Honestly, I don’t know how you NaNoWriMo types do it I’m so admiring of your abilities and your determination. I’m not competing (can’t) but I have this short story on offer. Not exactly NaNoWriMo material but I’m pretty pleased to have got it out of my system because I don’t often write short stories.
If you could go back and redo an embarrassing moment or right a personal wrong, what’s one thing you would change? I have thirty five years of occasions to choose from. The one that stands out is the time I swore Phoebe to secrecy then told her how I felt about Sam. Phoebe told Vera and Vera told my best friend Janie who put a stop to the indulgent gossip fest and told Sam about it which is why I didn’t tell Janie in the first place and why the romance never eventuated.
It was year seven and some of us were starting to take notice. We’d hike the skirt up a notch, toss our hair back and positively bridle when our beloved walked past insensible of the attentions being accorded them. But knowing that people are watching was a turn off for both of us which is a shame. I haven’t met anyone since then who I like as much. Even though it turned out that Phoebe and Vera couldn’t be trusted either. Janie believed then as she still does, that she knew best.
If you find that you are able to revisit and revise your own cringe making incidents I can save you a lot of energy and effort – you can’t eradicate world famine, or ask for peace – I’ve tried. And you can’t conjure up tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers either. Only personal events seem to work. For me, at least. You’ll have to work it out for yourself.
A redo moment presented itself two weeks ago when a twelve year old sales girl with her skirt hiked up to her belly ring, stomped her Jimmy Choos into my cubicle at the local dress shop and made the ‘euuw’, spinach sort of face you can expect to get from children. I was treating myself to a daffodil yellow dress I’d been eyeing all summer; affordable now that it was marked down. I was planning to wear it to a first date and whether or not the date worked out the dress was going to be a keeper. (It didn’t work out.) The dress was cinched in at the waist and fell in soft folds around my hips and down to just below my knees. I spun to my left and then my right and as the skirt swirled around me, I was imagining a moss green belt that would go perfectly with it and calculating that the money I had saved on the dress could go on shoes to match the belt. I’d put my hair up and wear that jade necklace I’d bought on impulse last year. I was lost in thought when my Saturday afternoon reverie was shattered by a high pitched sound that sounded like a buzzing mosquito but turned out to be the sales girl.
‘It’s not your colour’ this smarmy dolly smirked, ‘yellow makes you look jaundiced and it’s much too young for you. Why not try Taylor’s.’ Taylors is a clothing shop where my mother buys her clothes.
‘Oh, yeah’ was my response. I write advertising copy and work with words all day, but that’s all I could come up with. I bought the dress, took it home and checked it out in my bedroom mirror. ‘Too young for you’ echoed around in my head. I checked the crow’s feet and those laugh lines that don’t disappear first thing in the morning as quickly as they once did ‘Mumble, mumble’, my mind responded. ‘Too old’ and going nowhere.
My best friend Janie came over and helped herself to my coffee and ate my last chocolate biscuit. I was about to cheer myself up with it when she arrived. Janie has had her own key to my place so she just lets herself in any old time. She house sat for me five years ago and made herself a copy, in case of an emergency, she said, but she never knocks.
‘I’m doing you a favour,’ Janie said, mopping up the last of the biscuit by dunking it in our coffee. ‘You want to fit into that dress.’ Janie never has to watch what she eats and seems to know just when there’s cheesecake in my fridge or a roast in the oven; she’s remained a steady size 12 all of her adult life.
I sometimes picture myself as Janie does. I’m Janie’s property and Janie doesn’t like to let go of what belongs to her. I remember my first day at kindergarten. Once I had calmed down, I noticed this blond, blue eyed girl sitting in front of a doll’s house and rearranging furniture. It was the sort of dolls house I could spend happy hours playing with. I was only a handful of steps away from this girl whose name is Lally when Janie inserted herself between me and the doll’s house and offered me her teddy.
When it was time to go home, I found that teddy had been on loan. Four year old Janie used teddy to re-direct my attention from Lally to her and has been doing it ever since. You know how it is when you’ve known someone for a long time you tend to tolerate their flaws. You tell yourself that nobody is perfect and believe it because you don’t have the energy to get into a confrontation.
‘Purge’ says Janie the sage about the sales girl with the repellent store side manner. ‘Write about it. You’ll feel better.’ So once she’d helped herself to some more snacks in my pantry and left, I sat down and wrote the incident of the odious bug. It didn’t help as much as I hoped it would. ‘Too young for you’ kept me riled. I had pressed my pen so hard, that a mass of criss-cross lines scored the page. I scrunched up the paper and decided to rewrite the history of that moment. Historians do it all the time, I thought, why not me.
‘Oh, yeah,’ I wrote, ‘what would the Lolita of the fashion industry know about style?’ The owner of the shop had paid a secret visit that day, I wrote, and Lolita gave her boss a serve. She lost her job and as mine was being pretty painful at the time I gave her my cold sore. My cold sore stayed but I felt much better.
Two days later I was passing the shop and saw an advertisement for a junior sales person. ‘What happened to your sales girl?’ Family emergency said the manager vaguely. She wouldn’t meet my eye. A coincidence, but what a lovely coincidence.
I told Janie about it and she snorted her iced coffee over me. She remained spotless. I mopped myself up while Janie explained: ‘if anyone had that sort of power it wouldn’t be you,’ says my best friend.
I saw her point but still, I wondered – what if? I thought about how having somebody lose their job is all very well on paper, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for it in real life. When I got home, but just for fun, I wrote three stories; about world peace, ending world hunger and saving the people on the Titanic. I waited a couple of weeks. None of my wishes eventuated. Then I re-wrote Lolita’s story. I had her come back from visiting her ailing aunt and resuming her job. When I saw her next she was back at work and had a cold sore.
Janie, that blight on my horizon was right, why would that sort of power be accorded to insignificant me? And even if I had it, I decided I didn’t want it. Most mistakes are sent us to learn from, and whatever changes I made to my life would end up impacting on other people. For weeks I worried at things from every angle, then, feeling an absolute fool, I chose one event that would do the minimum of harm to those around me and decide once and for all whether or not I was able to change my personal destiny.
I sat down and wrote a story that included Janie, Lally and me at Kindergarten. And Sam. It’s my first day at kinder. I smile at Janie who is offering me her teddy and wave it away then I join the girl with the golden ringlets. We play all afternoon changing and rearranging our doll’s house furniture; we had a ball.
What the hell, I thought, at the very least, I’ve rid myself of thirty one years of exasperation.
I sat the rest of the afternoon and read Kerry Greenwood’s latest Phryne Fisher novel, ‘Murder and Mendelssohn’ and munching on a box of chocolate teddy bear biscuits. There was a knock at the door.