The Ninth Step [Fiction Prompt: A Dog’s Life]

Flash fiction prompt day two! Before I get to the story, I want to quickly talk about content warnings. I would describe this story as “a wee bit sad” and there’s nothing I would consider graphic or explicit in there, but when I told a friend about it they suggested that it should have a content warning because of what it’s about. I abhor censorship in art and understand that using content warnings is a positive and effective way to help people avoid retraumatisation without completely excluding anything from a piece of writing that might be potentially upsetting to someone for whatever reason.

Because having a “this is exactly what this story is about” list right at the beginning sort of kills the reading experience, I’ve placed a content warning down at the bottom. If you wish to view it, click HERE, then you can scroll back up and read the story if you don’t feel like it’ll unfloat your boat. If you want to just read, then just read.

The Ninth Step

I feel bad asking you to do this when you’ve already done so much but I really need you to give her a message for me. The thing is, I have no other way to get in touch with her. I can’t speak to her parents and even if I could, even if they would listen, they have no way of reaching her now either.

You see, I’ve been working my way through all the steps since I’ve been in here. It was tough at the beginning, the first time I stood up in front of the others and said it out loud. They were all really supportive though. I mean, some of them are in here for the same reason I am so they understand and I know they aren’t judging me but God, it was so difficult, so very difficult to actually force those words out. It was worse than the mornings on the bathroom floor, throwing up blood and bile and crying because I hated myself so much. I still cried and I still hated myself but those words tasted worse than anything that ever came out of my body or anything I ever put into it.

“…and I’m an alcoholic”.

After I said it, telling them the rest was easier. It all came out in a rush like the truth couldn’t wait to escape, couldn’t wait to get away from me. It’s not like I hadn’t already faced up to the reality of what happened but it was the first time I’d done it on my own terms and I wasn’t even worried about the consequences because at that point I had nothing left to lose. It felt like an exorcism but I guess you know all about those.

Step one was easy. It was the obvious conclusion and ending up in here made it impossible to avoid any longer. I was powerless. My life was unmanageable. Step two and step three were a massive relief. I’d almost stopped believing that my sanity could be restored and I know there have been days when I doubted you could help but I knew it was time I turned my mess of a life over to you.

Step four was tough but I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think since I arrived here—there aren’t exactly a lot of other things taking up my time—and even though my heart broke a thousand times a day, I made my searching and fearless moral inventory. Admitting it to you felt like a weight being lifted but the second part of step five was harder. I still did it though, in my avalanche of truth at the meeting. I didn’t just admit it to another human being. I admitted it to a whole room. And I didn’t just admit the part that landed me in here, but all the rest of it too, everything. I was worried that I was taking up too much time but no-one hurried me, no-one told me to stop talking. They just listened and when I broke down they held me and let me cry. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had held me while I cried.

That brought me to step six and God, I was so ready, so ready to ask you to remove all the defects of character that had led me to this place. Step seven, actually asking, was harder. Not because I thought you would abandon me—I knew by then that you wouldn’t—but because I wasn’t sure that I deserved your forgiveness. The truth is, sometimes I thought it would be easier not to be forgiven because if you could forgive me, then maybe I’d have to forgive myself too and I didn’t know how to do that.

Step eight was a long list because I’ve harmed a lot of people. I was more than willing to make amends to them and I started writing letters to the ones who could be contacted that way. I even wrote one to her parents, although I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t read it. But her . . . I can’t send her a letter and that’s why I need your help with the ninth step.

Can you tell her I have no excuses and I take full responsibility for everything? Can you let her know that I will carry this with me for the rest of my life but it’s nothing compared to what her parents will carry with them? Can you tell her I didn’t see her, that I saw the dog and swerved to avoid it but I didn’t know she was there until it was too late? Can you explain to her that as soon as I felt the impact, the world broke open and hell closed in around me? Can you let her know that I’m sorry my face was the last thing she saw, that she was already gone by the time her parents ran out of the garden to where she was lying on the road? Can you tell her that while her mother held her body and the dog barked and ran in circles and her father screamed like his soul was splitting in two, that I called the police and told them I was drunk and I had killed her?

God, it’s twelve steps and eight years later. I still go to meetings but I now unlock my own doors any time I want. Sometimes I sit in the park across the road from her house. I look different enough now that her parents wouldn’t recognise me but I keep my distance, just to be sure. For a while I saw them walking the dog but now it’s just the two of them so I guess the dog is with you, and with her. Can you tell her that her face is still the last thing I see before I fall asleep at night?


About the photo
I’ve had this little silver and amethyst cross for over twenty years. I’m not Christian and never have been (nothing against Christianity, it’s just not for me) but I saw this at a street market and bought it because it was purple and pretty. It’s amazing I’ve managed not to lose it at any point during ten moves of house and three moves of country. I also kind of love religious symbolism in pretty much any context, whether or not it relates to my own spiritual path.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Content Warning
Contains mentions of vomit, addiction and recovery, prison, religion, driving under the influence, and death.

Blood Dries and Eyes Open [Fiction Prompt: Hangover]

I’m writing a piece of flash fiction every day for the month of January based on these prompts. With a nod to Thomas Harris, Bryan Fuller, Bret Easton Ellis and Poppy Z. Brite for their cultured serial killers, damaged empaths, beautifully dressed psychopaths and murderers in love, here’s my response to prompt number one – hangover.

blood-dries-and-eyes-open

I imagine there were days before you when my conscience would have had something to say about all of this. I imagine because I don’t remember. Sometimes I try to recall my view of the world and of myself during the wasted time before you, not as an act of remorse but as an experiment in identity. My memory falters, tumbles and blurs because before you was nothing more than a dream in a waiting room and my conscience has since become a stranger. Whoever I was then is not who I am now and it’s because of you. It’s all because of you.

The first thing I noticed was your coat. Long, black, expensive and perfectly tailored. Then your shoes. Also black, also expensive, and I assumed probably one of a number of near-identical pairs purchased when you found a style you liked and bought every colour without looking at the price. I later discovered this assumption was accurate and extended beyond shoes to shirts, suits and watches. Then I noticed your hands. Elegant, strong, with a flair for creating, for patiently constructing intricate things. Or deconstructing them.

As we walked through the parking garage I kept my distance behind you and inhaled deeply, allowing my head to fill with images of the labels on your shampoo bottle, your hand cream, your aftershave lotion. You walked with long strides, with strength and purpose, but you slightly favoured your right leg. There had been an injury but it had healed, although never completely, and as a result you were accustomed to pain. I felt a flash of a heavy boot impacting a child’s kneecap. This, too, I later discovered to be accurate.

As you approached your car—sleek, understated and, unsurprisingly by now, black and expensive—I caught a sense of the music you had been listening to on your way here this morning. Modern classical, a favourite composer, a familiar comfort. I could see you at home in an antique leather chair, head back, eyes closed, fingers silently playing along against the armrest. It was a captivating image. At that moment, you turned to face me and with a slight tilt of your head and subtle raise of your eyebrows I felt my breath catch as if your beautiful hands were wrapped around my throat. I wished they were. And that was our beginning.

After our first time together, as we basked in the glow of the fire, clothes torn and bruises darkening, you asked, “How do you do it? How do you know the things you know?”

“I’m not sure”, I replied. “I’ve always just been able to. It’s useful. Or it can be”.

“Is that how you choose them?”

“It helps. I mean, it’s kind of how I get a feel for them. It’s not the only way I decide but it’s part of it. I can tell I don’t like them and I can tell how to make them trust me. It makes it easier”. I smiled and felt a splitting of skin.

“Your lip is bleeding”, you said, with a combination of concern and delight in your smooth, hypnotic voice as you leaned over and kissed me deeply anyway.

And so it continued, beyond our beginning, beyond our first time. I never expected to find someone like you, someone who understood. We were a miracle of chance. Before we had each other, our individual approaches were different. I preferred the ones I took an instant dislike to, the shallow ones, the cruel ones. When the time came, I did it slowly and I enjoyed their fear. I watched them closely and saw more than they meant to show me. Afterwards, I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to stop. You preferred the ones you could fall in love with for a little while first. When the time came, you did it quickly and as painlessly as you could manage.  You held them gently and whispered kindness to them as they faded away. Afterwards, you felt a deep, enduring calm. We found ways to compromise though, to satisfy both our needs. We grew together. It felt right.

It was the last day of December and this one was special. He was self-centred, cold and vicious so I could hate him as much as I needed to. He was also sharp, intelligent and refined so you could allow yourself to fall for him a little. We had mixed a drink with an extra ingredient just for him and as the paralysis set in I enjoyed my part of the performance without hindrance. As fascinating as I found the terror in his eyes while I snapped his fingers back one by one, I found the adoration in yours much more so. When your blade whispered across his throat, you leaned down to speak soft comforts in his ear but you were looking at me when you murmured, smiling warmly, “Shh, it’s going to be alright”. The clock struck midnight and the glorious, delicious indulgence of our aftermath began.

This morning I found myself dragged into consciousness by a dull ache in my head and a persistent need for a large drink of very cold water. My stomach lurched as I reached for the glass on the bedside table and my hand found one of the empty bottles from last night instead. We had fallen into bed still blood-soaked and had slept peacefully, wrapped in each other. You half-opened your eyes against the intrusive morning light and smiled through the lingering effects of last night’s celebrations, his blood still dried on your wine-stained lips.

“Happy new year”.


About the photo
It’s old, like almost twelve years old, but it fit so perfectly with the story I couldn’t resist using it instead of shooting something new. Although I do intend to shoot new photos to accompany some of flash fiction I’ll be writing over the next month (because yay photography inspiration!), if an existing picture feels right for something I’m posting, I’ll use it. I’ll aim to include a few words about the photos in the fiction prompt posts, so expect a bit of old, a bit of new and a bit of bonus information.

The knife in this picture has been with me for about fifteen years. A friend moved into a house which he got at a discount because the previous occupant had killed himself there. There was some furniture still in the house that my friend, understandably, wasn’t too keen on hanging on to so he gave it away to anyone who wanted it. I adopted a lovely chair and when I was taking it apart to clean it, I found this knife hidden in one of the cushions. It has been a prop in many photoshoots over the years and now lives on my altar.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Write More

As I near the end of December 2016, my reset month of no planning and no pressure, inspiration has grabbed my brain and pulled it into a dizzy dance. My experience of the world around me (and within me, in the form of powerful dreams) over the last month has been nudging me towards a very specific action – write more. Not write more for work, or write more for other people or organisations, or write more to convince people to buy things or attend things or volunteer for things, or write more when I have some spare time between other tasks and missions. Write more for myself, write more creatively, write more with passion. Write more of what I want to write. Write more and start a journey. Write more because it is what I want to do, what I have always wanted to do, what I have always found reasons not to do. Write more and don’t be scared. Write more and mean it. Just write more.

To be fair to myself, a lot of the reasons why I haven’t been writing more already have been related to difficult circumstances that have genuinely prevented me from having the time, energy and creative juice required to write regularly. It hasn’t been a case of not being bothered or making excuses. It’s been a case of other things taking necessary priority at the time. I am determined figure out ways to stop that from being the case again though, as difficult as that can be at times.

After a dream that I woke up from with an unshakable feeling of rightness, I said to my husband, “I think I need to do the writing thing, like really do it, cause I should, finally”. He replied, “Good. I’ve only been telling you that for fifteen years”. The other night I was catching up with a friend who I hadn’t seen since before I quit my job in November and he asked how I was, what my plans were. I mentioned writing more and he asked what shape that writing would take, fact or fiction, books or screenwriting. I didn’t know. I still don’t know. To be honest, I probably won’t know for a while. But when he said “fiction”, if I had been a cartoon character a light bulb would have appeared above my head and pinged into brightness.

Fiction.

I’ve never really written much fiction. It’s always been an occasional occurrence where I start writing and realise that the words aren’t really about me. It’s not that I can’t write fiction or that I find it massively difficult. I’m accustomed to getting into other people’s heads. It’s just that memoir, opinion and even marketing are where my words naturally land when I throw them out into the world. Writing fiction regularly would be a gigantic shove out of my comfort zone, off the comfort cliff and into Fuck, this is terrifyingly unfamiliar. What am I doing? space. And that is as good a reason as any to do something.

medium_january_prompts

I bet this is the bit where you thought I was finally going to start working on the novel I’ve been meaning to write since forever. It’s not (yet). It’s the bit where I make a firm decision to challenge myself and make a commitment to write fiction every day for a month. I found the writing prompts above (thank you Mia Botha at Writers Write) and they seem like the perfect way to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of only writing what comes easily.

I’m not sure whether I’m going to post what I write on my blog every day but I’m going to try. It freaks me out a little bit to post what are likely to be unpolished, unfinished, first drafts here but that’s part of the challenge – to get over the need for perfection and freely indulge my creativity and passion. The important things are that I am a) writing regularly, b) writing fiction, and c) kick-starting my commitment to writing more in a practical and structured way. Time, inspiration and practicality permitting, I also intend to take photos to accompany at least some of the prompt pieces because I start to go a bit crazy if photographer-me doesn’t get to play with writer-me.

When I think about this – the whole thing, not just the January writing prompts – I get that feeling. My favourite feeling. The crackling glow of potential, the unwavering sense of being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. It’s not that I assume it’ll be easy, that everything involved in “doing the writing thing” will fall into place with natural simplicity. I know it won’t. I know life doesn’t magically twist and shift itself to remove all obstacles. But I also know that if I want to do this (which I do), if I need to do this (which I do), then I have to make it my reality (which I will).

So this is it. A journey begins. The destination is a total mystery but at the start of the road there is a huge, flashing neon sign that says “Write more”.

❤ Tanya

Bird Food, Berries and Bare Branches

I could have added another ‘b’ in to the title – birthday! Yep, today I completed another journey around the sun and while I half expected thirty-six to somehow feel noticeably different from thirty-five, it really doesn’t. I’ve decided that until I stop getting asked for ID when buying alcohol, I’m still young. That’s how it works, right?

Bird Food, Berries and Bare Branches 01

A few weeks ago I mentioned in passing that I would love to get a bird feeder for the garden. I’d completely forgotten about it until my husband gave me this lovely birthday present! The gift itself is gorgeous and I can’t wait until the birds realise it’s there and I get to watch them (and hopefully take pictures of them) munching on nuts and seeds, but the most beautiful thing is knowing that D remembered that one little thing I said and did something so sweet because of it.

Bird Food, Berries and Bare Branches 02

I’m totally in love with these berries growing through the trellis. I’m not sure what the tree is but one of the things I’d like to do next year is to learn more about plants and how to identify them, so this will be my starting point. We have all sorts of plans for that part of the garden – including hopefully growing some of our own fruit and vegetables – but the tree with the berries and the little holly bush next to it will definitely be staying.

Bird Food, Berries and Bare Branches 03

When we moved in back in August, this tree (which I think is a silver birch) was covered in leaves. Now it’s in its winter guise with bare branches blowing in the breeze – a reminder that nature is wonderful all year round.

My parents arrive tomorrow for a few days so I’m busy giving everything a last big clean and tidy before the holidays start for real. Once that’s done, I’m going to spend the evening doing some major pampering until D gets home from work and we can snuggle up for a late night birthday dinner, damiana tea and a film.

Wishing you all a blessed and joyful Yule, or whatever you celebrate at this time of year!

❤ Tanya

Dreams of Seven Houses

dreams-of-seven-houses

– I –
The house I lived in when I was twenty, sparse then, but now there are too many pieces of furniture and extra appliances cluttering up the rooms. I keep trying to rearrange them to make them fit but they don’t fit and I feel claustrophobic. I think “There was enough before. I don’t need any more. There is nowhere for any of this to go”. There are no electrical sockets. I can’t breathe. The back gate is rattling.

– II –
A cottage I have never lived in and never been to but it feels familiar. I find a bedroom that shouldn’t have been there. There are two beds with stained pillows and faded candlewick bedspreads. A piano sits against one wall next to a barred and locked window. I open the piano but have forgotten how to play. My hands are frozen and I feel a creeping sense of dread.

– III –
My grandmother’s house, where I lived briefly as a child. I still know where everything is and the kitchen smells the same as it always did. I walk outside and the coal bunker in the small back yard is open. I lean against it and reach in through the door, feeling the black dust settling into the cracks in my skin.

– IV –
A grand wooden chalet with soaring arches and vast windows overlooking a lake blanketed in thick mist. I pace through luxurious rooms in the half-light of a time of day I can’t quite identify. I pick up pieces of metal and realise I am building a gun. I go outside and climb into a small boat, start the motor and leave the house behind. I have no idea where I’m going but I’m moving and it feels like comfort.

– V –
My parents’ old house where I grew up, quiet and precise, with everything exactly where it should be. I am alone inside but there are people in the garden, staring in. I don’t know who they are. I try to lock all the doors but they won’t stay locked. I hear a window breaking. There is blood on my hands. I think, “Never go upstairs”.

– VI –
An underground palace. I find a trap door leading to a basement where gravity doesn’t work and I float just above the cold stone floor. Music is playing but the room is empty apart from a black dog, wandering, lost. It doesn’t see me even when I am right in front of it. I try to touch it but a force holds us apart like the north poles of two magnets repelling each other.

– VII –
A house by the sea. The tide is rising and I know that this time it will not stop until everything is buried under water. I gather what small belongings I can carry and know that everything else will be left behind. There is a person with no face who refuses to leave. I tell them “I’m going to open the door and this place will fill with water. If you stay, you won’t survive”. They sit in silence, as if I haven’t spoken, as if the world isn’t ending. I turn and greet the oncoming tidal wave with a sense of calm and serenity that somehow never seems to find me when I’m awake.

Incensed

Incensed

Can you tell I live in an incense-heavy household? Sometimes it gets a bit out of hand but it does look pretty, especially with south facing windows. That’s my husband lurking in the accidentally dramatic fragrant mist.

I hope your weekend is full of beautiful moments!

❤ Tanya

Anniversary Happiness and Julehygge

dsc_0011-01

Yesterday, D and I celebrated fourteen years of marriage and fifteen years of being-together-ness. We don’t usually get to do much for our anniversary cause this tends to be a really busy month for both of us but this year the planets, stars and schedules aligned, so we were able to spend the day together doing lovely things. We had a whole afternoon wandering around the National Museum of Scotland (the photo above was taken from the seventh floor roof garden), went to a gorgeous little Lebanese restaurant (with the best hummus ever) for dinner, then headed home to play with our newly acquired Nintendo Wii.

I’m honestly so excited about the Wii. We’ve been a zero console household for years because D tends to play PC games and although I love a bit of Tekken, I’m not into gaming enough to justify the cost of consoles and games. A few years ago, friends of ours got a Wii and after some tipsy Mario Kart sessions we were both hooked. We thought “Yeah, we should get one of those some day” but never got around to it. After realising how cheaply they can be bought second hand, we decided to get ourselves one. It’s black. Because of course it is. Grown-up goths forever.

dsc_0010-01

This post is basically All The Happy. I absolutely adore this time of year and I’m so grateful to be spending this Yule in our lovely new home. Ever since I heard the word hygge (kind of a physical and emotional cosiness, but here’s the Wikipedia article for a better explanation), it has played a part in pretty much every choice I’ve made about decor, lighting and furniture. I was looking up how to use hygge correctly in a description (I think it’s hyggelig or hyggeligt but I’m not sure which) and found a perfect word that I didn’t know existed until tonight – julehygge! It’s hygge specifically for this time of year.

I’m sitting in a room lit with candles, a glitter lamp and fairy lights on our baby tree (it lives in a pot and will be spending the rest of the year in the garden, growing up). There’s gold and black tinsel on the yukka and the rubber plant. There’s a cat snoozing on a pile of cushions next to me. I’m wearing pyjamas, wrapped in a fluffy blanket and feeling snuggly (and hyggelig/t). My parents are arriving this time next week for a few days and D has two more days at work until he’s off until the end of the month.

The last decade has been incredibly tough. Living with a chronic illness where I’m in almost constant pain and running on very little power can make things really difficult, especially as it massively affects my ability to do the exercise I need to do to minimise progression of the damage to my back and legs from an old injury. I took care of myself as best I could but I’d been skimming along rock bottom the entire time and as much as I needed to completely change how I lived my life, I couldn’t do it in any meaningful or effective way because it wasn’t financially viable. Right now, it is, just about.  I ended a part-time freelance work contract that had been causing more unhappiness, stress and cognitive dissonance than it (or anything, really) was worth. It was a big, scary step but it is one hundred per cent the right thing to have done. We’re super careful with money because we have to be but I’m finally able to give myself some much-needed space to prioritise my health and manage my time instead of struggling to get through each day.

December is my month off. I made a conscious choice not to plan, not to think about the future and not to make any big decisions. This is a luxury I have literally never had before in my life and I am so unbelievably grateful that I have it right now. Come January, I will focus on what happens next and what I want to do. I intend to give full and honest consideration to what is realistic for me and remember that waking up crying every morning after two hours sleep because everything hurts and my brain is imploding, loading up on frustratingly necessary stimulants and painkillers to get through the day, and accepting dissociative episodes as the refreshing alternative to near-constant anxiety attacks is not feasible. Until then I am allowing myself to nurture a beautiful sense of hygge, spend time with friends and family, go for wintery walks when I’m able to, make our home extra lovely and allow parts of my soul to resurface and grow that had been buried under pain, exhaustion and fear for far too long.

My heart is so full of gratitude and love. In a world filled with so much violence and horror, especially right now, I appreciate every second of goodness and am in no doubt about how immensely lucky I am.

❤ Tanya