slippers disappeared. The grey faded. The scene changed.
Dawn stole softly through the bedroom windows. Framed by the windows the mottled sunlight gently stirred Ella. She slowly woke. As one eye opened, she saw all was white.
“Am I still in my bed?” she said. “Is this real?”

As she woke everything around her was white as snow. The walls, the ceiling, the curtains and the floor all white.

The room was filled with white flowers. As she took her first breath and sniffed we all smelt the tinge of a sweet perfume.
She looked out of the bed towards the window. In front of the window there was a small gilt table. On that table was a clear glass box. Suspended in the box as if caught in air, were two new crystal glass slippers.

She had no idea how any of it had happened. Perhaps she really did have a fairy god mother!

She slid out of bed. She glided as she walked towards the table. She bent down and delicately opened the box.
The shoes! We all heard her gasp softly at their beauty. We watched as she slowly and carefully and gently retrieved the shoes.
Time now stood still. Even the commentary decided to be silent. I watched and waited as she tried the shoes on.

They were new. They were soft. They fitted perfectly. They were perfect. I felt it.

Then she spoke. My heart fell like lead through the floor. I felt my cheeks flush hot. I never had felt so embarrassed and ashamed. And I started to shake. Her face started to quiver. “How much he must love me”, she said.
I felt a nudge in my back. I stole into the bedroom. I approached her slowly. This time she didn’t back away.
It was a beautiful scene. But she wasn’t saying anything to me. I could lipread what she said but they were sweet nothings (to use the cliche).
Then an odd thing happened. Both her arms moved at once, as if she was having a spasm. I paid no attention to it at the time.
It wasn’t until we played it back that Tash pointed it out to me. She said that she had seen two people talking in the same way : a man and a woman. The woman had both arms by her sides. But she held them down quite stiffly and firmly, she said. And then she had lifted her left arm quickly, as if to ward off a blow. She then began shouting.

I realised Ella had raised both arms in the same way. Twice.

The Glass Slipper (1)

“You broke the fucking glass slipper.”

“I didn’t hear that. She didn’t say that. I’m still asleep. I’m in a better dream right now and can’t be disturbed. Leave a message and I’ll talk to you later.”

Her hand on my shoulder. I sigh. The loving touch of my bride. I relax. I start to wake up. I’m happy. We’re still on the honeymoon. I know what happens next. I’m about to become even happier.

The grip tightens. “She’s never gripped my arm like that before. She must be really…”

The grip now hurts. She shakes my shoulder trying to wake me. I open my eyes. I look up. Her face is in mine, her skin on my skin. I feel her heat. I feel the hiss of her breath.

“You broke the fucking glass slipper.”

Red skin stained by tears fill my view.

“She’s just upset. I’ll just reach out and comfort her. That’s what worked last time. Besides that’s what she’d want. That’s what’s they’d expect.”

I can’t. I can’t even move. I’m now fully awake. We’ve run out of time. I wiggle my shoulder. I duck down into the bed. Her grip follows me now even stronger. Her full weight pushes against my shoulder. Her face is still in mine. Her eyes blaze but there are no tears. She gasps then sobs then gasps.

“This looks bad. I’m going to have to fake it.”

I smile. I go for the joke. I say.

“Ella! My darling Princess! You’ve never sworn before!”

“You broke the fucking glass slipper. It’s fucking shattered in fucking pieces.”

I twist left. I twist right. I break her grip. I wince in pain. Comforting her will just have to wait. There’s a bigger crisis to solve.

I reach across the bed. My fingers fumble for the phone. I must turn off the stream. Right. Now. There is no phone. I can’t find it.

“Isn’t she the one to lose things and then find them?”

My eyes scan the bedroom, the floor, everywhere. Nothing. I whistle for it. Nothing. No response.

“What the hell is she talking about? I haven’t broken any glass slipper. Why would I do that? Besides that’s what happened when every woman in the country found it didn’t fit. And we went through hundreds. Hundreds.”

“What would they want me to do?” Without a phone, I couldn’t ask my followers for help. I had no idea now how to play it right. Until now that was my secret. And it had worked out beyond my expectations. I had married the woman of my dreams. We were social media superstars. We were on the way to making billions. We just had to play it right.

But now I have to think on my feet. I choose apology and appeasement. I say.

“I’m sorry. Did you want me to get you a new glass slipper?”

“And did you turn off the webcams?” I mouth silently.

“Besides I didn’t break the glass slipper.” A whisper now.

“Bullshit!”

I may have made things just a little worse. I push further away. I reach under the bed. I can’t feel anything.

“Where the hell is the spare one?” I look down at the floor. I can’t see it. I push aside the bed curtain. I bend over and look under the bed. Nothing.

I look across the bed. She’s closed the curtain on he side. I just hear her harsh hoarse whisper.

“I’ll just put on the other fucking slipper won’t I?“

She growls, “Then they’ll know. They’ll know…when they see me walking like a fucking lop-sided hunchback on that one good one! Mine! They’ll know you broke that one bad one… yours…that they will.”

She yells, “Your royal fucking Highness! Then if I trip and fall, they’ll troll us again. Won’t they? Of fucking course! Then I’ll lose everything. Everything. Just as I knew I would.”

A rasp as she tears open the curtain at the back of the bed.

“My slipper”, she points to herself and then drops her voice, “doesn’t have a worn sole and a heel. My slipper isn’t now in pieces…like the one you gave me.”

Her voice trails off. She heads towards the shoe room. She opens the door and disappeared.

“Hopefully this will end soon and no-one will know…perhaps we’re not live either.” I think.

In seconds, she’s back. As promised, she’s walking, lop-sided on the remaining glass slipper. She limps and sways and stops at the end of the bed.

“How can she stand like that?” I start to crawl across the bed towards her. But she answers my unspoken question. She reaches out and steadies herself against the post.

I stare. “Another joke perhaps?” I start to open my mouth.

I see a flash. She kicks off the slipper. She catches it in mid-air. “Nice work,” I think. She then draws her arm back. Slipper in hand, she bends her arm.

I shut my eyes tight. I think to put up my hands. I’m too slow. A soft thud. A tinkle of breaking crystal. The throw is wide. Barefoot, as she was before me, she runs from the room.

I look left. The silken pillows and bed-clothes are silver white.

I creep out of bed. “What about the other shoe?” I stumble-walk in a daze to the shoe room. ”Is it true what she said?”

I open the door. I see it all. Now I know. The dark is silvered with crystal. The other slipper.

The Longest Match

I saw white. I’m supposed to see stars. Not me! Not now! White light, sound and impact merged into a wall of noise and pain. I didn’t feel myself fall. No, I feel myself float. I saw myself glide to safety. And there in the calm and silence I slept.

I then woke up and I slowly look around. I’m sitting on a bench. Behind me are lockers. Sporting equipment is scattered all around. I’m dressed in white. So are the others around me.

I slowly start to make sense of it all. My mind is foggy. The world is grey-white. I know these people. Now I understand. I’m in a dressing room. I’m in heaven with my cricket mates. What?

But none of them could be angels. I’m sure of that.

I look down. Attached to both legs are bulky cricket pads. A bat is leaning across my knees. Cricket gloves inhabit the bench next to me. Why are we expected to play cricket in heaven? Are we in hell? I must have said it aloud as I hear the reply, “That’s where opening batsmen go to.” Another adds “…that’s where they are now!” Grim laughter. We have a match to win.

And then began the interminable waiting. I wish for something to happen to break the monotony. Then I hope the monotony returns so maybe I’m not needed. One thought and then another only make me more and more nervous. In the meantime, I listen to the other conversations. I hear the radio with the commentary. Perhaps it’s my teammates talking about the game. As for me, I prefer to suffer in silence. I finally decide that it would be easier being out there batting. And just when I relax, it happened.

A moment of quiet. The game stops for a millisecond. A shout from the middle of the field. Yeah-that! I know what that means. Everyone goes quiet. The commentary stops. My teammates stop what they were doing. And look at me.

“You’re next,” the captain said to me. I check that I’m ready. I’ve got my pads on. I have my bat nearby. I reached down for my gloves. I stretch down and reach out for them. Found them. Then I put them on. I had to push one finger through at a time. Am I nervous? Not at all. I’m too worried. I’ve never been this slow before. I almost forget my helmet and tuck it under my arm.

Even more slowly. I open the door. The heat slams into me. I stop and almost step back. I duck my head as I slowly walk my way down the steps. I don’t look to my left or my right. I steal through the gate and out to the wicket. There’s no crowd or perhaps a silent one. I start to worry. If I take too long, they’ll send me back. Which would be terribly embarrassing. But they wait for me. Very patient they were. Or maybe it was time standing still in crisis. I somehow fumble and put my helmet on. My head is now in a hot plastic cell with a steel grille for a door.

I reach the crease. I look at the wicket. It’s a white grass carpet with too many flecks of green. I stand still. I lean down and tap my bat. I look up and ask the umpire for centre. He just nods at me. I scratch out my mark with my foot. Then I place my bat there. I look around me. I only see one fielder. He’s on my right halfway down the wicket. I look to my left over my shoulder. A helmeted fielder is crouched close. I turn my head further to my left. In the distance is another white suited fielder. I know where the rest are. So I wait. And wait. And wait.

I could hear the commentary in my head. “One down for eighteen. The new batsman has just arrived. He’s taken strike. He looks a little nervous to me this morning, don’t you think? Let’s see how he shapes up to the first delivery.”

Nervous? I know so. I look beyond the umpire. In the distance is the bowler. He seems to be pawing the ground like a bull ready to charge. He starts his run towards me.

I hear the scrape of his right toe on the ground. I hear the whoosh of his arm. The clump of the ball hitting the pitch. The fizz as it instantly appears near me. Lead-footed and lead-armed, I pull my bat away. I feel like I’m walking through molasses. Except I don’t see it at all.

“Swift ball first up. He steps back and across. He shoulders arms and lets it go. Lovely judgement there.”

And the next ball. I feel like I’m stumbling and falling in slow motion. And no-one knows but me. And more nervous. One false move and I’ll be gone.

I hear the ball after that. I know that it’s closer. I just see its outline in time. I move my foot towards it in slow motion. The bat even more slowly follows. I hear the hollow clunk as ball hits bat. A thud and the ball rolls forward a little. My arms jar slightly at the impact. My hands start to sweat. Whether it’s from the heat or fear I cannot tell.

“He jams down the bat. He’s just managed to get hold of that one. This boy’s a few yards quicker than last match. He’s really worked up a lot of pace. He’s really putting the batsman under pressure.”

I am a thin man in a fat suit. I’m not playing cricket. I’m waving a match stick at bullets. I think that if I don’t get through this game, it will be my last. And that really scares me. But it also comforts me somehow. I get to finally find out after all the uncertainty. And then slowly ever so slowly the game gets better.

I can see the ball now. It’s still dull. It’s vaguely shaped. But I know better where it is. I still feel that I inhabit another body. A body borrowed from another sportsman who vaguely remembers the game.

“And he’s just starting to get his eye in now. The new boy is showing some more confidence after a pretty torrid spell here.”

And then the commentary stops. There are no more balls to be bowled. I have to know what’s going on. I try to speak and ask, “Have we declared? Has the skipper called us back in and closed the innings?”

Somewhere in the distance, I hear the commentary resume. I hear another voice, “He’ll find it a comfort in his condition.” At that moment, I assume it’s my mind saying that. But why are there footsteps nearby? They fade away.

The game continues. I even smile a little in between balls. I hear a shout and my heart sinks. The fatal rattle of the stumps falling. It’s over. I look up and my batting partner is out. He looks up at me. I just look back as he turns and ashamedly leaves the ground.

The new batsman arrives. He’s sprinted onto the ground. But then he’s out. He looks like he has played and missed, but then there’s a shout. I turn and look at the umpire. He’s raising his arm and one finger is outstretched. Out. Another one. How many is that?

And then it’s a procession. One in, another out. And I’m standing there as my team falls away in front of me. Yet I still keep going. I’m still there. Until they turn their attention to me. They call back the swift fast bowler.

The game becomes a blur. He’s quicker than I remember earlier. I have to force myself to relax to keep playing. I start playing and missing. I get more and more nervous. I’m hounded by the recurring thought, if I go, we all go. I stop and catch my breath. I become more insistent on calming myself.

And then it happens. I see the ball leave his hand. I see it hit the wicket. I see it fly towards me like a whiplash. I move back and then pivot. I start to play the shot. The ball hits the bat. I’m hit by an uppercut. I see white.

I lie there on the ground. I resolve to myself that I will never ever play cricket again. It’s all too difficult. And then a voice interrupts. “We’re yet to find out if he will continue. He’s taken a pretty nasty knock there, but he’s come back before. Let’s see if he does this time.”

I decide that I would like to find out too. I lean forward and grasp my knees. I pull myself to my feet. I wander around a little. I stretch my arms and kick out my stiff legs. I feel some warmth return.

I start again. Now I have nothing to lose. Now it doesn’t matter if I get hit. If I’m hit I’m hurt. Now it doesn’t matter if I get out. That’s enough to ensure I relax. I see the ball clearly now. I even can pick out the scuffs and cuts on it. I hear the ball coming towards me. I hear the sound of the bat. I hear silence as I hit the ball. Silence now means perfect timing.

At last, after so many years of waiting, I’m having fun. I’ve discovered that this is a game that can actually be enjoyed. I wish for it to last forever.

The afternoon sun stretches into twilight. Finally, the night comes down: the umpires are asked to adjudicate on the light. They accede and I trudge off.

“Welcome back to the second day’s play. It’s a beautiful day for watching cricket.”

I slowly feel I’m not a wooden marionette anymore. I hear the ball tossed to me. I bend forward and just catch it.

“Looks like they’re giving the all-rounder a trundle.” I didn’t know I was an all-rounder! I’m just a batter who bowls or a bowler who bats a little.

I take my few steps back. I hold the ball in my hand. It’s not a cricket ball. It’s a red grapefruit ripe and ready to fall out of my hand. I grip it tightly enough so it doesn’t slip and loosely enough so it might spin. It still feels more difficult today. But I slowly spin it, toss it in the air and catch it even more slowly. Why is everything taking so long?

But now I feel the spongy grass under my feet. My feet scuff as I start my run up. I hear the slow swish of my arm. Then the slow bubbling fizz of the ball as it spins towards the batsman. Then the almost silent thud as it hits the pitch. Then the drawn out whoosh as it flies a little higher and quicker than expected. A soft click of wood against leather. The extra-long silence as the ball flies high, higher than even the fielder expects. The endless silence of fingers stretching and falling short. The softest thump as the ball hits the ground. I walk back to bowl again.

“Well, he’s got that to bounce and spin more than the batsman expected. Too bad the fielder grassed it. Remember catches win matches and a dropped one is an extra batsman.”

Ugh! I don’t need to re-read the coaching manual. In the meantime, I am slowly turning from a human scarecrow into a bowler. But the pains and aches are so real. The exhaustion starts to set in. I start to flag a little. But then I know from past experience if I push through, it will become easier. And so it does.

And then I hear the shout. All go up as one including me. Howzat! We turn and look at the umpire. Well? I say to myself. There’s an eternal pause. Up goes the arm and he raises his finger. Out!

“And he’s given him. Took a while for the umpire to make up his mind. Smart bowling that.”

And then it all stops. I open my mouth to protest and say, “Skip, I was just getting into it. I’d got my length and line right. I even got the top spinner to work (which was unusual).”

Then I hear the commentators start to wrap up their description of the game. Then from a distance I hear other voices. They grow louder. “We decided to leave the radio for you. We thought it would help you get better.”

I wake up. I’m in a room. I’m wearing white. I’m not in heaven. I’m in a bed in a hospital. I slowly recollect what happened. But all I remember is the near-fatal blow. I open my eyes and say, “Long match that was. But I got there in the end.”

Writing Isn’t Safe

Last week I came across this article from the Wheeler Centre by Jessie Cole which talks about the self revelation of writing fiction. As an author, I’ve had that happen to me. I didn’t pay much attention to it until this afternoon.

I’m writing about two characters. They’re not getting along so well.

I’m trying unsuccessfully to postpone the final falling out between them.Revelation

Today, sadly was the day they got into their last argument.

As the author I was clear what they were going to say and how it would end.

What really happened is that I’m crouched behind a bush, listening to these two people I know unfold themselves in front of me.

Until the argument began. It simply doesn’t go to plan. Until several pages later I realise it’s something I always wanted to be brought into the open. It’s even more confronting as its something I don’t think can be resolved. Obviously I need to write some more about that.

So Jessie Cole is right, writing fiction isn’t safe at all.

But upon reflection, neither is blogging. I just think its a safer. To begin with, I ‘m writing about people I meet and things that happen to me. I can choose to leave things in or exclude what doesn’t make me feel comfortable. But…

Upon re-reading and reflection, even that isn’t safe. Unwittingly I have exposed thoughts and feelings and emotions that I wouldn’t shout out in a crowd. I need to write some more about that.

 

 

 

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