And by making it across that illustrious finishing line, we are rewarded, not with prizes and offers of publication, but with the warm fuzzy feeling that we DID IT. Oh yeah - we wrote 50,000 words in a month - eat your pukey pink heart out, Barbara Cartland - WE can do it too!
Trouble is, this year I'm torn between two pieces. Idea 1 and Idea 2. And not a cat in the hat around to help me choose when I need him. So I'm turning to you, my lovely readers and fellow bloggers, to help me decide.
Here are the two openers. Please tell me which one you'd want to read on with. Don't even have to tell me why. Just nod in one direction or t'other. Please?
Idea 1. "Pieces of Us"
Shona Church wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to be paying attention to. The doctor was pointing his pencil at an area of her husband’s brain on the X-ray and, for the life of her, all she could see was either a butterfly or the outline of Australia. Mirrored. Any second now she would wake up and this would be a particularly mad dream – a fairly lucid one, it had to be said – but a dream nonetheless. So: wake up or, of course, laugh hysterically. She put a hand to her mouth. It really wouldn’t do to laugh. Even if it were only a dream. It might turn out to mean she had a proper personality disorder or something. Ok. Let’s just go with it.
‘Do you have any questions?’ The doctor withdrew his pencil and stared at her over the rim of his glasses. They didn’t look like NHS specs. She thought about the irony of this for a moment. He pulled them down the bridge of his nose, waiting. ‘About the procedure?’ he helped, ‘about the prognosis… anything you’re unclear about? Mrs Church, do you need to ask…?’
She stared absently at the X-ray for a while. Really, she wasn’t qualified to be doing this. She was a part-time admin assistant, not a doctor. Why was he telling her these things? She felt a hand touch her right arm and, as if it were fat spitting back from a pan, spun round sharply.
‘Shona, love?’ It was her mum. She hadn’t seen her mum in a dream for ages. She wondered what that meant? ‘Are you listening to the doctor?’ her mum frowned, ‘do you understand what‘s happening to Greg, sweetheart?’
She nodded blindly. If she just gave in then perhaps the dream would spin off in another direction. She might meet Johnny Depp at a bar. That’d happened last week – it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. She’d remember that one for a while. Heck, she’d lived off it for nearly five days already. Sad, really, that this had become a simple pleasure in her life - the quality of her dreams and the characters who resided in them. She couldn’t remember the last time Greg had been in her dreams. Maybe he never had. Now that must mean something.
‘Mrs Church, you do understand that although we’ve removed the clot and eased the pressure, we still won’t know precisely how much damage has occurred to your husband’s brain… until he starts to respond, to react to stimulus… are you fully aware of what’s happening? I know this can’t be easy for you. perhaps if I got a nurse….’ He fidgeted about inside his pocket, then gave up and pressed a button on a lead next to the bed.
Her mother’s hand tightened on her arm.
‘Shona?’ she said.
‘Ah…’ the doctor pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose as the door to the room opened and raised his pencilled hand as if he were waving down a taxi. ‘Nurse? Here… nurse could you please… ?’ he steered the pretty blonde girl towards the X-ray screen and proceeded to recap everything he’d just told Shona and her mother. Apparently. She couldn’t quite remember all the little details now. When he’d finished talking to the nurse, he looked back towards the two women. ‘And perhaps a cup of tea might go some way to helping…’ she noticed the doctor wasn’t particularly good at finishing off his sentences. Normally she’d help. She was good like that. But he was a professional, he should have paid more attention to conversation techniques at doctor school… what was it called? Ah yes, Medical School. She smiled thinly and nodded. Yes, a cup of tea did sound rather nice.
‘I still don’t understand what you were doing out there so early on in the morning,’ Shona’s mother handed her a fat plastic cup of something hot, ‘oh – she put sugar in. Did you want sugar? I think it’s probably best under the circumstances, the nurse thought so. I think so…don’t you? It’ll help. Only, wait a bit – it’s too hot right now.’
Shona sighed and pulled at her sweat top. ‘We were out running. Jogging,’ she told her mother, and then added just to make sure she understood, ‘we jog.’ She felt like adding “you jog, they jog, we jog…I have jogged…”
It was getting stuffy in the room. The window was closed and the machines linked up to Greg’s body were gently blipping. Surely that was a good thing? She knew from episodes of Casualty and Pet rescue that a machine that blipped was preferable over a machine that gave off a constant drone. What was it called? Flat-lining. She almost wanted to laugh again. It sounded just like something Greg was often asked if he did, along with the usual building jobs. Dry-walling. Floor-screeding. Flat-lining. Just something he might do.
‘I’m fine,’ she told her mother as she stretched a hand out to her again. ‘I get it. I know they can’t tell me anything yet. We have to wait and see what he’s like when he wakes up. If he wakes up.’ Her mother’s hand reached out to her at the ‘If’ and she knew she should reassure her again that she was fine but what was the point? It was just something you said anyway. She wasn’t really fine at all. Things hadn’t been fine for ages. Why should they be any different now?
‘So what… um…when did you start jogging, love?’ Shona could hear the disquiet in her mother’s voice. But she needed to know. She had a right – didn’t she? Probably. ‘Only I don’t remember you saying anything about it the last time we spoke. Did Greg persuade you to join him? Did you both decide that… um… when…did you… when…’
‘It seemed like the only sensible solution,’ Shona shut her up.
‘Oh,’ her mother tightened her lips and nodded, uncomprehendingly, ‘okay then.’
‘I mean, what else was I supposed to do? Hire a private detective and get him followed? I’d have to find one who could keep up for starters, wouldn’t I? Oh no, if he’s got the balls to have an affair, then I want to be the one to see who she bloody well is – I don’t need the world and his wife finding out before me, thank you very much!’ She wondered why her face felt wet and warm. Perhaps it was the stupid central heating or air conditioning systems they had in this place.
‘Here,’ her mother shook out a tissue from the box by Greg’s bed and handed it to her. ‘I know how difficult this must be for you, pet.’
‘Yeah?’ Shona blew her nose angrily then threw the soggy remains at her comatose husband before leaving the room.
OR... Idea 2. "Coming Through"
The last time I saw Price Johnson he’d had his hand up the back of my t-shirt in a valiant attempt at trying to unfasten my shiny new Wonderbra. I think if I’d had a bit more to drink and a little less savvy about me at the tender age of sixteen I might have told him it was a front-loader and let the romance commence. However as it happened, after about twenty minutes of getting absolutely nowhere and finally more overcome with exhaustion than passion, he’d excused himself saying he was thirsty and wandered off into the sweaty, heaving throng that was Julian Crane’s New Years Eve party. I didn’t see him again. Not that it bothered me unduly. I hadn’t gone to the party with him anyway. I’d gone with Colin Butterley. Only Colin’d had his head down the Crane’s toilet for most of the evening and I knew if I was going to get any kind of snog out of him, that it wasn’t going to be a particularly tasty experience – ‘proper’ boyfriend or not.
Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t promiscuous or anything. I was sixteen. And at that age I think you’re pretty much allowed to try out most things that don’t involve the ingestion of hard drugs or the use of sharp instruments. Ergo, being at a New Years Eve party where the strongest form of alcohol on offer had been the Crane family’s supply of homemade cider and, for the ladies, cutesy little bottles of Alco pops, I think I’d shown more than enough restraint in terms of teenage rebellion. And so the fumble-in-the-dark with Price Johnson had been my well-earned stab at achieving a level of normality that would sit suitably with my peers come the post-party-mortem. As any self-respecting teenager can confirm, it is more or less compulsory to have at least twelve minutes’ worth of essential trivia tidbit to divulge following all kinds of social gathering the next (or even later on the same) day.
As chance would have it, even though it hadn’t exactly been planned, it turned out that this gratuitous grope would become my perfect ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card a fortnight later. When Colin Butterley - boyfriend by then of six and a half weeks - called to cancel a(nother) date because he’d got a(nother) dodgy tummy courtesy of the latest microwaveable delight he’d bought from the All Hours down the road from his parents house. So during our conversation, I’d sighed heavily down the phone, which I hoped he’d take to be an indication of my deep and meaningful shame, and ‘fessed up to my New Year’s indiscretion two weeks previously. I’ve never felt such relief and release in my life.
I recently heard Colin’s currently a Born-Again IT Technician with a stay-at-home wife, one small child and another on the way. He calls it an ecclesiastical existence. I call it a lucky escape. And Mum tells me his erstwhile sexy floppy dark fringe is now so receded it looks more like he’s wearing a Blackadder wig – badly and on the squint. Like I said, phew.
Anyway, Price Johnson.
If the tabloids were to be believed, he’d made his way to the top of his profession with astonishing ease and alacrity. And I use the term ‘profession’ in its loosest, most intangible context for reasons which will become very apparent very soon. Quite simply he wasn’t there one minute and overnight it seemed, you couldn’t turn round without seeing cheeky glinting eyes beaming his trademark I–know-you-want-me smile from any flat surface that could be used as advertisement for his dubious ‘talents’. And up until now I’d always scoffed at any form of overnight sensation but it seemed that our sleepy little town of Stanclere had given birth to its very own star of wonder. Only I knew it’d had taken him a good few “overnight”s to arrive at the station cautiously named ‘Success’. At least that’s how it looked from where I was standing.
‘You don’t have to do it, Lizzie,’ Barry Braithwaite leaned across his huge mahogany desk, sliding clasped hands towards me as if in prayer. And so heralded that first flashback of Price Johnson’s eager clammy hands ferreting about in search of a Way In all those years ago. I wondered if he’d changed. In the heat-seeking underwear department I mean. ‘I mean I know it’s not in your job description, per se,’ Barry’s eyes narrowed, ‘but I know you went to school with the lad - I thought it might be a good way to get him on side as it were. You know? A friendly face and all that? He might be happier revealing things to you …?’
I shook my head slowly, biding my time. The idea of Price Johnson revealing anything to me filled me with alarm. But a believable, negative alternative eluded me.
‘No. Really. I’d like to,’ I lied and watched as Barry’s tense brow relaxed and a smile spread across his bristly face. He stood up, circumnavigated his massive desk and clapped his big bear hands to each of my shoulders. He shook me slightly. Shaking me slightly. Literally. This was Barry’s way of saying he was pleased. Not for Barry a firm clasp of the hand with another nor the fanciful brush of whiskers to a cheek. No, Barry Braithwaite’s way was the Good old Northern Clasp-and-Shake. He was probably very good with a cocktail. ‘And it’ll be good experience,’ I breathed out with a smile; my bones reassembling themselves.
‘I can’t tell you how much this means, Lizzie,’ he beamed at me. ‘Price Johnson’s possibly the biggest thing we’ve had around here for… well… for ever. Hmm? I mean who’d think that anyone’d start off in our neck of the woods and gravitate towards international stardom, eh? Born under Stanclere skies and now eternally in the hearts – and souls … mustn’t forget the souls, eh?’ he tapped the side of his nose, ‘of millions. Millions upon millions, I’ve read… I mean if the viewing figures are anything to go by?’ He sounded very excited.
I forced my thin smile to return and willed some of Barry’s bonhomie to filter into my own naturally suspicious one-way system. For no apparent reason I could almost detect a whiff of cheap aftershave and Marlboro Lights and I was certain it wasn’t coming from any of my boss’s pores. He was more Armani than Aramis and I don’t think he’d ever smoked. No, this was my guilty conscience racking up the shame factor to the power of a trillion and adding some compelling aromas to it for extra impetus. And all because Colin friggin’ Butterley had had the idiot sense to hand his life over to God. Somewhere deep inside me the butterflies started to flap, the clouds in my metaphorical skies began to darken and a discernable thunderclap was definitely heading my way. Oh yes, this little foray into my murky past was going to be my come-uppance with a capital C. I had to face it head-on and with as much dignity as I could muster if I wanted to lay this particular ghost to rest. That’d teach me.