Short Story… Why Not?

by limebirdwriters

Hello all,

I’ve been working on a little short story that I would like to share with you.

Bx

The first time I met him, I knew it was love. It may have been a clumsy, childish kind of love, but it was love nevertheless.  When we met, we were only in primary school, but everything about him was perfect to me. I found myself staring at him in classes when I didn’t even realise, and he was always on my mind. He was so kind and caring and funny, so I was pretty convinced that he didn’t even know I existed. That changed one lunchtime on the playground.

That day started as normal. The bullies at school had got into a routine of looking out for me to make fun, so usually I sat in the bathroom to eat my lunch, but they almost always found me. This lunchtime I decided that I wasn’t going to cower anymore and I would go out onto the playground. I knew I was different, I was proud of being different, so I wasn’t going to let them get to me anymore. However, instead of them taking this courage as a sign to leave me alone, it simply made the torments worse. Normally it was just name calling or shouting which I could handle, but this time it was different. This day it became violent. I guess they had just got sick of me not responding and one of the bigger kids went for me, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor. Preparing for the blows to hit me, I scrunched up into a small ball and waited for the inevitable.

When it didn’t, I cautiously opened my eyes and saw him on top of my attacker, pounding him, telling him to pick on someone his own size. Butterflies flew in my stomach and my palms felt sweaty. Even at a young age I knew he was the one I wanted to be with and now he knew who I was.

After the bullies had run away he turned back to me, asked me if I was OK and held his hand out to help me up. After that day we were inseparable. When I was with him I felt invincible, untouchable.

Even when we went to secondary school, finding ourselves separated, him at a mixed school, me at a single sex school, we still saw each other when we could. We had so much in common with each other, it just felt so easy.

After school, neither of us wanted to go straight home, so we always headed down to the river, especially when the weather was warm. There was a big oak tree that we leant up against and talked about everything. All those evenings we spent there I always hoped that he liked me more than just a friend, but I was always too scared to do anything.

One day when we sat there looking across the river, he said my name and as he did, I turned too quickly and we bumped heads. Both descending into laughter, suddenly we both stopped and our eyes locked, all I could see was him. I couldn’t hear the birds anymore and the cars were silent. We both sat there for a while, neither wanting to move. As if we had planned it, we both moved in closer to each other and our lips touched. As we did, I felt like I couldn’t ever be happier. I felt knots form in my stomach and my heart raced. I had been picturing this moment for so long and it was perfect. He told me that he had been waiting to do that for so long and I told him that I felt the same.

He stood up and walked over to the river to find a rough stone. He headed back and crouched down by the oak tree. Pushing down, he carved our names into the bark and turned to me and smiled. Now we always have somewhere where we are together, he said. A few days later he told me that he was going to tell his parents about us. He told me that he loved me and he wanted them to know that.

We both went our separate ways and I waited to hear from him. A few hours later he turned up at my house, heartbroken and crying. He told me that his parents had told him that he couldn’t see me anymore. I couldn’t understand why. It was only me and my mum at home and when I had told her, she had been so overjoyed that I had found someone to make me happy, so I couldn’t see why his parents didn’t want us to be together.

From that day we saw each other less, having to sneak around to spend time together. But, everything changed that one day when we were in college. We were walking to one of our classes and suddenly his legs gave way and he grabbed hold of his head, screaming in pain. I felt so helpless and I couldn’t do anything to make it better.

I went with him to the hospital in the ambulance, but as soon as his parents got there, I had to leave. I begged to stay but they wouldn’t let me, showing me the door as I cried. His sister felt sorry for me and quietly promised me that she would keep me updated. She did, and the diagnosis wasn’t good. He had cancer which had aggressively spread and he didn’t have long to live. She rang me every day around 5pm to fill me in, which I was so grateful for.

Every day I went to the hospital asking to see him, but every day they turned me away. I waited outside on a bench, just to be as near to him as possible and hoping somehow he knew that I was there.

The day she didn’t ring, I knew it had happened. I rang her mobile a couple of times, but no answer. Finally, at around midnight, my phone buzzed. I scrambled to reach it, dazed and tired eyed. All the text said was, “He’s gone.” As soon as I read the words I felt like I was going to be sick and my heart pounded in my chest.

The last memory I had of him, he told me that he was going to marry me one day. I shook my head and told him it wasn’t possible, but he kissed me on the forehead and smiled. We laid there on the grass, watching the clouds go by, our hands intertwined, peaceful. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t able to see him. All I wanted was just a few minutes to say good bye and they took that from me.

It was the middle of the night but I couldn’t sleep any more. My mind was racing and buzzing and I felt so overwhelmed by everything. I threw the quilt off me and ran to the cupboard to get a jacket and pulled on my shoes onto my bare feet. I needed to get out of my house as I felt I was suffocating, drowning. I ran through the door and let my feet take me wherever they wanted to go. The wind was harsh and it whipped at my face but I didn’t care, I needed to be close to him.

I ran towards the river, to where I could normally find him, not really sure what I was expecting. I walked down to the spot where we used to sit and where we had so many memories. I felt like I couldn’t breathe any more as the realisation hit me that he was never coming back. I would never hold his hand again, never kiss his lips. I would never be able to hold him tightly or call him when I needed to hear his voice. Walking over to our tree, I traced with my finger the outline of the words he had carved all that time ago, a big heart separating our names.

His first, mine second. Carl and Jack, forever. “

So, the whole point of this piece was to disturb the balance of characterisation. I don’t know if you’re the same, but when I read something I immediately picture what the character looks like and I’m interested to know what you imagined with no description given about the character.

This is the first time where I had written something which was gender neutral, so I’m also intrigued to know how many people are now scrolling back up the story to see if you can spot any gender hints! Or.. if you pictured the character as male, please let me know what it was that gave it away!

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26 Comments to “Short Story… Why Not?”

  1. Hey Beth! What a great idea to get us thinking about your story on so many levels. I don’t think you gave away any gender hints. I think I figured out the speaker was a male because of the issue with the parents. Prior to that I definitely assumed the speaker was a female because of the way the speaker talked about “him.” However, I did want to know why a girl was getting beaten up so badly and so often. Not that something like that never happens, but it is rarer than boys getting beaten up. Once I found out the parents didn’t approve it clicked for me.

    I really liked it. Nice job!

    • Hey Kate,

      Thank you so much! I did a lot of gender studies at University and I just found the concept of this quite interesting. When I read a book I definitely find that I have a picture in my head of what they look like. Then when something different is revealed about them that isn’t the same as what I was thinking, I get all confused! Yes, that is a good point about girls getting beaten up, but unfortunately it is something that happens quite regularly in schools. 😦

      Do you think you read it differently now you know that it is two boys? 🙂

  2. First of all….I’m crying. Wow, great story!

    At first I did picture a little girl. When he said his dad had gotten upset and refused to let them see each other again I had a sneaking feeling that it might have been about two boys, but I didn’t know for sure until the very end.

    • Wow, thanks Laura, what a great response! (not actually that you were crying, but an emotional response is lovely!)

      That was a factor that I wasn’t sure how to tackle, but I thought maybe people might assume it was because of religion? Anyways, I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  3. Hi Beth, I figured it was a boy when he said he was different and proud to be so. You were careful not to put Any (I’m using caps for emphasis since there’s no italics for comments on wordpress) gender references at all before that, and that was a tell too. When we meet someone, we See them first, Then talk, etc.

    Our characters are the same. We describe them as we introduce them to the story, since the reader can’t see them in real life. A little comment about liking the new layered haircut, or a pretty new sweater, or something else not masculine – would steer the reader toward thinking it’s a girl, so the surprise is that much more of a shock later.

    Great story, it’s easy to read the character’s emotions and that’s not easy to do! So sad about the hospital, and going back to the river, you really drew me in with the details. 🙂

    • Hey Neeks,

      Thanks for all the constructive comments, that’s really helpful to improve this type of story next time round. This was my first attempt at trying not to use any gender references, so I think I may have gone a bit TOO over board with the missing details. I think if I had done it again, doing something like the haircut would have been good, and wondering if he noticed. You are the master of the short story, I have much to learn yet!

      I’m glad I drew you in with the details and that you enjoyed it. 🙂

  4. Darnit, I’m sniffling now over breakfast! 😉

  5. Really nice piece. The wording is beautiful. Well done.

  6. if you’d like some detailed feedback on this piece let me know a way i can get it to you

    cheers

    • Hi Putnik,

      Thank you for your comment! I wrote this more as a look at characterisation and gender neutral language, so it’s by no means my best work! However, you are more than welcome to send any feedback over to limebirduk@gmail.com, or in the comment section here, I would be interested to hear it! 🙂

  7. Sorry Beth, I knew they were boys! And before I get started, THANKS FOR MAKING ME CRY PFFFT.

    I knew they were both boys at the bulling scene. I used to be really into BL anime, so that could have been a big tipper for me. The characters were so cute.

    I imagined the non-specified in the beginning as a mop-haired blonde and the other with shorter brown hair. Both were awkward with adolescence. I was too wrapped up in the story to give them much of a visual, they just played out. I tend to do that. The river scene was especially clear to me, though.

    Overall, I loved this. Stupid bigot parents ruining true love. 😦 Imagine how lonely brown hair felt in his last days… I’m gonna cry again dangit.

    • Hi Amber,

      Haha, don’t apologise! I’m interested to hear that you knew they were both boys! I like hearing different peoples’ viewpoints. Oh gosh, I’m sorry. Oops!

      Thank you for letting me know how you pictured them, that’s really nice actually. I hadn’t actually given a lot of thought to how they looked, but now I can see them more! I do that a lot too!

      I know, it is sad! Horrible parents getting in the way 😦

  8. Beth, great exercise. I didn’t realise the characters were male and enjoyed re-reading and picking up all the clues you’d left 🙂

  9. Hi Beth!

    What an interesting and moving piece. A challenge, too, to keep your POV character’s gender out of it until the end. I will say I knew that the speaker was also male. Having been chastised in workshops for not making a gender known sooner (I never really saw the need to blatantly state it, if eventually it comes to light, but how and ever), I look for that sort of thing now. While I think a reader will tend to assume a character in this particular situation–at least at the beginning–is female, the lack of gender pronouns, particularly in relation to the bullies, was suspect. And of course, with no direct reason given for the two not being able to see one another, I find there’s only one conclusion (perhaps throw in a red herring of sorts, as to why this might be?) I was absolutely sure, though, when I read “him at a mixed school, me at a single sex school.” Usually one would read “all-girls'” or “all-boys'” rather than “single sex,” so that was my ah-ha! moment–an obvious attempt by the author to hide something. (We’re sneaky buggers, aren’t we?)

    I think I’d rather like to start presenting myself with challenges such as this one, and seeing what holes or giveaways readers can spot. Seems like fun, and must really allow one to strengthen their writing that much more.

    Well done!

    Kayleigh

    • Hi Kayleigh,

      Thank you, that’s very kind. Yes, we are sneaky types us writers. Like limebirdneeks said in a previous comment, I could have added some different descriptions which could have been male or female like a haircut etc! Yes, I do think that I generally assume it’s female. I wonder if males assume they’re males? Hmm… I love that you picked up on some of the clues because of workshops and that it got you thinking about the characters! Haha, that’s funny that you picked up on the schools bit!

      Great, I’m looking forward to reading them! 😀

      PS – Have you joined our forums yet? We’re doing 100 word stories over there which you might enjoy! – http://limebird.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=shortstories&action=display&thread=24 🙂

  10. I think it’s a great story. I wasn’t surprised that it was a boy, but it didn’t jump out at me, either.

    What I’m finding very interesting is the comments regarding bullying. To many of the commenters, that was a “tell.” Maybe they live in areas where boys are still the bullies. But living close to two big cities, I hear so many stories on the news about girl-on-girl bullying. And it’s not limited to the cyber form. This might be another factor in a reader’s interpretation of the character’s gender in that scene.

    For me the parents’ reaction was the more telling clue about gender. But, of course, they could’ve been trying to “protect” a young girl from the heartache of loving and losing a boy who would die young – even if they were going at it the wrong way.

    Yes, there are all those pesky rules about presenting characters, but (overused cliche coming!) rules are meant to be broken!

    • Thank you for your comment! 🙂

      I know, I was also surprised that that was a tell as I have had the same experiences as you.
      Ah, see I did think that people might have picked up on that, but then I did think that it could have also been religion or upbringing or something like that.

      Haha, I completely agree. Rules are definitely made to be broken!

  11. I assumed it was a boy because you’re not supposed to hit girls. It still kind of threw me, though. When I heard he went to hospital, I assumed that that had something to do with why his parents wouldn’t let them date – I thought it might be out of kindness, you know?

    Knowing that it isn’t, I think Jack should get some sweet revenge on the parents, but maybe I’m just malicious.

    I was going to say you should have made the gender and name clear from the start, but when I got to the end… you kind of screwed me there. Nice one.

    Still, fantastic story! It certainly did what it was meant to. You trickster, you.

    • Hi William!

      Thanks for commenting! True, but I don’t think you should hit anyone, boy or girl! I like that it made you think of different scenarios!
      Haha, I think he does deserve to take some kind of revenge, but we will just leave that to our imaginations! Yes, normally I would make it clear from the start as I think it’s nice to be able to imagine who we’re dealing with!

      Thank you, I’m glad it did what it said on the tin! Awh gosh, I am a trickster aren’t I? Naughty me! *slaps on wrist*

      • Well, you’re not SUPPOSED to hit anyone, but we can’t have everything. Especially at an all boys’ school like mine. (Although, if girls were there, they’d probably get hit too… hit ON. See what I did there? Yes.)

        Still, if you weren’t going to actually show him egging their house or putting laxatives in their evening whiskey, you could at least have ye olde:
        “It was then that I felt him leave me forever, etc. etc., and I turned from the tree in a sorrow as yet unrealised, finally being aware of the truth of it, etc. etc., and then I went to spike his parents’ water supply. Out of love.”

        Or, if you really love our imaginations:
        “[All that first bit] and then I went to find his parents… and get revenge. Out of love.”

        Yes, you are, but I thought it was wrong to hit people? Maybe forgo the wrist slapping and go for a stern talking to. After all, aren’t words our weapon?

      • Very true. Haha, like the word play. Although I went to an all girls’ school and I saw lots of hitting!

        Although what I probably would have done, I think that would have made it a little less tragic and romantic, no?

        Oh gosh, now I’m all confused!

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