I love writing short stories. The fact they are short does not mean they are easy. Often the fewer words you are allowed, the harder life becomes.
My best short stories are crisp and modern. Here is one of many …
Apples and Pears
At noon, a dusty sun high in an even dustier London sky, Ella Richardson emerged onto the Finchley Road from her meeting feeling battered and bruised.
A freelance editor and journalist, Ella often told herself she had to be prepared to take on anything publishers offered. At first, Tweet and Sourwell seemed friendly enough. But legal-speak was absurd. It didn’t make any kind of sensible sense. In fact, Ella had decided back home in her cramped and crowded Oxford cottage, most of it was garbage. When asked to edit a particular legal document she had totally rewritten it. The faces at Tweet and Sourwell had turned from shock to disbelief to permafrost.
And on such a hot day, too.
Ella hitched her heavy briefcase onto her shoulder, wishing she had chosen flat shoes and wondering how long she could last before making a dash for the loo. She hadn’t liked to ask Tweet, let alone Sourwell, whose bodies obviously had no natural functions of any kind whatsoever. The Finchley Road wasn’t exactly littered with lavatories, public or otherwise. It was a question of choosing between filth or obscenity.
Ella had no choice.
She would have to tackle her mother in that ninth-floor flat of hers, or climb onto the train from Paddington to Oxford with wet knickers.
Ella stood outside her mother’s towering block of flats and hung onto the bell. She knew from bitter experience that a lot of hanging would be needed. Her briefcase bit into her arm. The demands of her bladder dominated her universe.
Eventually the voice at the far end of the moon said, “Yes?… Who is it?… Speak up, I can’t hear you.”
“It’s only me, Mother.” Ella tried to smile casually at the lurking porter with his cold are-you-a-terrorist eyes. “I’ve brought you some lunch.”
There was a long silence. Then the voice quavered, “Lunch? Did you say—”
The porter relented. “’Ere you are, then,” he said. “Why don’t I let you in?”
Ella’s mother stood by the front door looking flushed and guilty. She wore an off-white dressing gown spattered with crudely designed, bright red roses, and a pair of enormous once-fluffy slippers. She held a bundle of Kleenex tissues to her mouth.
“How nice to see you, Eleanor, dear…. You should have told me … What have you got for my lunch?”
Ella made a dash for the loo. “Wonderful sandwiches.” She gasped with relief. “And yoghurt. And two bananas and four Mars Bars.”
Ella ran the blissfully cold tap. Sod Tweet and Blithering Sourwell. See if I care … I’ve got plenty of other clients, and they all have decent lavatories.
On the plastic-topped table in the ugliest kitchen in the world sat a dish. On it crouched one ancient apple and an even older pear.
Ella plonked her deli offerings beside it. Her mother rapidly slid everything out of its packaging. She began to stuff a sandwich down her throat.
Ella said, “Are there any plates?”
Her mother waved a crudely-designed arm. “In that cupboard.” Mayonnaise filtered its luscious way down her three chins. “So … Eleanor … What have you been up to recently?”
“Oh, this and that.” The cupboard handle seemed to be covered in a thick layer of oil. She pulled out two hairy china plates.
Her mother began to maul a second sandwich. “Working hard, are you?” the voice asked.
Ella found it difficult to swallow. “Of course, Mother. You know me. Work, work, work! I hardly ever stop—”
“Pay you well, do they?”
Ella wished bitterly she had wet her knickers. “Well enough, thanks.”
“My latest gas bill! … I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. And it’s still summer. God only knows what it will be like come the winter.” She stared pathetically at the wrinkled fruit. “God only knows …”
Ella stood on the corner of the Finchley Road. The sun bore down on the top of her head. The image of the ancient apple and its elderly companion crowded her mind and wrenched at her soft-centred heart.
On the street outside the greengrocer sat an amazing variety of fruit. Mangoes glittered beneath the sun. Oranges and grapefruits winked and shone. Apples and pears nestled and kissed lips.
Ella waved a sweating hand. “May I have lots of those, please, and three of those, and a whole basket of those.”
The greengrocer leered at her. “Enjoy our fruit then, do we?”
“Oh, yes,” Ella said. “I simply adore my fruit!”
Ella banged on the door of her mother’s flat. The porter had seen her coming.
“Who is it?” the voice quavered. “I’m just taking a little nap.”
“Let me in, Mother,” Ella said. “I’m in a terrible rush…. I’ve got a train to catch.”
Keys scrabbled at the latch. The door creaked open.
“Good heavens! Twice in one day! I am a lucky bunny!”
Ella heaved into the kitchen to greet the ancient fruit.
“I thought I’d bring you something fresh.”
She dumped the bag full of mangoes and pineapples and oranges and lemons and grapes and peaches and strawberries and a large basket of Victoria plums on the greasy table.
“Why, Ella—” said her mother. “What a wonderful daughter you are! And how lucky I am to have you.”
“Aren’t you just …”
Ella bent to fish a plate out of the cupboard underneath the sink.
On it sat a mountain of bright, fresh fruit.
Ella pulled it out.
The apples and pears and strawberries and lemons sparkled seductively in the kitchen’s dusty light.