Saturday, November 05, 2011

Leah: Chapter 1, Part 2 (Writers Circle)

The line died and Leah replaced the phone in its cradle. She stood in the silence for a few moments, watching as a red ford slowed and steered towards the house. Gravel crunched and the engine whined unwillingly as the old car inched its way onto the long driveway.
                Leah padded through the living room into the cool flagstone-floored kitchen. She swung open the creaking fridge door and peered inside, the cold air a welcome relief on her hot face warmed by a burning autumn day. Two cans of cola and a block of applewood cheese were the only items gracing their presence on the Smeg shelves. Sighing, she grabbed one of the cans and pushed the door shut with her foot.
                The front door opened and a man’s voice called, ‘Hello? Leah, are you in?’
                ‘Yeah,’ shouted Leah, tapping the top of the can and pulling the ring.
                There was a moments silence before the voice shouted, ‘could you come here, love?’
 Leah wondered through a second door, pushing the beaded door divider aside, and moved into a narrow hallway. Two black suitcases stood side by side against the wall, taking up much of the already limited room. Leah looked from her panting father, whose face glistened with sweat, to the cases.
                ‘Did you buy these?’ asked Leah, gesturing to the cases and taking a sip from the can. ‘Are you going away?
                ‘What?’ Mr Jacobs glanced down, rubbing a stitch in his side. ‘Oh no, Lora’s coming to stay with us while the plumbers deal with the burst pipe. Didn’t you get my message?’
                Leah’s grip tightened on the can. ‘No. Lora’s moving in here?’
                ‘Yes, whilst the plumbers are there,’ replied Mr Jacobs, spotting the mornings post on the sideboard and shifting through it, putting down envelopes that looked as though they might contain bills. ‘Come and help me with the rest of her things would you?’
                ‘Why doesn’t she stay with friends – or family?’ asked Leah, apprehension washing over her.
‘Her family live up North and her friends – don’t look at me like that.’
Leah raised her eyebrows. ‘Like what?’
Mr Jacobs pointed a teasing finger at her. ‘You and Eve give me that expression when you disapprove of something I’m doing.’
‘Did I say I disapproved?’ asked Leah defensively. ‘I just don’t understand why she’s coming here.’
                ‘Because her flat is unliveable at the moment, I can’t let her live there. What would you have me do, Leah? Let her live on the street?’ Mr Jacobs ran a hand through his fair hair and wiped the glistening sweat from his forehead.
                ‘She could go to a hotel.’
                ‘No, she couldn’t.’
                ‘What does it matter? This is my house and she’s staying here as my guest.’
                ‘I thought it was our house?’
                ‘It is,’ replied Mr Jacobs, ‘when you pay your rent.’
                Leah stormed down the hall towards the staircase, jumping the first two steps.
‘Leah, love, I’m sorry. It’ll be all right.’
Leah swung round, almost losing her balance on the stair. ‘It’s not all right. Penny left a month ago and now Lora’s staying with us?’ Leah put her free hand on her hip. ‘You haven’t even told Evelyn about Lora yet.’
Mr Jacobs pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. ‘You’re still angry that I broke up with Penny.’
‘I liked Penny, but I’m not angry you broke up,’ snapped Leah. ‘I want to you be happy.’
‘Well, I am,’ he replied, gazing up a Leah. He narrowed his eyes at her. ‘Is it Lora?’
Leah gave a non-committal grunt and shrugged a shoulder.
Mr Jacobs dropped his hand, letting it swing beside him like a metronome. ‘I want you to be happy too, you know, Leah. You can tell me if you don’t like Lora.’
Anxiety and guilt churned in her stomach, as she gazed down at her father’s prematurely lined face, snaking through her intestines, pressing against her insides as though longing to engulf the rest of her body. A voice in her head screamed, and was followed by the sickening crunch of metal folding upon the bodiless voice as something heavy collided with it. Her fingers found her new earring and began to turn it. She shivered slightly.
‘We need food,’ said Leah, lifting the can and shaking it slightly.
Mr Jacobs’s eyebrows rose slightly. He hesitated slightly before saying, ‘I’m staying in this evening; you can take the car to the shops if you like.’ His voice was soft and even and he continued to gaze up at Leah with a mild expression of surprise.
‘Fine,’ said Leah, turning and ascending the stairs. ‘I’ll take a shower then I’ll head out.’
‘Could you pick up some veg, love? Lora’s a vegan.’
‘Of course she is,’ muttered Leah, waving a hand behind her head in acknowledgment of her father’s request.
Leah opened the first door on the landing and stepped inside, regretting the amount of force used to close the door as it slammed shut behind her. The room was spacious and airy. Two double beds, one at either end of the room, occupied the majority of the space; one was still made, looking cold and uninviting and the other a mess of duvet, throw and scatter cushions.
Light poured in from the single bay window, framed by aubergine silk curtains, highlighting the jumble of shoes, books and paper that had scattered themselves across the cream-coloured carpet.
A confused bee lingered at the base of the window, lifting off occasionally, attempting a fruitless escape and bumping into the glass. Leah heard the crunch of gravel below the window as her father ambled towards the car to continue unloading more of Lora’s belongings. Leah grabbed her mobile from her cluttered desk and punched in a short, hurried text.

She’s moving in. And she’s a vegan.
Less than a minute later her mobile vibrated in her hand. Leah opened the message and glanced down, the corners of her mouth twitching as she read the reply.

Of course she is. Women who don’t eat cake eat veg.
Your paranoia is keeping me from sleeping.
Stop being paranoid! Speak soon, love Leaves. x

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Leah (a.k.a. Writers Circle post for September.)


‘Hello?’ croaked a voice still coated with sleep.

‘Hello Leaves,’ replied the caller, a smile breaking quietly over her lips. She curled her bare feet under her and began picking loose threads on the threadbare brown sofa.

‘Leah? It’s – what?’ There came the sound of fumbling as the sleep-riddled voice reached for their alarm clock. ‘It’s three in the morning over here.’

‘Yeah, I know.’

‘Seriously, it’s three in the morning. It’s still fucking dark.’

‘Not here, though,’ said Leah, looking out of the window into a brilliant blue sky. The voice on the other end grunted irritably. ‘Wouldn’t have called you so late but it’s just – I’ve got something to tell you.’

The bed creaked as the distant occupant sat up. ‘You’re not dying are you?’

‘What? No! Why would you guess that?’ A soft thump as the occupant lay down. ‘Anyway, shouldn’t you be able to tell? Twin intuition and all that shit.’

‘Whatever.’ Whatever – she was becoming americanised. A lighter clicked on the other end of the line. Inhale. ‘Well?’ Exhale. ‘If you’re not dying, what is it? Another failed diet?’

‘They’ve all failed me,’ replied Leah, sighing. She ran a nervous hand through her uncombed hair, momentarily surprised by its short length, briefly forgetting the encounter with the hairdresser only the day before. ‘Dad got a new girlfriend.’

There was a brief pause then another intake of cigarette.  ‘That was quick.’ Exhale.

‘Tell me about it. Miss Money Penny only left, like, last month.’

‘Do we like her?’

‘She’s okay. You’d like her, she plays golf.’

‘Wow, a girlfriend I can finally connect with,’ replied Evelyn, a hint of sarcasm riding on her voice. ‘What does she look like?’

‘Very pretty; all legs, blonde hair and blue eyes.’ Leah played with an earring, rotating it as instructed by the piercer. ‘And supermodel thin – doesn’t look like she’s ever eaten cake in her life. You know the type.’

There was an explosion of laughter. ‘Sounds like my type, not Dad’s. Must be serious, though, if Dad’s introducing her to you already.’

Leah’s free hand moved to the phone cord, twisting it tightly around a finger. ‘Something’s not right about her.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘She’s ... different.’

‘We’re different.’

‘Speak for yourself.’ Leah stood, picking up the base of the phone and carrying it with her clutched to her chest. She began circling the cream wallpapered room, tapping her feet on the brown carpet to an unheard beat. ‘I can’t even begin to explain it to you. Her eyes, Leaves, her eyes are so cold.’

‘How can eyes be cold?’ asked Evelyn. The sound of a draw opening echoed down the line. ‘I’ve never understood that expression.’

‘You’d get what I meant if you met her.’ Leah stopped and began to practice the routine taught to her a few days previously, tapping her feet on the flowery threadbare rug between both sofas. ‘Dad really likes her.’

‘Good for him. Someone in this family needs to get some.’

‘Evelyn!’ cried Leah, swinging her leg upwards, her heel brushing the rug. ‘Really don’t need that image of Dad, thanks, or you. Besides, Dad and Penny only broke up last month. They were together for, what, four years? Don’t you think that’s a little fast, even for Dad?’

‘Maybe she’s The One,’ said Evelyn, with particular emphasis on “The One”.

‘Maybe,’ agreed Leah, softly. She stopped dancing, starring at an old picture on the thick wooden mantle above the fireplace. A woman in her early twenties sat cradling two babies with wisps of rusty red-hair, smiling ecstatically through the glass of the frame at Leah. They had inherited her straight nose and hazel eyes. A knot of anxiety tightened in her stomach. ‘He seems... almost enchanted by her.’

‘Wow,’ said Evelyn, laughter hiding in her voice. ‘Like magic? You think she put a spell on him? Or gave him a love potion?’

Leah clicked her tongue. ‘You know what I mean.’

Evelyn yawned. ‘I think you’re worrying too much.’


‘Yes,’ said Evelyn, yawning again, forcing it as though making a point.

‘Leaves, I think you need to come home.’

‘Can’t. I’m still filming. You know that.’

Leah sighed, disappointed. ‘Come back as soon as you’re finished.’

‘Sure,’ said Evelyn, her voice full of false promise. ‘I need to get some more sleep. Call me if anything else develops.’

‘’Kay, I will,’ said Leah. ‘Bye Leaves, love you.’

‘Oh, I saw your new haircut on the internet. It really suits you.’

Leah smiled to herself. ‘Thanks, Leaves.’

‘You’re welcome. Love you, Pea. Bye.’

The line died and Leah replaced the phone in its cradle.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Writers Circle: August Entry

My hands fail me and I drop my bag.

The contents scurry from their captor across the blue lino floor, resting under computer desks and filing cabinets. I make no effort to retrieve them.

My computer casing has been removed and the inner hardware either removed or smashed. My breath is caught in my throat, my chest heaves and I suddenly I find it hard to breath. I am vaguely aware the others in the laboratory are watching me, waiting for the moment I will find my voice and crack. Was this some kind of horrific joke? Was this a test? Am I supposed to prove that I can recall years of research at the bat of an eyelid?

My mind is numb. There is no emotion or thought flowing around and I can’t even begin to bring myself to move, to sit down in front of the decimated computer and begin to make sense of it all. I don’t want too. Who would do such a thing?

Slowly, I find the strength to move and glance over my shoulder at my colleagues. Every pair of eyes seemingly fixated on their screens or equipment. I narrow my eyes at them: the laboratory is never empty, which of them would stand by and watch?

‘Natasha Steal.’

I turn my head towards the voice calling my name. A short, plump woman stands at the furthest end of the lab. She watches me for a second before standing aside from the door and gesturing that I go to her. My heels click loudly as I cross the silent laboratory. I try to intimidate those I pass with a cold stare, but they sit frozen in their seats, eyes adverted.

As I reach the door, the woman, dressed in a dark pin-striped suit, steps through into a carpeted hallway and strides off towards the end. I follow behind, so close I’m almost a shadow of hers. We walk up two more flights of stairs and two more doorways before reaching our destination. We meet no one. The building is strangely quiet.

Pin-stripe does not speak to me. She averts her eyes like those in the lab and motions towards a door behind a sectaries neat desk. I walk over, glancing over my shoulder towards my silent leader, whose eyes remain fixed on the floor.

Gold letters shine on the door: Matilda Floss. I’ve been brought to the chairman. My spirits rise slightly. I am pleased. Relieved that someone has noticed and that someone might be able to help me. Or tell me that this is simply a dream and that all I have to do is click my heals three times and everything will be restored.

I knock. Matilda answers and I enter. I am confronted by a thin, bony woman sitting behind a large polished antique desk. She glances up at me, over her glasses. ‘Natasha,’ says Matilda, nodding in greeting. ‘Sit down. Please.’

I sit down heavily. Matilda slides a plate of chocolate hobnobs towards me and waves a hand at them, indicating that I should take one. I do but replace my hand to my lap, the biscuit firmly clutched within it. I am not hungry; the loss of my research is still too raw. Matilda clasps her hands together and rests them on her desk. She peers at me over her glasses, reminding me of a teacher.

‘Natasha,’ she begins sternly, ‘now I must ask you to be completely honest with me; did you make any copies of the research that you have been doing regarding the common cold on any other external hard drives that are not kept within this laboratory?’

I frown, surprised by this question. ‘No, I didn’t. All of my research is – was – on that computer. I did have a couple of external hard drives, but those have been stolen as well.’

Matilda nods, her jaw muscles loosen and she looks thoroughly relived. My heart thumps loudly in my chest.

‘I’m glad to hear that,’ she says, a flicker of a smile appearing on her face.

‘Glad?’ I hear myself saying, incredulously. ‘Glad? All of my research is gone. Fifteen years worth of research has been stolen and destroyed and you’re glad I didn’t make extra copies to take home with me?’


I am so taken aback by her answer that it takes me a few moments to find my voice again. What?’

‘Natasha, what do you think would happen if the public were to discover that we, sorry, you, found a cure to the common cold?’

‘I think they’d be deliriously fucking happy, if I’m honest.’

Matilda nodded. ‘Sure, the public would be “deliriously fucking happy” as you so eloquently put it, but what about the companies that manufacture all our drugs.’

I blink. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Without the common cold there wouldn’t be any need for ibuprofen, cough sweets, excreta. Hundreds of companies would go out of business almost overnight and thousands of people would be made redundant. We have to keep the economy turning and it is too fragile for a cure at the moment.’

‘So you destroyed all my research because the economy is too fragile?’ I ask. ‘Bullshit. What’s really going on here?’

‘Natasha, I’ve given you a perfectly reasonable explanation. Please refrain from using that language–’ 

‘Tell me what’s really going on? Why are you telling me this?’

Matilda slides a piece of typed paper towards me but I don’t look at it. She cocks her head and smiles broadly at me. ‘Top of your class, weren’t you,’ she says. ‘Youngest female genealogist of your generation, that was, until they forced the grant for the Common Cold research on you.’ 

I ignore her taunting. ‘How many other diseases have we cured? One? Five?’

‘You’re becoming hysterical, Natasha,’ Matilda replies calmly. ‘I’m going to have to ask you to calm down or I’ll have you restrained.’

I stand up sharply and the chair topples backwards. I glare down at Matilda’s calm face. ‘I’m hysterical? This isn’t hysterical. Hysteria is the reaction the public will have when they discover what’s been going on.’ A hand grasps my upper arm roughly and I look round to find a suited skinhead attached there. I try to shake myself free but he tightens his grip. My head whips around back to Matilda. ‘What’s this?’

‘You are going to be escorted home, Natasha, where you will have a long relaxing bath and then go to sleep. You will not speak to anyone about this conversation. We’ll speak again in the morning.’

‘This is fucking bullshit, Matilda. I don’t care what it takes but I will get this out. I will ruin you.’

Matilda rises slowly from her chair; her eyes narrowed, her face sombre. ‘Get her out of my sight.’

Before I can verbalise my thoughts the skinhead tugs me towards the door. I resist and scream. I dig my nails into his hand trying to rip it from my arm. Someone grabs my free wrist from behind and pricks it with something sharp. 

My legs become immediately weak. My vision begins to tunnel.

I collapse and arms are there to catch me. Dark eyes gaze down upon me. 

The room blurs.

And fades.