Laying on the floor next to our unmade bed I fail to find sleep. You took it with you when you left. Sleep is with you and the other missing things.
A bleak brittle light informs me of another empty morning. I get up ready to leave the room but then…linger. I pretend for a moment that you are still here. I imagine you amongst the crumpled quilt and pillows stained with mascara and tears. The impression your body left in our old mattress. More than any other room in this ruined house you are here.
I close my eyes and breathe you in. I swim in the faded scent of your perfume and sweat, smelling the hollow traces of nicotine gum and secretive cigarettes. Fragrance triggers memories and your laughter echoes around me; your touch drags across my chest. The ghost of your breath tingles hot against the hairs on my neck.
I close my eyes and pretend you still live here. And for the briefest of moments…you do.
But with each breath your scent weakens, you go further away. All too soon you will be gone from this room as well, but I cannot help myself. I gasp for you as a drowning man for air.
With my eyes still closed I can shut out the missing things. I can pretend the suitcase is still in the corner of the room. I can ignore the empty bedside drawers. I can make believe for a little while.
I close the door behind me, to keep what is left of you for one more day. Dust swirls in my wake as I start to retrace my steps yet again.
I move through the bathroom, tracking through spilled talcum powder leaving bare footprints behind; a snow-white trail at a crime scene. Corrupting black mould attacks the corners of the room, darkening the walls and tracing along the grout like a web. A fungal invasion assaults the sterile white tiles.
I stop at the basin to splash my face, trying to drive away the weariness. It does not work.
One door of the bathroom cabinet swings wide, askew on a single hinge. It exposes my unused soaps and shavers, exposes my personal disrepair. Dust dirties my toothbrush and rust spots line my razor. I am as unmade as our bed.
The other cabinet door is intact but for a broken mirror. I stare and a myriad of shattered reflections stare back. Red-rimmed eyes shame me, a dozen bruised and sleepless orbs glare at me in guilt. I cannot maintain contact with this multitude; sharp angles and bleeding eyes threaten to overcome me.
I open the cabinet door quickly, banishing my reflected images. Behind the mirror there are more of the missing things, insignificant items made significant by their absence. The black bands you used to keep the hair out of your face. The cherry and coconut balms you used to ease the cracking of your lips. The thick foundation makeup you used to hide the bruises from your workmates. Missing things that attest to the permanency of your decision, your irreversible intent to leave me.
I step away, leaving the cabinet door to swing.
Silently protesting the draw of you, the gravity of your leaving, I am dragged down the hall. Lurching forward I relive our fights; my fists, your cries.
I find myself unwillingly in the kitchen. I am not hungry; I do not wish to be here. I am compelled. I cannot refuse my summons to this place.
The kitchen you once kept pristine is a realm of chaos now, old fury and ruin reigns. Scattered fragments of crockery litter the linoleum; shrapnel from missiles thrown in panic. The door of our dirty white fridge is ajar, constantly humming and clicking in protest as it heats and cools in an endless cycle of wasted effort.
A weaving line of black ants lead up the wall to the remnants of a thrown jam jar; a sticky explosion of purple and glass splinters. The ants surround this drying stain like black static. In the middle are the foolish ones, greedy perhaps, ants that headed too deep got stuck and died.
Again and yet again, I return to the missing things. In this room the missing is an ache, an agony, a remorseful itching that is overpowering and overwhelming. I cannot bear the empty space yet cannot leave it alone. Guilt fills this vacuum, clawing at my sanity, gouging holes in it like a junky tearing at their flesh as they chase imaginary ants under their skin.
The empty space of the missing blade in the knife block accuses me, shames me. A void of violence. A gap-toothed smile in a mouth of murder.
Another line of ants marches across the floor, out of the kitchen, to the closed door that leads to the back room. I step with them along this path, a needle in a record’s groove repeating the same fragment of a skipping song. I cannot avoid this room.
I open the door bracing myself but the stink of you stuns me, hits me like a closed-fist punch to the face. No amount of anticipation prepares me for this decomposing rankness. I can never be ready for the things in this room.
The missing things are here.
The missing suitcase has been torn open and your clothes thrown over your face in an childish attempt to shield me from your unspoken and unmoving accusations.
Your missing makeup, spilled from your purse when you raised it up against my swinging blows and my slicing cuts, is spread across the floor now. The colour of smooth tanned skin, the thick powder is trod deep into the thick carpet in a long smear that starts near the door and disappears into the spread of dried black blood surrounding you like a shadow.
The missing knife stands upright, handle deep in your chest, nestled between your deflated and withering corpse breasts.
You are here.
You lay unmoving and undone, victim of my uncontrollable anger and violent affections. Ants, decay, and maggots consume you now, finishing the attacks I started shortly after we married. Attacks you never got away from. You lay here now where I unmade you.
I cannot close my eyes in this room. I cannot pretend you are still here. I cannot ignore the things I have done. I cannot make believe you are alive, even for a little while.
Because more than any other room in this house you are here. Because in this room I have found all the missing things.
Except for sleep.
This piece clocks in at just over 1000 words and was my first go at a story prompt from a book I picked up cheap secondhand called “A Picture is Worth 1000 Words“. Basically it’s got 112 black and white pictures and challenges you to write a story with at least 1000 words. The picture above is not from this book, but it is very much like the one that was there (and this one was free on photopin).
I tried to bring in a sense of shifting weight here, trying to move the character from sympathetic to ugly in the space of four rooms. I also tried to work some interesting imagery too – so I suspect it might feel a little ‘over-engineered’ (aka ‘purple prose’).
I’d really like hear what you think of story – was it good or at least entertaining? Was it too over the top, too much drama, too much effort to be clever (I am guilty of that one a lot). Any comments would be greatly appreciated. I don’t mind negatives, or constructive criticism – this is a creative exercise, its practice – and so I’m happy for you to really treat it harshly.
In other news, I’ve just signed up for NaNoWriMo 2015. I’ve got an anthology of related short horror stories I want belt out and I figure nothing will make me get them down on the keyboard without some pressure. I don’t know how I’ll go writing 1700 words a day (this took me 4 days to write – one room per day), but hell – you gotta be in it to win it. Let me know if you’ve decided to give it a shot and I’ll try to figure out how to meet people on their forums. 🙂
10 thoughts on “All the missing things”
Dayyyymn. I think it is amazing. I don’t know if I would say it is purple or not. I don’t feel it is. I don’t like overly flowery or overly stark, I prefer a middle, descriptive ground that paints a good picture and evokes mood and feeling. You did this here!
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Thanks 🙂 I appreciate your time & comment. KT
Hi KT. Your prose is not purple or overwrought at all, IMO. If I can find anything to improve, you might have moved the character more gradually from abandoned lover, whom I felt sympathy for in the beginning, to abusive murderer whom, at the end, we despise. The transition was sudden, and a bit jarring. I certainly did not see it coming, I’ll give it that. Overall, you did a remarkable job. This story and it’s character really made me feel, and that takes a lot these days. Your writing just seems to keep getting better every time you present something.
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Thanks mate – I’ll take that transition issue onboard:)
Actually, upon re-reading, there is nothing wrong with the way you wrote this short tale. I think it is just that I identified so strongly with the protagonist in the first half of it, until he mentioned hiding bruises with thick foundation. That was my first clue something wasn’t right with this guy.
The second half, of course, reveals him for what he really is, and the fact that I had seen myself so clearly prior to that is what really shook me, not the way you wrote the transition.
In other words, the problem is me, not the way the story is written. You’re getting really good at this, man, I know I say that a bit too often, but I’m really impressed with your writing.
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Haha – I’m touched you thought it was worth a second read and thanks again for the kind words 🙂
I’m also glad to see that thick foundation reference worked. The broken cabinet was also a hint (evidence of past violence) but I realised that this one was a little more obscure than the makeup.
Re our other discussions, I’ve signed up to do NaNoWriMo next month (a book of short stories). The plan is to write a bunch of stories (including the one we have discussed) then see which ones are worth submitting to magazines and anthology submissions etc for publishing.
As always, thanks for reading.
This is a really powerful piece. Wonderful use of details to set the scene and communicate these intense emotions. I like the theme running through of missing things. I like that it starts off misleading, ambiguous, the “normal” amount of crazy after someone’s been dumped, and slowly we see that something is more seriously wrong. I caught the hints about him being abusive, but it was the refrigerator door swinging open and the food still left around the kitchen that really made me realize that he was really insane. I don’t think it comes off as over-engineered, but then, I love myself some clever writing. Given the subject of the story, I can’t see how a less dramatic take could have worked: it’s as dramatic as it needs to be.
Since you asked… There are a few places I would have suggested fine-tuning words. I was really struck by the power and resonance of this line in the bathroom scene, “I am as unmade as our bed.” Unlike a bed, that one simply neglects to make, unmaking a man suggests deliberate destruction, with such ragged and dangerous results. That you used it again in the last scene – “where I unmade you” – amplifies rather than downplays this, and connects the two events. But I would have left these two as the only uses of “unmade” and not referred to the bed as unmade early on — to preserve the impact of the word, if that makes sense. Similarly, when we first walk into the last room and the “stink of you stuns me,” this tells us she’s dead, and the subsequent descriptions clarify how it happened. So the phrase “You lay dead on the floor” falls a little flat—it seems like it should be a strong line but it’s not, because you’ve already told us that. In fact, you don’t have to use the word “dead” at all, you’ve got it covered with more interesting descriptors already. Anyway, those would be just minor fine-tunings in an excellent story.
(Also, typo in paragraph 3: “and your* laughter”.)
Great job, and good luck with NaNoWriMo!
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Thank you so much for this detailed comment! Firstly- I’ll fix that typo. Then I’ll reread it in light of unmade & you lay dead on the floor. Perhaps simplifying it to ‘you lay there’ as we know she is dead… Really appreciate your feedback here.
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Thanks for giving me an excuse to procrastinate. 😉 Some days it’s a lot easier to give feedback to other people than to concentrate on revising my own super annoying research report… (sigh)
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