HANNAH BAGNALL

Short Story Writer

Tag: Short Story

Joe

Joe had a radio. He held his radio to his ear as he walked around the town and when he was on the bus. When the signal was bad, he pressed the side of his face more firmly into the radio and he would squint and wave the aerial around. The aerial was always extended to its limit. The voices that came from the radio sounded as if they were speaking into a paper bag with air escaping around their edges and the music that it played rustled. Joe smiled. His fingernails were dirty and his t-shirt didn’t cover the stomach that hung over his trousers. His t-shirt was always loose around the neck and tight around the waist. In the winter, he wore a big cardigan that did not look warm and loafers with no socks. Joe didn’t sing along to his radio. He didn’t even hum. Nor did he tap his feet or bob his head. He was never seen clicking his fingers. Joe just smiled.

If Joe got on the bus and the only seat left was next to you, he would stand in the aisle, holding on to one of the poles. If the bus stopped suddenly or went round a corner fast, Joe would sometimes lose his footing and he would swing on the pole and sometimes you would notice that his trousers had slipped down too far but his radio would still be held tightly to his ear. Sometimes, on the bus, you would want to read your book or sit quietly and Joe’s radio would be irritating and you’d glare and sigh and shove your book back in your bag and other times you wouldn’t mind it or would even be glad of it and you would notice someone else being irritated by it and you would think it was a shame for them and you’d forget that you could ever be irritated by Joe’s radio.

The Things We Did Not Like

We have things in our house that my husband does not like and that I do not like. We have things in our house that my husband does not like but I do like. We have things in our house that I do not like but my husband does like. We also have things in our house that neither one of us likes nor dislikes. We have things in our house that my husband especially does not like and that I do not like but I can live with and we have things in our house that I especially do not like and my husband does not like much but he can tolerate.

When we first moved into our house we decided that neither of us would live with things that we did not like. Our dislike for some of our things was clear to us and it was obvious that we could not begin in our new home with things that were not liked. These things that we did not like were conspicuous in our new home. They were stored in a spare room all together. We agreed that we would find things to replace the things that we did not like with things that we both liked. We were happy to compromise on the things that we liked but the other did not like so that we could both like the things in our new house.

After a few weeks it did not matter quite as much that there were things in our new house that either one of us or both of us did not like. Gradually some of the things we did not like were brought back into use because we had not replaced them before we needed them. We argued when perhaps the other person decided that they did not mind one of the things that we had both decided we did not like and they hung it on the wall because the wall was too bare. Over time we were each less willing to compromise on the things we did like but that the other did not like until it became easier to simply not think about the things we did not like and they became as invisible to us as the things that we did like.

Cilla When she was Alive

 

If Sylvia had to choose to be anyone she would choose to be Cilla Black. When Cilla Black was alive. Sylvia is not so down on herself that she would choose to be someone else when they were dead. If she was choosing to be someone else even though they were dead, she definitely wouldn’t choose to be Cilla Black. She would choose Aretha Franklin or Dusty Springfield because even when they’re dead they’re still more alive than Sylvia has ever felt. Being them when they were alive would be too much living for Sylvia but she thought she could manage being Cilla Black on a good day even when Cilla Black was alive.

 

Ferry Urgency

The grandmother was saying that the grandfather had no sense of urgency. She pointed out the way he was walking. It was very slow. It was not very slow due to his age. He was young for a grandfather.  He was looking all around him. He was swinging his arms. He was clicking his fingers. This told the grandmother that he was singing. He wasn’t moving his lips so he was singing to himself in his head. Either that or he was humming. Still, he was walking slowly and swinging his arms and singing and clicking his fingers. He had no sense of urgency. The grandmother said that you would not want to have to rely on the grandfather in an emergency.

They were all on a ferry and the grandfather had been sent to find something out. He was on his way back now. When he got closer to the car the grandmother wound down her window and asked him what had he been doing? The grandfather had been smiling but now he stopped. He told the grandmother that she knew exactly what he had been doing because she had been the one who had asked him to do it. She pointed out that he had not been in much of a hurry and he agreed that he had not been in much of a hurry and walked around the car to the driver’s seat and whistled the same tune he had been singing to himself. The grandmother told the grandfather that he had no sense of urgency and he’d never had any for as long as she’d known him. The grandfather agreed that it was more than likely true that he had no sense of urgency. The grandmother told him that she hoped he was never the only one around in an emergency. She’d probably die before he got around to doing anything. The grandfather asked Would you? as if he was asking a favour and told his granddaughter that the toilets were on the first floor.

Worthing Walking Club

Someone was saying that they had walked down the same road last time hadn’t they and the person next to them agreed that yes they had walked down the same road the last time. The first person thought that she must have been right and was pleased with her correct observation. That van wasn’t there last time though, another person joined in, and those people hadn’t sold their house the last time either it was remembered by someone further back. Another person was sure that that house wasn’t that shade of yellow the last time they came but they were assured that it was because another person recalled having a conversation about whether it would be described as buttercup yellow or buttermilk yellow. Buttermilk was decided upon as they remembered. It was far too mellow to be considered buttercup. Something else must be different about it then, that person insisted. They didn’t know what, but something had changed.

The person at the front of the walking group was wearing a high visibility waistcoat. Everyone walked in twos behind the person wearing the high visibility waistcoat so that they stayed safe and so that nobody would get lost. Their leader stopped to cross the road and everyone queued behind.

They had crossed in that exact same spot last time, the first person pointed out and everyone was cheered to remember doing exactly the same thing as they had done before. That was right. They remembered standing in that exact same spot. One person was missing this time and there were two new members and so not everyone was walking with the exact same person and so it was also a little different. While they waited, they attempted to place who was standing with whom and in what order compared to last time. Then they could really measure just how similar or just how different this walk was from the last. Their heads bobbed around as they each counted and checked their position in relation to the other people around them and they judged by some innate feeling whether they were further forward in the group or further back than before. They leaned their heads away from their neighbours as they looked at them and tried to overlay this new picture on their memory of the last time to see how well the two matched. The new people even looked around as if trying to help.

It turned out that mostly the group had fallen into the same formation except for the few minor differences that couldn’t be helped because of the members that were missing and because of the new members. The new members searched around themselves for excuses but the road had cleared and the group could now cross.

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Subterranean Dwelling

For some time now she had been thinking about going off-grid. She was looking to live subterranean. She would build a dwelling under her patio. It would have a composting toilet. She had one concern and it was the composting toilet. She might fall in. How long does it take for it all to decompose? If she might fall in, then she would ideally like to know.

A Horse Wandered

Horses loose on the railway track. They were mainly messing around in the woods but one did wander onto the track for a bit.

A Daughter Came to Visit

A daughter opened the door to her mother’s house with a key that she had. She called to her mother and only the quiet noises of the house answered. For instance, a clock ticked and some wind escaped through a window. She called again as she turned to close the door. Still, only the house answered.

She wandered about the rooms of her mother’s house. It was cold and the daylight was dark. She continued to call for her mother without a response but she knew her mother was there. The rooms were empty. They did contain furniture but other than the furniture, they were empty. The house was a perfect square with a central room and a corridor that ran all the way around the central room and which led to other rooms.After the third corner, this daughter found her mother in the dining room.

The mother was sitting at the dining room table. She was expectant but she was not waiting. There was a pot of tea and two cups laid out on the table and the mother gestured that the daughter could pour the tea into the cups for them both. The mother already knew what she was going to talk about but she didn’t like to instigate the conversation. The daughter did not know what they were going to talk about but she knew it had already been decided and so she asked lots of questions until she found it out. If the daughter accidentally steered the conversation away from the decided topic, her mother looked away at the window as if she was looking out of it at something not very interesting. The daughter would trace her way back to where she had strayed off course and her mother would start talking again. This way, a daughter can come to trace the boundaries of her mother’s conversation.

The mother expected that the daughter had things to do and so the daughter began collecting the cups and plates and the tea pot and put them onto the tray to tidy things away before she left. The mother insisted that she did not need to do that while she placed the things the daughter had forgotten onto the tray. The daughter put the tray in the kitchen and said goodbye to her mother who remained in her seat but participated in a hug. The daughter turned the fourth corner and was back at the front door. As she left, the daughter  pictured the map of their conversation but with her wrong turns erased.

Ugly Baby

The young mother was saying that she supposed her baby would grow into its looks. She was meeting her friend for the first time since the baby was born. She bounced the baby up and down. Unfortunately the baby had inherited her grandmother’s nose. The mother could see that already. The mother drew her friend’s attention to the baby’s cheeks which hung heavy and low either side of its chin. The friend said that they say an ugly baby will turn into a beautiful adult and cute babies often grow up to be a disappointment. The mother supposed that that was because with less good-looking babies, the expectations were lower and so people were pleasantly surprised if they turned out to be pretty or handsome as older children or adults, considering they had been ugly babies. The mother told her friend that it showed that mother’s do not always think their babies are beautiful even when their babies are really quite funny looking.

Lizard Lunch

Weaklings they are. ‘Hello, Ida darling. Oo I know, you can’t beat that jelly, can you?’ Repulsive little reptilian thing she is, chasing that spoon around with her lipless hole. Basking lizards. Mouth breathers with coagulated spittle at the corners. That Eddie’s got a bag full of shiny little treats. Sits there on the edge of his bed in his best suit just waiting for his lift home. Poor bastard, they never come to get him. ‘What’s in yer bag there Eddie,’ I go in and ask him every day and he shows me. He unclasps the buckle. So proud he is. ‘Mind if I have a proper look, Eddie?’ I go and he stares at me with those black eyes. They’d give me the creeps if I really thought about them. I reach me hand in and have a good feel around. I seen a watch in there before. ‘You’re a rich man, Eddie,’ I say and I pat him on the shoulder. Sharon, the new one’s in the laundry today, feeling up the crusties’ underwear. Dirty little pervert she is. You can just see it. She gives me her best nursery school teacher smile as I go past. I’m saving her up for later. Mrs Naley is wandering about the halls with her frame. She’s looking for her husband. He died twenty years ago and everyone’s stopped reminding her. ‘Have you seen my Alf?’ She asks. ‘I was with him just now but now I can’t find him.’ ‘I think he went back to the dining room,’ I tell her.  ‘Let me help you on your way.’ I lay my arm around back. Like a little mouse, she is. Feels like her skeleton might collapse any minute. I rest my hand just over her pocket. ‘There you go, my girl. I’m sure he’ll be here somewhere,’ I says and leave her at the door. I don’t go in the dining room if I can help it. It’s bad enough when they’re given their snacks in the front room. Their wet little tongues probing around. Globs of mushed up baby food sitting on their caved in chests. Anyway, Edith will be back in her room now, having a lie down. ‘Hello gorgeous.’ That’s what I always call her. You should see what a little girl it makes of her.  ‘Hello gorgeous.’ She tucks her cheek into her shoulder and smiles all gummy. ‘Been breaking hearts again I hear.’ She covers her face with her claws. ‘You’ve made the place look nice since you got here, ey? Look at this over here.’ There’s a lovely little jewellery box. Family heirlooms. It’s visiting afternoon later. The families sit around trying not to look at their dribbling relatives. ‘How you settling in, Dad?’ Janette asks me. ‘I’m making friends,’ I say, thinking of my drawer.

Mrs Barber Visits her Daughter-in-Law

The Beginning

Starting at the beginning is advisable. It saves leaving gaps and creating confusion and having to find clever ways to explain things later. Mrs Barber does not like her daughter-in-law. Nothing came before her feeling that she does not like her daughter-in-law. It was a feeling that was already there in the beginning when she came to think about the abstract concept of a wife for her son.

Being Polite

Mrs Barber wipes her feet on her daughter-in-law’s doormat twenty times before she enters her home. A definite number allows for no misinterpretations. Mrs Barber is being polite.

Tea

Mrs Barber perches on the edge of the settee wincing with every sip of her tea. She hates the way her daughter-in-law makes tea. It is over-brewed and milky all at once. It is a combination of the two very types of tea that Mrs Barber hates the most. It is in a mug. She makes a rule of drinking every last drop.

Talking a lot

Her daughter-in-law talks a lot. She talks as she gathers great armfuls of children’s toys, clothes, food and moves them from one place to another in a heap. She talks as she comforts children after scuffs and scrapes and sends them away to play again. Mrs Barber refrains from talking in her daughter-in-law’s presence. If she can help it. That had been a trick she had learned from her own mother-in-law. If you do not talk, you can be neither understood nor misunderstood. Either could cause difficulty. Talking a lot provides context and context leads to discovering motives. Not being sure of sufficiently suppressing her one big underlying motive, Mrs Barber sticks to her policy of saying a maximum of five complete sentences on any one visit.

Cold bath water

It becomes necessary for Mrs Barber to make use of her daughter-in-law’s bathroom before she leaves. Even when she is certain of her privacy, Mrs Barber does not permit herself to make faces at the toothpaste splashes on the mirror, or the scraps of soggy toilet roll that have tangled themselves around the toilet brush. The bath is filled with water. She does allow herself to put just one finger in the water to feel the temperature. Cold. Bubbles have collected at the edges of the water and have turned to dusty foam. Toys filled with water have sunk to the bottom.

The door is closed.

On the way out, Mrs Barber wipes her feet again out of habit. She stops in mid-swipe, remembering herself. She becomes afraid that she has given something away and she reprimands herself for her sloppiness. Her daughter-in-law waves from the doorstep with her children tangled around her legs. Her daughter-in-law does not seem to have noticed the little indiscretion. She waves and smiles and waves. The children pull her back into the house and she laughs and rolls her eyes good-naturedly. The door is closed.

Summary

Mrs Barber visits her daughter-in-law and wipes her feet and is pleased with her display of manners. She drains the over-brewed and milky mug of tea in spite of it being precisely the kind of tea she hates most of all. Her daughter-in-law talks rather a lot and Mrs Barber is sure to do the opposite. Her daughter-in-law has not tidied her bathroom in preparation for Mrs Barber’s visit.  Mrs Barber is careless as she leaves the house and nearly betrays her motives after all. Her daughter-in-law does not seem to notice.  Mrs Barber later relates the whole visit to a friend on the phone. They agree that Mrs Barber has been particularly unfortunate in her daughter-in-law.