Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Laura Lexx Writes You A Book - Chapter 1

Initial Vote Winner: Wet.

“The weather isn’t sentient,” Lia reminded herself for the one billionth time since she had stepped into the puddle and felt actual muck road water splash up the inside of her jeans and onto her knees. This might be the death sentence for her favourite pair of far too baggy skater jeans, but she couldn’t think about that now when she was also considering the death sentence on her relationship.

“You are too old for this.” She said out loud, and then patted the jeans fondly so that they knew it wasn’t about them. No matter how old she got she was never going to want to stop wearing the uniform of her college years. Skinny jeans made everyone look like pins at the bowling alley.

On the one occasion she had worn them, removing them at the end of the night was a personal humiliation. The problem with skinny jeans is that the manufacturers have not factored in the feet at the end of your legs. Fest stick out at 90*. That’s a natural barrier to skin tight denim. Lia preferred the billowing vastness of her baggy jeans, though she had stopped wearing the little chain around the waist belt since she’d passed 30.

Usually rising damp was the worst problem in her floor sweeping leg wear but not today. Oh to only have rising damp as an issue! Today there was rising, sideways, big generic ploppy… all the different forms of damp cascading out of the sky, bouncing up off the pavements. Rain drops hit the walls of the library and threw themselves back at her. It felt like judgement, cold cold judgement.

She shifted her weight back on to the other foot and felt water squelch out from her shoe. They were obliterated by rain. She’d have to wear trainers tomorrow and hope that the regional manager didn’t pop in. Viv, her boss, locked up the double glass doors of the library and wave a sodden goodbye.

“Are you sure you don’t want a lift?” She called across the thundering wet bullets, “You could text …” she faded out as Lia shook her head. The hair shake made little sprig of water dance off Lia’s fringe. Her hair was soaked despite the enormous umbrella Keith had leant her. Keith had lent her the umbrella before they’d even left the staff room. Even Keith knew what was about to happen.

“Thanks though, Viv. See you tomorrow!”

Viv nodded and strode away quickly to the waiting Citreon Picasso of her wife Ruth. Ruth was never late. It would have been very nice to climb in the back of their car and hear them chatter and catch up with Ruth and ignore everything she had thought about today. But, it was the cowards way out, and Lia had decided to stand her ground and be a superhero. A very wet superhero.

In the warmth of the library, amongst the smell of books, nearing the end of her shift, Lia had made the decision that if Harry was late to pick her up today she was going to end their relationship.

A relationship was definitely already over if you were making pacts with yourself about certain things triggering its end, and Lia knew that, but this way it was easier. It was something to start with while she slowly unravelled all the problems in their relationship to him. Otherwise she just had to launch into “hey I don’t love you and this isn’t based on anything, just in general.” It seemed much easier to be angry about the lateness and then let that become every other thing that let her down.

As the day had worn on, she had oscillated continually on whether her silent pact with herself was a good idea. The excellent thing about a pact you had made only in your own head was that you could renege on it at any point. It was private. Like the memories of falling backwards off the bed as you wrestled skinny jeans over your hooves.

‘Why end it?’ She thought vehemently. ‘He’s so nice, and so fun to be with. He makes you laugh every day, and he’s kind. That is a GOOD list.’

This was the thinking the entire time she was on the counter portion of her shift checking books in and out for people.

By the time she was in a pre-lunch sugar dip tidying up the eternally shambolic children’s section of the library she’d remembered why. Because she already knew he was going to be late to pick her up. And so the resentment was bubbling a little bit, and it would stew into a delicious little dislike all day, that would then start to make her hate herself for being annoyed before he’d done anything wrong, and yet despite it having consumed her day, it would feel petty to bring up once she go tin the car and he started being nice, and reasonable.

After lunch, with a sandwich and some Hula Hoops in her system, the outlook for Lia and Harry’s relationship looked better. How on earth was she already mad that he was late to pick her up, instead of focusing on the fact that he was willing to pick her up from work every day? That was some Grade A lovely boyfriending just there. Willingly skipping across town to get her from work. She scolded herself, ‘And you want to break up with him, because he’s late?’ Grow up.

The hula hoops digested and slowly their magical optimism dissolved inside her leaving her weary, watching the winter afternoon wither bleakly into darkness far too early for her Vitamin D requirements.

‘It’s not about the lateness.’ She told herself, and herself rolled her eyes back and said “Duh” actually quite rudely.

Yes, it was kind of him to offer to come and get her from work every day. But, the problem was, it wasn’t really an offer she could refuse. Because she’d tried to refuse so many times. For one, the bus stop was handily outside the library and she could very easily get on a bus straight from the doors and know exactly what time she’d be getting home every day because the bus, unlike Harry, ran to a timetable. Harry thought buses were gross though, so the idea of Lia being ok with being on one was out of the question. He just rode roughshod over her on that count.

Her second argument was the climate. The one that was currently present in the form of world ending rain. He knew the increase of carbon footprint of him coming to get her made her skin itch, but he shrugged it off by always combining the trip to get her with groceries or some other errand. He made it seem so reasonable.

Her third, more pathetically offered argument was that he was late. A lot. It sounded so feeble when she had tried to bring it up in the past. He was never, well rarely, more than 30 minutes late, so why worry about it in the grand scheme of things? And when he said that in the warmth of the car with 6Music in the background, it sounded so emminently reasonable.

Fucking reasonable. Lia was sick of reasonable.

But before the car warmth and the 6Music there was the portion where she just stood outside the library waiting. Waving to colleagues who she was sure pitied her standing there alone every evening. Before the ancient air freshener that had long since ceased smelling of pine and the soft dull click of the indicator, there was the impotent fury that he insisted on collecting her and then showed no care over doing it well. The lateness. God the infernal lateness. Did he like that she had to wait? Was it control? Was it carelessness? Was it some secret stress at work that was better hidden than Shergar?

Whatever it was, it was the grit that had become unbearable. He was Kind with a capital K for coming to pick her up. A kindness that made it impossible to complain about, but a false kindness that contained very little consideration.

Either that or she was an ungrateful prick who just didn’t love him.

“There isn’t a minimum requirement for breaking up with him.” She said out loud to the poster about the Dewey Decimal System and it stayed resolutely just a poster, but empathetically, she thought.

‘So, if he’s late today, it’s unsalvageable.’ She had promised herself, in the staff room washing her mug and Tupperware and packing them into her bag, ‘and if he’s on time, I will take a closer look for salvage aiding spare parts and see how I feel.’ It was good.

But he was late. And the weather had made the decision to really consolidate the decision she had come to… it was soaking her. Drenching. It was making every second of his lateness a freezing, icy, barrage of inconvenience and insult. It was biblical. It couldn’t have been more of a sign if it was neon rain spelling out “Dump Him” as it slanted across the High Street and into Lia’s hair, shoes, eyes and optimism. He was late, it was over.

Vote for next time:


Driver's Seat



Friday, July 1, 2022

Say Anything

 “I hate bolognese.” Layla said looking at a plate of pasta.

“You don’t have to eat it.” Marianne snapped, “Just serve it. Now, before it goes cold.”

Layla sighed and lifted up the plate. The man with crusty eyes who had ordered it accepted the dish and winked. “This looks incredible. Second best looking thing in the room.”

She thought of all the funny things she could say back and then decided she didn’t need another telling off from Marianne that day. She walked away before he could remind her about the empty chair at his table again. It was the second last thing in the room she wanted to sit on.

The restaurant was busy, but not so busy that she could switch her brain off and let time run past her. Oh no, no such relief. She had plenty of time to think between dietary requirements and customer condescension, about how this had happened to her.

It was only three months ago she had bounced out of her office job feeling on top of the world. She’d slammed out of the lobby feeling much closer to a million dollars than the £41.28 she’d actually had in her account. Her boss had been a creep, the work was tedious and Layla was set to be a superstar, so why not quit? Ok, so she wasn’t quite as close to being a superstar as was possible, but it was definitely going to happen, so why not leave and give herself more time to focus on stand up comedy?

She’d pulled her mobile out of her bag and called Kieran.

“Hey babe, you ok?” He’d answered almost immediately. She’d heard the roar of the motorway in the background and pictured him in the front of his Polo, fast food wrappers strewn across the passenger seat footwell as he made his way to his show.

“Yeah,” she’d said breathlessly, “I quit!” There’d been silence on the other end of the line. “Did you hear me? I said I quit?”

“Yeah… wow.” Kieran hadn’t sounded elated. “So… what are you going to do?”

“I’ve got comedy gigs booked.” The positivity had immediately started draining out of Layla, Kieran was being drearily practical.

“Paid ones?” He’d asked, and she’d heard the indicator flick on in his car. She’d pictured him checking his blind spot meticulously and smiled to herself. He was practical, why expect him to be any different?

“Yeah… quite a few.” She’d said vaguely. Two was quite a few, wasn’t it? She’d ended the conversation and called an endlessly positive girl friend instead. He was just distracted because of the motorway.

Layla shook her head to dispel thoughts of the past. She didn’t want to think about stupid Kieran. But once you thought to yourself that you didn’t want to think about something obviously it was all you could think of. She polished cutlery and clattered forks loudly into the tray until Marianne shushed her furiously.

Layla and Kieran had met at a stand-up comedy gig. Her own forays into becoming a comedian were going pretty well. One night she had dropped into The Green Shoes Comedy Club to do her best five minutes and the act headlining the gig had been Kieran. She couldn’t take her eyes off him: the gravitas, the voice, the jokes. He was so funny, and, not that it was important or anything, but oh damn was he handsome. In the green room afterwards they had got talking and he was nice, down to earth and far too good to be true. He’d been a comedian for just a year longer than her, and was already beginning to turn pro. Their green room conversation turned into lunch, which turned into dates, which became a relationship that moved itself into a pretty, and pretty small, flat.

That flat might have been smaller than the room she had back at her parents’ house, but at least it had been freedom. She glanced up from the spoon she was buffing and nearly choked as a man entered who looked alarmingly like Kieran. This is where thinking about your exes gets you, she thought, you start seeing them everywhere. Then he laughed and her blood ran cold. It was Kieran. Walking causally into her restaurant with eight sycophants… oh god she was going to have to serve him bolognese.

Kieran had got back the day Layla quit looking tired and distracted.

“Are you ok?” She’d asked, gently.

“I can’t believe you quite your job.” He’d snapped. She’d flinched.

“You know I hated it there.”

“What are you going to do for money?” He’d asked.

“I have savings,” she’d replied, not telling him they were in coupon and Beanie Baby form, “and I will be earning from comedy.”

“But what if…” he’d started, and then stopped. She’d felt herself wanting to prod the bruise of his pause to see where it was going. She’d tried to leave it, but her mouth, had been faster than her determination

“What if what?”

“What if you don’t get enough gigs?”

“You did.” She’d retorted, wishing she was less fired up so she could let him relax and have this conversation when he was less grumpy.

“Yes, but…” again, he trailed off, and this time she didn’t prod the bruise. She knew what it would be and she couldn’t bear to hear it.

She should have just walked out full of self-respect. But she didn’t. That came later.

“Can you go and get their drinks order?” Marianne bustled past. Layla wanted to have an excuse for why she couldn’t, but the words wouldn’t materialise. She stuttered some consonants that weren’t really anything and stood staring at the coffee machine. “Now Layla. For goodness sake. If we weren’t so busy I’d send you home tonight!”

“We’re not that busy…” Layla dived for a glimmer of hope.

“Drinks order.” Marianne dumped cold sick on the once beautiful glimmer. Layla walked to the table as if it was a gallows.

“What can I get you?” She croaked, and he looked up, realising who she was and blinking in surprise. The sight of him took her right back to their last argument.

“I can’t believe you would say that!” She’d screamed, “On the radio?!”

He’d shrugged. “But my Twitter is blowing up? And check out TikTok!” He’d showed her his phone and a grin had spread across his face as he fell into the online adoration.

“But you can’t possibly mean it?” Her heart beat had been so intense it scared her, “I’m a female comic. You know how hard it is for me. You can’t possibly believe it’s harder for men?”

His jaw had motioned open and closed as he’d tried to answer, but she could see his eyes drawing back to his phone, looking at the attention he was getting.

She should have left then. But still… she’d stayed a few more long weeks. Listening to success beckon him, luring him into more and more ridiculous claims. Gaining him a following but at the expense of every value they’d shared.

“I hardly mean any of it. I’m just playing the game.” He’d said trying to soothe her, but it had made her skin crawl lying next to someone who would say anything for fame. 

The end came the night of her big show. She’d worked so hard and now was finally playing a real theatre; just her on stage. Her own show. Agents were invited and she was ready to make a splash. Kieran couldn’t make it; he had his own show, hastily moved into a venue twice the size now he’d blown up.

She’d walked back into the flat afterwards and he’d smiled at her. “How did it go?”

“No one came.” The words choked out on a tidal wave of humiliation. She’d wanted him to bury her head into his chest and go back to being her Kieran.

“Oh Lay, you’ve got to start playing the game. Look at what’s happening with me? Sure, it’s not quite how I imagined it, but I’m finally going somewhere!” 

That was when she’d left. Without even arguing. How did you argue with someone who didn’t believe their own words?

She’d watched from afar his star climb further on the back of offensive comments and outrageous appearances. Her jokes got funnier but money got tighter and her belief that talent was all you needed shrank.

Now here they were, face to face.

“Layla.” She was grateful to see the wind truly out of his sails.

“What can I get you to drink?” She repeated.

“I’ve tried really hard to get hold of you…” His friends were silent, noticing the tension. She saw from the corner of her eye other diners gawping.

“Two missed calls is trying really hard is it?”

“I…” he shifted in his chair. “It’s two more than you tried.”

“I was busy. You know how it is with us female comedians, we’re out there stealing all your jobs.”

There was an audible gasp and Layla noticed more than one mobile phone being surreptitiously removed from a pocket to film.

“Oh don’t be like that.” Kieran rolled his eyes.

“What, funny? Why? Can’t you keep up?” Giggles began around the room, “No sorry Kieran, you don’t get to say the things you do and have a girlfriend like me.”

“Why are you taking it so personally? It’s just work stuff. I’m not talking about you.”

“You ARE talking about me. Everything you say is about someone. You’re just too stupid to notice. You say diversity has gone too far and it makes your life better so you feel like a crusader. You are a crusader. A medieval idiot prancing about. At least if you believed it that would be honest. But you’re hollow. You’re not even a crusading knight you’re just the empty armour. Being with you would be even more humiliating than being a failed comedian serving bland bolognese. Sorry Marianne.”

There was silence in the restaurant. Then the sound of one person clapping, and then a couple more. Layla spun round and saw everyone there applauding her. She would have loved to bask but there were tears on their way so she fled to get the coat she assumed Marianne would soon be telling her to leave in.

She reached the lockers and heard footsteps behind. “Don’t Marianne.” Layla fished her phone out of her pocket.

“Layla that was amazing.” Marianne sounded awed.

Layla didn’t turn round. She stared at the phone screen full of notifications. One or two of the diners had posted their videos, and it seemed that Marianne wasn’t the only one who found Layla’s take down of Kieran amazing.

At Layla’s next show, she wasn’t the only one there.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Short Platform

The rumbling of the train seemed to have more bass as the speed of the carriage dropped. Outside the windows, lights flickered in the distance. The far distance. Beyond the fields, beyond the valleys, beyond the persistent river. Digital watches shimmied to 10:45pm and the passengers sighed; yearning for beds and loved ones and sitting on a different chair staring vaguely at their phone screens. Not far now.

The grass of the field shifted. Stirred. Like it was blown by a wind, except that it had too many directions to be natural. Like wind pushed through a colander by a haphazard chef.

The faint sound of amplified air filled the carriage as the train tannoy buzzed into life. “The next station stop will be Greater Wair. If you wish to alight, please ensure you are travelling in the first three carriages of the train as this station has a short platform.”

The light definitely changed, although there was no one there to witness it. Even if there had been, it wouldn’t have been as definite for them as it definitely was. It would have prompted questions like “did the light just change?” to which vague replies like “yeah… maybe” would be the common response.

The carriage filled with audible grumpy mutterings from the hostaged travellers. “Where?” Was passed repeatedly down the carriage as the brakes scraped a tame scream into the night.

Greater Wair existed. Not in the passive sense in that all things we know of exist. It began to exist. It appeared, except that it wasn’t just an appearance. It became, except that it had been before. It developed, except that it was instantaneous. It began to exist again despite its continued existence. It flew out of the blurry grass and became itself, as it had always been, except that it had stopped for a while.

Cobbled streets jumped out of the earth and lay themselves down looking nonchalant. “Oh me?” they said, “I’ve always been here, don’t be silly.” A post office complete with rubber stamps and drawers of important forms settled itself busily on the main high street between a well stocked general store and the home of someone who had ignored all calls to sell up for a big commercial fee.

A dozen phones pulled up booking apps, rail enquiry apps, email confirmations. Eyes re-checked the stopping schedule.

“Have they added a stop?”

But no, there in black and white on the screen for what felt like the first time, was Greater Wair. Phones disappeared back into pockets or flicked back over to simple pixelated distractions as the passengers waited to move on. A resigned listlessness filled the filtered air of the carriage.

Faces peered out of glass window panes, gazing at the streak of fluorescent light coming closer.

The train halted. The doors beeped. No one stirred.

They more than stirred in Greater Wair. Even the somewhat insecure short platform rippled imperceptibly with joy at the thought of a foot caressing the hard tarmac of its back.

Breath was held and hearts raced as the inhabitants of Greater Wair stared out at the carriage; willing. The bunting was primed, the cafe was polished, anecdotes were sharp and punchy. Everything was ready.

A man in a crumpled suit snorted himself awake and looked, alarmed out of the window. The train had stopped. He grabbed his briefcase from the seat beside him and slapped his large feet hard against the floor in an effort to reach the door before the train moved away. He jumped off the train, still blinking sleep out of his eyes and puffing stale station beer past his beard.

As his feet hit the platform several things happened. The train doors beeped and closed. He realised this was not his stop.

The platform grinned.

Painfully slowly the train pulled away. The man in the crumpled suit could only turn to face it and feel the pulse of each carriage as it passed him. The woman who had been sat opposite the man in the crumpled suit put her feet up into the space he had been in and he was entirely forgotten.

The man in the crumpled suit looked around him. Where was this?

“Hello!” Said a friendly voice. The man in the crumpled suit whipped his head around and saw… he saw a watercolour painting of the cast of a musical standing before him. A musical whose costume budget was tight and so had dressed their actors in costumes from whatever era they could get their hands on. Victorian dresses swept the floor next to full shell suits. There were at least a dozen crumpled suits, just like his.

“Welcome to Greater Wair.” Another voice spoke up, “Let us walk you home.”

“I… I don’t live here?” The man stuttered, beginning to wonder if he was still asleep.

“You do now.”

The chimneys began to blur. As if heat haze were developing all around them. They wobbled and melted into nothing. Roofs followed, then walls, windows, faces and gardens. The fields rolled up back over the village, zipping it back into partial existence somewhere out of sight. The platform was the last thing to melt away, still buzzing from the excitement of new feet. It let itself slip back into the between time dreaming of more new soles tomorrow.