Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.

Writing Challenge–Present Tense.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Author: cmsgardnerblog

I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction, for teens and adults. I live in Central Victoria, Australia and my books are available at https://www.amazon.com/author/christinemgardner and https://www.smashwords.com/interview/ChristineGardner

9 thoughts on “Writing Challenge–Present Tense.

  1. Present No Longer Tense:

    Time was when he wasn’t here at all. Now he raises his face as the first grape-sized raindrop falls from the sky. Now he feels the slowly strengthening breeze brush his cheeks. Now he relishes the moment, smells the dampness in the air, feels the chill ripple a shiver down his back. Now he’s alive to the world, sensing every sensation. Living each lost tick of the clock.

    Now he’s caught up with himself.

    So much crucial time wasted when he was locked in the unalterable past. Frustrations, regrets, guilt, shame were prisoners of this soul have been put in memory box and sealed in concrete forever.

    Now he turned his back on the future. The future will be the future. He realised you cannot shape it to your will. What’s the point of un-living in the present tense because you’re obsessed with the future imponderable.

  2. Thank you! – It was a challenge and a tricky one at that. Really excited in that One Degree North my new novel is now on Kindle in Australia http://bit.ly/1erow1E

  3. Good effort! – I find it difficult to engage with stories written in the present tense.

  4. Great story. I wasn’t going to read it (because I’m trying to switch off and get to bed), but I got caught up. I have just written a whole damn novel in the first person. As I’m in the process of self-publishing, I will no doubt find out how much of a turn-off this is. I’ve just looked back to see the challenge. Here are the opening lines of the novel (at least they were, I added a paragraph a few days ago, but I’m not sure about it yet).
    From Border Line – Hilary Custance Green (greenwritingroom.com)
    The smoothness of the mouse under my hand is comforting. When I turn it over, its crimson underside glows like a living organism – an illusion of heat. I look up at the screen again and there’s a pop-up message blinking at me. It says:

    • I actually thought it was quite intriguing before I got that last line! Sounds good Hilary and good on you for making the effort to write a novel in present tense. I don’t think I would, but never say never . . .

  5. (This line got deleted as I hit the post comment button)

  6. Last try. It says: Before you make any final decisions, please contact Daniel, I may be able to help you.

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