Thank you to Brian, Carey and June who sent in stories using the Time and Flashback themes from last month’s workshop. If you’d like to send feedback on any of the stories, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The beard was his first. The outcome of a holiday spared the obligation of shaving. He’d resisted the hippie look at university. Now in his forties, he felt a beard gave him an air of distinction, particularly with grey flecks matching those in his black hair. Or so he thought.
“My god, David, why ever did you grow that?” Sally, his secretary screamed, jumping up from her desk. “You look ten years older.”“Maybe that’s what I need for top jobs,” David said, walking quickly to his office before others could add their comments.
Well, I hope you’re relaxed after your holiday. I’ve had to fill your diary with interviews today. The job offer you sent, before your holiday, was refused. The customer is demanding that we appoint a Project Manager this week. I’ve put the applicants’ details are on your desk. The first one is due here at 10am.”
David entered his office, disappointed the PM job hadn’t been sorted, that his holiday was over, and his beard wasn’t seen as an asset. On his desk were a single sheet, with the interviews schedule and the names of the candidates, and a stack of their application forms. He scanned the names quickly before returning to the first one, John Langton, a name he could never forget. Surely, this wasn’t the same John Langton? He rubbed his beard, feeling perspiration through the hairs.
He couldn’t stop remembering that first term at Grammar school, the nightmare that came to him for years after. He could still visualise Langton’s snarling face. The bully who grabbed his cap and satchel and threw them into playground puddles, who locked him in the “dark hole”, where the cricket nets were stored, and who followed him to the toilets demanding “soap money” for washing his hands. Fortunately, the torment stopped when Langton left the school after his parents moved.
David’s hand shook as he selected Langton’s CV, willing the name to be a coincidence. Two words were enough to tell him it wasn’t, Highbury Grammar. In forty minutes, he would be facing his nemesis. He thought about asking Sally to cancel the interview. Too late, probably. But was he still that eleven-year old new boy, nervous of a new school? No, this was his territory, he held the high ground, Langton had no dominion over him here. He scanned the CV in detail, no degree, some sporting achievements, three longish stints at well known companies and some claimed success at Project Management. He was a possibility for the job. David stroked his beard. Would Langton recognise him, thirty years on, in a senior role and with this facial disguise?
At 10am, David stood tall to greet the short bald-headed candidate, John Langton, who edged nervously into his office.
I love the imagery in this story: man with a beard who thinks it gives him more gravitas and then gets a chance to prove it!
If you are writing a story in the past tense, as here, then the first verb in the flashback should be in the pluperfect tense ie the bully who had grabbed his cap. From then on, it’s fine to use the simple perfect. It’s clear when the story reverts to the present day as David is once again looking at the bully’s CV, but I would make it even clearer by starting a new section with a blank line and left-aligning the first sentence of the new section.
Martha smelt the new mown grass and felt her toes curling up, and face getting warmer. She smiled. Time had not extinguished this reaction to the start of Spring and the cricket season. She stood on the promenade looking at the cricket field with the white houses in the background and the striped deck chairs in front of the pavilion. There was a game going on. A sigh of relief escaped from her. It was the same as fifty years ago when she’d met James, the love of her life.
She’d struggled down the promenade of her hometown which separated the stony beach from blocks of new flats that overlooked a calm sea. Leaning on the stick that gave her some support from an arthritic hip, she heard the crack of the ball firing off the bat. It was a square cut played with gusto to the boundary. Martha had picked up the terminology from her Father who had been a member.
Sitting on a deck chair she shivered as she had then. The field was open to a constant off – shore breeze of varying intensity. Now she had a coat on – then it was a summer frock and waiting for a girlfriend who never turned up.
When the tea interval came, one of the batsman had stood in front of her, touched his cap and said,”Would you like a cup of tea, you look half frozen?” Taken by surprise, she’d muttered some grateful reply. He’d smiled and disappeared, his blond hair glittering in the reflected sun off the white houses. Waiting, her toes had curled up and her cheeks were warm in spite of the cold.
She refused the blanket he brought back – that was for old ladies. They’d introduced themselves as she drank the hot tea. James didn’t say much but that’s because in between the sips of tea Martha couldn’t stop talking. When he went out to bat, he didn’t last long because he admitted afterwards he’d thrown his wicket away. He wanted to make sure she was still there. To Martha this really meant he was serious!
For the next six months they were inseparable. He was an officer in the Parachute Regiment and was training nearby. Martha had a University place the following year. Holding hands, stolen kisses, the intensity of their relationship meant that one day she was in heaven and the next in hell. His politeness sometimes annoyed her and they would quarrel, but making up were moments of such joy that Martha would never forget.
Then the Falklands war came and within a month he was dead. Leading his men in an attack he was killed by a sniper. Years later she did marry and had two daughters.
Julia, the youngest stood opposite her now. “Mum, your town has changed – boarded up shops, charities and a one-way system.” Martha had thought as much.
A young cricketer with blond hair stood in front of them. “There’s plenty of tea left. Would you like a cup?” For the second time that day, Martha’s toes curled up. As she watched the two young people look at each other, time stood still and an image of that meeting long ago came back to her.
Love Carey’s story with the cricketing imagery and things being repeated over the years. Excellent use of the senses and descriptions.
Again, the first verb of the flashback should be in the pluperfect which would signal the start of a memory ie then it was a summer frock and she had been waiting for a girlfriend. You would then not need all the following pluperfect verbs eg had stood, she’d muttered, he’d smiled etc. And again, I’ve put a break and a new section when we come back to the present day with her daughter commenting on the changes in Martha’s hometown.
My eyes roll down the page. I blink and everything jumps back into line. Tick, tock. Tick tock. My bedside clock ticks in my ear. Tick tock. So soothing. The page blurs again as the words swim and the lines slither and I can resist no longer. I shut the book, place it into the bedside cupboard and slither down into the duvet and the world of sleep. Tick tock. We are hurtling through the countryside on a train, my Mum, and me, counting the stations until Delamere. Grandpa is there to meet us, his silver hair lifting in the breeze and I run down the platform to be enveloped in a bear hug, breathing in the familiar smells emanating from his old tweedy jacket. I do so love my Grandpa.
The short drive to the farm is a bumpy affair as the track is rutted and potholed. The house is dark after the bright sunshine outside. Mum unloads her basket and places a large steak and kidney pie onto the table.
Grandpa loves his food, and his eyes light up. ‘My word, Mags. You’ve done us proud today ‘.
Once lunch is over, I’m left to play alone in the front room, which I’m not very keen on. It is the clocks. As I wander round the room I can count four large clocks, each placed on shelves or low tables. They all tick and I don’t like it. I throw myself on the prickly horse-hair settee and hold a cushion over my head.to shut out the sound. My head is warm under the cushion but I can’t breathe properly.
‘Gotcha.’ Strong arms grab me, and I’m picked up and thrown across what feels like hard, bony shoulders. I try to scream but I can’t make any sound come out. Tick tock. We’re striding off somewhere and the tick seems to be in time. Tick tock. Tick tock . Where am I going?
We stop and I’m placed down onto the floor. I’m in a dark room and it is full of clocks. There are hundreds of them, and I see now that it was the Grandfather clock that brought me here.
‘There. That wasn’t too bad was it? I’ve brought you to meet my friends and family.’ He points at different clocks. ‘This is my brother Joe, and this is Sam. Along that wall are their wives, Mary and Ruth. They are called Grandmother clocks, because they’re smaller. Fingers in ears young lady. This might be a bit on the loud side.’ and suddenly the room shakes with the striking of hundreds of clocks. I’m really scared now and put my hands over my ears. No sooner have they done four bongs than the little clocks start but instead of bongs there are shrill, high pitched screaming. It is terrible!
‘Stop. Please stop,’ I shriek but the shrill, ear splitting sound goes on and on. With a jerk I come to. My arm shoots out and makes contact with my alarm clock and with a swift click I slam down the ‘OFF’ switch. Drenched in sweat I lie in my bed, my heart still ponding. Will these nightmares never let up. Tick tock. Tick tock. I blame you, clock!
I edited June’s story to be slightly nearer the 450 words I suggested in the workshop! I loved the repetition of tick tock. I think June builds the tension well, giving us a good sense of how scary the clocks appear to a child. The flashback, or dream, is dealt with well at the beginning, staying in the present tense but making it clear to the reader that the journey to the grandfather’s farm is a memory. Then we have a dream sequence all about clocks and she brings us back to the present day with the sounds – of her alarm clock. Lovely idea.