Friday 23 September 2011

#Fridayflash: An uneasy love

This is a short story I started working on for the Writer's Digest short story competition. As usual, I bit off a little more than I could chew in my choice of topic... so I may or may not finish it, depending on whether I figure out where they're going (or rather, whether they figure out who they really are and define the relationship [the one thing I ever learnt from Boundless was DTR, not that I ever had a chance to use it], if that makes sense). More notes after the story, because you may or may not agree with where I'm coming from. Don't read it if you're a bigot.

He sat alone in Starbucks, sipping a Caramel Macchiato. He grimaced a little at its sweetness, but it had been her favourite drink. The wind blew in from the quay, tainted with the smell of haze and gas.
“I don’t know why you do this,” James said, taking the seat next to him. James’ long fingers tap danced across the shiny table top, coming to a rest on his forearm.
He moved his arm away with a scowl.
“Sorry,” James mumbled, shrugging.    
“You’re not sorry,” he growled softly. “You never are.” He continued staring rigidly out at the sea until James walked away. Slowly, the tension bled out of his body as he eased against the backrest again.
You know why I do this. I do this to honour her, because I have hurt her, broken her, destroyed her life. You do know why, but you can’t understand it. You have never tried.
It was a long-standing argument between him and James - this inability of his to let go. Or was it his unwillingness? Sometimes he didn’t know anymore. Unable or unwilling, it was the same. He had loved her once, or at least thought that he had. Circumstances now didn’t change anything. So once a year, on the anniversary of their divorce, he drank her favourite drink alone at their favourite hangout. It was the only way he knew of saying he was sorry.
James sulked as he walked away. Bloody Kenneth, always on your stupid high horse. Can’t you just forget the dumb girl and move on? Sure it was five years of your life with her, but also five years of ME having to listen to every single grouse against your wife, five years of ME feeling broken and betrayed after all the life we shared together. And now I know that you will never be truly mine.
He barely glanced at the shop windows as he stalked past them, pacing up and down the corridors of the mall. It would be at least another five hours before Kenneth would deign to move, James realised as he glanced at his watch, and in the meantime, he didn’t intend to hang about like a lovesick little girl. He dug in his pockets and realised that the car keys were with Kenneth. He would have to wait for the prick to end his self-righteous pity party.
Kenneth hadn’t moved. James took the chair next to him again, placing a steaming cup of espresso next to the empty one. They sat in silence for a long time.
“I’m sorry,” Kenneth said, his eyes flickering momentarily towards James.
“Oh, we’re talking now, are we?”
“You brought a peace offering.”
“I didn’t say it was for you.” But he pushed it slightly further towards Kenneth.
“I didn’t ask you to come along.”
“I couldn’t let you be alone, could I?”
Kenneth could feel the tensing of his muscles, the tightening of his shoulder blades. It didn’t use to be this way when they were mere drinking buddies, friends on the football field. “You could have. It was my divorce, not yours.”
James checked the angry words that fireworked in his mind. “You couldn’t have coped without me.”
Kenneth didn’t reply.
“It’s been three years, Ken! When are you going to snap out of it? You left her. It’s over.”
“I don’t know if I did the right thing anymore!” There were people looking, he was sure of it even if he didn’t look around. He lowered his voice to a hiss. “I’m beginning to think that you broke up my marriage as deliberately as any scheming woman. Kathleen didn’t like it that you were always around. I didn’t listen to her. I listened to you. So five years with her was thrown away for three years with you and you know what? I don’t think I made the right decision. I’m just not made that way.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I do.”
“You’ve just lost it for a moment because you’ve been drowning yourself in memories.”
“What if I’m not? What if, for once, I am speaking the truth?”
“Did you never love me?”
The broken whisper tore his heart, but Kenneth pushed on harshly, fixing his eyes steadfastly on the distant horizon, his lifeline. “You were always my brother.”
The espresso was cold when he finally picked it up. It tasted bitter on his tongue, past the final vestige of caramel still lingering on his taste buds. After the sweet came the bitter. He once thought it the other way round, that sweetness had covered his bitter life. He knew now that he was wrong. There was no real sweetness in his life, only the fake sugar-lacing of caramel that tried - but failed - to cover the persistent undercurrent of bitterness from the thick, black coffee.
The sky was turning a deeper blue, swirled with fingers of pink and orange. It had been hours since James had walked – no, almost run – away from him. He wondered vaguely where he had gone, a slight stirring of unease in his belly. No, he wouldn’t take back his words, and yet, the man was his friend, the one person who had stuck with him through the years, his confidant for the last eight difficult years.
James had never pushed, never asked, but he knew, or thought he did. The way he would touch his hand, lean against his back - things Kathleen had once done in her soft feminine way echoed in his rough, teasing manner. There were the things he said, sometimes, the occasional odd look in his eyes. Kenneth shook his head. He would do nothing, say nothing, ask nothing, as he had done nothing for the past three years as flatmates. There were some things you did not have a right to pry into, no matter how close you were.
He swallowed down the last dregs of the bitter brew and stood to go. Turning, a stray reflection in the shop’s glass frontage caught his attention.
“How long have you been there, Kathleen?”
She was as poised and coiffed as ever, her lipstick a dark red. “He came back to you like a lost puppy and you chased him away with a few choice words.”
“He knew?”
“Knew what? That I was here? I suppose. I wasn’t hiding.”
“So you listened to everything we said.”
“You were hardly private about it.”
His lips formed a thin, cold line and he turned away.
“Was it really a mistake?” she asked, stopping him mid-stride.
“Was what a mistake?”
“Our divorce.”
“What’s it to you now?” He didn’t know. He had said it out of anger, said it out of a need to be alone. Maybe he had meant it; God knew he dreamt about her many nights. But maybe he hadn’t; he remembered their endless fights all too well.
“Only…” There was a wistful tinge to her tone that made him turn back to her again.
“It’s in the past, Kathleen. I don’t know that I’m such a desirable man that the both of you should hound me this way. God knows I fail in everything I try to do!”
“Don’t think so highly of yourself!” she huffed, her cheeks red. “Stay with your gay partner if you want to. I don’t care.”
“He is not my gay partner,” Kenneth growled, snapping his teeth shut in a grimace. He walked away, her parting words ringing in his ears.
“I hope the sex is great.”


Okay, I can't finish this story because I don't really know where it's going. And I don't really know where it's going because I can't really tell where James is coming from. And I can't really tell where James is coming from because I just don't know how it's like. I don't know if I'm presenting a realistic view, or if it's pure stereotypical tripe. Look, I even struggle with using the word, of 'saying' it out, because I'm not sure how it will come out, if it will be normal, or condescending, or politically correct, or offensive.

It's easy to say (from a textbook Christian point of view) that being gay is wrong. That it's a sin to be GLBTQ. Like there's something wrong with you. But I don't think it works that way. There are so many dynamics to a person's personality and orientation. It could be society. It could be medical. It could just be nature. It could be any number of things. There's a lot of discussion about nature vs. nurture and everyone has a different take, a different set of evidence, a different argument. 
I don't believe in giving guilt trips about the way you tick, because a lot of times it's not something that you voluntarily choose to be, like the way I can't be as extroverted as I wish I could be. And yet at the same time, I believe that what you do with it is what makes all the difference.
Maybe the rules have changed and I'm still stuck in with an archaic sense of honour and morals, but I would say that you don't chase another woman's husband even if you're desperately in love with him (or vice versa), I don't believe in one night stands and I don't agree in 'living together' arrangements.
So I wouldn't say that you must force yourself to be heterosexual. What I'm saying is that if you call yourself a Christian, there is a higher standard. 
And... if you don't call yourself a Christian, then what I just said in the last few paragraphs doesn't actually relate to you because, well, we just believe in different things. *shrug*


  1. 'Compelling fiction. I'm curious where you'll land...

    I appreciate that you're struggling with the issue of writing about what you think you "don't know" and you certainly didn't ask for advice -- so please forgive my hubris -- but as a straight, non-religious woman who has friendships with both gay men and women, I feel moved to share:

    My advice is to approach your protags as you would any other characters, that is, with a concentration on their individual humanity, moral capacity, and integrity -- or lack thereof. Let the stereotyping (e.g., your subtle implication that gay men have a natural disdain for women) and any impact of your own religious questions creep in from "outside" your protags... don't let them bubble up from within them. That always creates a false note in a narrative.

    In other words, be an observer -- not an arbiter -- of two men caught up in a very "human" situation, which seems to be pretty much the direction in which you're headed...

    I like this story. These were just my humble two cents thrown in to help pay toward your "finish." :)

  2. I love it just like that!!!!!

  3. @Gabrielle

    Thanks for your comment :)
    I didn't realise that there was the implication that gay men have a natural disdain for women. I was trying to play up on the jealousy James had in his love for Ken, as if Kathleen was his rival.

    Yup, a good point to note. Always a very strong tendency to put words in the protag's mouths.

  4. I enjoyed this story, Natz. I though the jealousy that James showed was a nice emotional touch, as was Ken's internal struggle.

  5. Natz,

    I agree with you and Chuck: James' jealousy is valid. Human. But, 1) when he was thinking that he "...didn’t intend to hang about like a lovesick little girl," was he angry with Kenneth's ex-wife at that moment, or feeling sorry for himself; and 2) when Kenneth barked at James, "I’m beginning to think that you broke up my marriage as deliberately as any scheming woman," what did he really mean?

    Of course, we could make the case that James thinks of himself as a woman and that's why he had the little girl thought, but nothing else in the story supports that theory. Same with Kenneth. If he perceived James as a woman, nothing supports it. On the other hand, if there WERE support, the theory would still be a perjorative against women because of the negative qualities with which it's associated. So...

    ... here's my take: generalizations of females as weak and manipulative are pervasive, despite clear evidence to the contrary; thus, when phrases like "scheming woman, girly man, like a little girl," etc. pop up, they're like verbal grenades tossed to diminish and dismiss realities that some are loathe to accept. When we hear this same sterotypical straight world rhetoric direct from a gay man, however, it reinforces a common perception that because there is no physical attaction to women, well, gays must have a hidden dislike, or contempt for them. Not true. People who hold an entire gender (or race, IMO) in contempt have emotional disorders, which gives rise to ANOTHER generalization: that being gay is a disorder. It goes on and on...

    OK, so I'll cop to the idea that perhaps this is all just semantics and I'm all wet, but as a writer myself, I'm respectful of the power of words and the cumulative effect of repetitive negative embeds.

    Nevertheless, not withstanding my possible "semantics," at this point, your skillful James and Kenneth creations are two very sympathetic characters who have made their way into my head as real men. I would love to follow them... somewhere. (Into a novella?)


    I think you are talented AND gracious, and I look forward to reading more of your fiction -- sans "advice." :D

  6. I don't know that I can help you much with some of the questions you have about how to work the story out, being that I am a straight, married, Christian woman.

    I will say, though, that there's a ton of emotional and plot potential in this piece, and perhaps the best way to figure out where it's going would be to talk to people with similarities to your characters?

    Thank you, though, for saying that if you are a Christian, you are held to a higher standard. There are so many who don't get that these days.

    For a Christian, living a gay lifestyle is the same as any other 'sin' that humanity is naturally inclined to living. Just because we're inclined to it doesn't mean we have to give in.

    The sin isn't in being tempted, it's in giving into it.

  7. @gabrielle

    1) he was both
    2) that he was getting annoyed at feeling manipulated.

    re: generalisations
    I see where you're coming from and admit that I have never really thought of it that way. I do have a tendency towards them in my writing so thanks for pointing them out.


    I'm glad you agree.