A short short story…

Lately, I’ve been writing some stories that are much much less than 1000 words long. 

This one is a macabre little one called ‘Three Versions of His Own Mock-Suicide’

 

THREE VERSIONS OF HIS OWN MOCK SUICIDE

 

His wife discovered him lying in a tub full of red water. She shrieked when she saw his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth and his eyes rolled back in his head. 

“That bastard has finally done it!” she wailed, and the sobs bubbled out of her mouth so dramatically that he had to giggle. His eyes rolled back down into their proper place and he gave her a cheeky grin. 

The consequences were severe, of course. She didn’t speak to him for three weeks. He was half-convinced that every meal she slammed down in front of him would be laced with cyanide. And so he didn’t show her the tape. (His wife had been so distraught that she hadn’t noticed the video camera peeking out of the towel-rack; the camera was aimed right at her face, recording her reaction to her husband’s fake suicide.) If she finds the tape, he thought, it’ll really mean the end of me.

One day they were sitting on the couch, him reading the paper, her watching Wheel of Fortune, when she finally spoke: “You’re a real arsehole, you know that, right?” The tone of her voice forgave him, and he knew what he had to say, “I know, Marie, I know.” 

He did it again, this time with a rope. He made a noose and hung it from the rafters in the basement when his wife was out shopping. He rigged up another rope as a harness and looped it around his legs and waist. Putting on a long coat to conceal his handiwork, he strung himself up and, with a laugh, kicked the chair out from under his feet. The video camera’s red light blinked as he swung from the rafters. 

He could hear her upstairs. First the groceries dropped on the floor, then: “Bernie! Bernie!” Her footsteps slowly got louder above his head until finally, the basement door creaked open; he was so excited he could barely stay still. 

She still screamed when she saw him hanging, (you can imagine that even though she knew the sight in front of her could be yet another cruel joke, it would still come as quite a shock.) She screamed, but it was a scream full of anger with no traces of grief to be found. He wasn’t expecting her to hit him, but she did, she punched him hard as she could in the stomach: “If you’re not dead right now, I will friggin’ kill you myself!”

He coughed. 

She ran up the stairs, bawling. At the stop, she turned around, “Good luck getting yourself down, arsehole!” and slammed the door. He eventually wiggled himself down. Marie frantically banged around upstairs and he made his way up only to watch her pack up her suitcase. 

 

Two weeks later, she moved back in. He assumed it was because she had always been a forgiving soul, even though the truth was that her timing was just as good as his. They resumed their old life and lived through mostly silent days for another few weeks. She found the tapes and watched them, while he was out at a doctor’s appointment, and for the first time in her life felt truly shocked. She prayed the rest of the morning, asking for strength, when what she really wanted was courage. 

He got home to find the tapes on the counter. 

“Marie, I can explain… It’s for an-”

She simply said “No,” and something in her voice surprised the both of them. Suddenly, she knew she’d figured out the rules of this game that he had invented and played for sixty years.  

It was like something out of a spaghetti western: if that pesky video camera had been there, it would have zoomed in first on her determined eyes, and second on his frightened ones. Quicker than most sixty-five-year-old women even think of moving, Marie had the knife out of the drawer and into his stomach. 

She watched him drop to the floor. 

“Call an ambulance, Marie, for chrissakes!”

She picked up the phone and dialed 911. He assumed once more that it was her forgiving soul at work ––

“Hello?! I just got home and I found my husband on the floor, he’s stabbing himself, oh God, I think he’s trying to kill himself, please help!!”

The ambulance arrived in a timely fashion. He was slipping in and out of consciousness. As the paramedics loaded him in the back of the ambulance, Marie climbed in with them. She took a hold of his hand, and he looked up at her. But she wasn’t looking at him, she was looking at the paramedic to make sure his back was turned. It was. 

Marie leaned right over to whisper in his ear: she giggled and then winked. 

The sirens drowned out his terrified whimpers. 

There would be a new game. 

 

THE END

An Imperfect Offering – A perfectly written book

I haven’t finished the entire book yet, but so far I’m a giant bundle of emotions about it: shocked, impressed, proud, inspired, sad, angry… the list goes on. 

I’ve read a fair bit of the body of work that has risen up about the Rwandan genocide; Orbinski has exposed things in this book that I haven’t seen explicitly stated in any other. He deals harshly with France, the United States, Great Britain and the UN, and rightfully so. I never fully understood the extent to which the world failed in Rwanda; Orbinski spells it out in great detail. 

What interests me most about this book is Orbinski’s discussions of the political calculations undertaken by MSF. MSF has gone to great lengths to maintain their independence – from refusing funding from certain states to even expelling the Greek chapter from their organization during a nasty dispute in the Balkans in 1998. The Nobel prize committee noted MSF’s commitment to “independent medical humanitarian action and to speaking out which helps to form bodies of public opinion opposed to violations and abuses of power.” 

Orbinski’s writing style is excellent; everything in the book is easy to read. He avoids unnecessary jargon as he explains the histories of the various conflicts he has lived in the middle of. He talks near the end of the book about struggling to write an acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. One of his colleagues explained that “humanitarianism was not about ending or justifying war; it was the struggle to create human spaces in the midst of what is profoundly abnormal. In that moment I understood that to allow that space to exist, we had to be willing to confront political power” (338). 

This book is without a doubt one of the best I have ever read about humanitarianism and conflict. Having studied these conflicts in university, I have never gotten such a personalized view of them until now. I feel like my understanding of the world and how it works (and fails to work) has been rattled, but strengthened at the same time. 

Everyone should read this book.

Notebook City

I am drowning in notebooks. I have too many and yet I keep on buying them. If I buy them, I will write in them, right? 

I’m reading An Imperfect Offering by James Orbinski, and will write a review of it, but it’s going to take a little while to write. This book has probably given me more to think about than any other book I’ve read. It’s heart-shattering, but that’s just a word that can’t do it any justice.

I’m studying the history of Sun Records and Rwanda at the same time, and man, does it feel weird.

BRIGHT STINKY MORNING

No, just kidding. It wasn’t that bad. Long as all get out, though.

Bright Shiny Morning

James Frey

HarperCollins Publishers

501 pages.

 

Bright Shiny Morning is either James Frey’s first novel or his third, depending on where you stand in the debate over the truthfulness of his memoirs A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard. However you slice it, Bright Shiny Morning is a fascinating read that I just couldn’t put down.

 

The book consists of a series of vignettes of city life in Los Angeles. Each vignette is separated by facts about the city, from its founding to the present day. In Frey’s hands, the history of the region is anything but dull. He weaves history into the story seamlessly.

Frey captures the sprawl of the city, its pace, and its diversity in a way that is all his own. 

 

The book’s main character is the city itself. Frey’s love for the city is apparent, and yet he gives us an honest portrait of it, warts and all. Frey gives life to the city, gives it a pulse that resonates on every single page of the book.

 

There are dozens of characters in this book; all of them have come to Los Angeles to live out their dreams and ambitions. Frey gives us a wide and interesting array of characters, from the biggest movie star in Hollywood to a Mexican immigrant, and the reader gets to peek into all of their lives like a voyeur. Frey does a decent job with his character’s stories, but none of them compare to the way he writes about the city itself. Some of the character’s lives get sewn up a little too neatly and some of them are a little too naïve to be believable.

 

The book thumps along, not always as smoothly as it should; nevertheless, it keeps you reading. All in all, it wasn’t an overly original book, but it didn’t need to be. It’s rhythm and pacing kept it feeling fresh and new even when it wasn’t. An excellent use of sleight of hand, if you ask me.

 

I tried to put the book down to fall asleep but I couldn’t. I turned the lights off and lay awake for long time with the pulse of the city still beating in my head.

 

 

All this time in front of a computer screen…

is giving me eye tumours, I swear.

Do I really need my face plugged into the internet to be able to write? I’d like to think ‘No’ but my contact lenses are drying out like nobody’s business, so I’ll let them be the judge of that. I’ve suddenly become news-obsessed again, something I haven’t been for at least four-years. I did pick up this week’s issue of The Economist yesterday and am oddly buoyed by the headline on the cover: “What a way to run the world.” And if that isn’t exasperation, I don’t know what is. I can just picture an old man folding his arms, shaking his head and tsk-tsking.

I find it comforting. And scary.