I would never read or write a novel in the present tense; I’ve often thought a short story could work quite well but hadn’t got around to trying it. Having just finished my novelette, Dark Innocence, I decided to set myself a challenge to write a short story in the present tense. It’s a very short story so I’m posting it here intact.
I’m hoping some of you will take up the challenge as well, either a short story or just a paragraph. There’s no prizes but if you’d like to post your first paragraph in the comments section of my blog you’re welcome to link it to the rest of the story on your own site.
Here’s my effort:
The Here and Now
© Christine Gardner 2014
She stands at the open window watching the traffic. She feels like some kind of goddess watching from the heavens as the mass of humanity swirls below her, frantically going about its day to day business; people leading their boring ordinary lives, thinking themselves so important. She can see them for what they truly are, ants—no—less than ants. Ants rush about with some purpose; they collect food for the whole colony. Not like people, who only collect for themselves.
And what pointless things people collect, she muses. Money, mostly. She doesn’t need to look in the direction of the bank opposite; she knows it all too well, inside and out. Every evening she crosses the busy road, at the traffic lights on the corner, and walks briskly back along the dark street to the forty storey building, where she shows her ID to the security guard; the same guard almost every night for ten years or more. Every evening he stares at the tiny photo and then stares at her face. Every evening he makes some inane remark, such as, ‘Don’t look much like you’, or if he’s in a particularly jovial mood, ‘Don’t really flatter you, if I do say so myself’. On these occasions he winks and looks her up and down. She’s used to it but it makes her uncomfortable still, not least because she feels as if he thinks he’s doing her a favour; that she should appreciate the undeserved attention. She knows very well how drab she looks in her work clothes—she wears grey track pants and a faded blue top or sometimes a faded black one which almost matches the grey pants. Not that she cares.
Every night she picks up her equipment from the supply room and spends the next six hours looking at the leftovers of others’ lives; the lives of people she will never meet. The lives of people who live on, almost, a different planet to her; she picks up framed photographs from untidy desks and studies the smiling families. Are they real, she wonders sometimes, or did the pictures just come with the frames. She can’t remember her family ever being like that—the perfect white smiles, the matching outfits.
What did any of it matter? You live and you die. Or, as some eloquent person has put it, on a tee shirt somewhere, ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’. Too true, she thinks, and sighs deeply.
Her black cat, Shirley, interrupts her, winding itself round and round her legs, making its presence felt, and she leans over and picks it up. ‘At least you’re honest, aren’t you?’ she says, holding the soft black fur against her face. ‘You’re here for the food and shelter and don’t need to pretend anything else, do you?’ She puts it down gently.
It starts to sprinkle with rain and the cat looks anxiously at her and retreats to the doorway.
‘It’s okay, Shirl, it’s just water.’ The rain settles into a steady beat and she sighs and steps over the worried cat into the kitchen/dining/living room of her apartment. Shirley follows her and leaps onto the bench as her mistress opens the cupboard and takes out a can of cat food, then jumps back to the floor and starts the manoeuvre in and around the legs again. The cat keeps begging until the food is in the bowl and then is pushed away while her mistress puts some drops of something into the food.
Sniffing suspiciously at first, the cat eventually finds the smell and the flavour of the tuna strong enough and tasty enough, to overcome any misgivings about that mystery substance. The bowl is clean in the time it takes for her mistress to pour a glass of wine and sit on the couch, where Shirley joins her. Settled onto a familiar and comfortable lap, the cat is soon fast asleep; it twitches once or twice and is still.
The woman finishes her wine and walks over to her computer; she wonders what she will say and to whom she will address her note. She almost laughs out loud; if there was anyone, then perhaps there’d be no need for such a note. Perhaps she’d feel differently about her life if there was someone, anyone, to share it with her. It’s not the job she hates or the dismal apartment; it’s being alone in this city of millions. Always alone.
There is no-one to write to and nothing to say. No-one to miss her—would anyone even notice?
She washes and dries her glass and the cat’s bowl and tidies the kitchen bench, then walks through the apartment, just to make sure everything’s tidy. Then she walks back out to the balcony, climbs over the metal railing and, with no hesitation, she jumps.