Sliding Scales

“A bright blue neon on a wall reads “Work harder”” by Jordan Whitfieldon Unsplash

India stood there watching the water pooling at her feet from her naked body. Here she was about to face her biggest enemy, scared and naked. She took a deep breath and looked down. Her heart stopped that can’t be right. Looking down again she studied the numbers 14 stone. She stepped down, bloody scales are laughing at me she thought. One week in Spain and her best friends wedding couldn’t have done that much damage.

All India’s friends commented on how well she looked. Girl code for fat she told herself. Still, the scales didn’t lie she was at least 2.5 stone too heavy for her 5’10” height.

India had watched her weight since she was 13. When she was younger this was a problem. Counselling at 16 hadn’t helped, it taught her how to hide her dieting from others.

She had met a bloke. She had enjoyed herself and now she was paying the price. You don’t count every meal this is what happens you get fat. At least 2.5 stone of fat.

Rob have loved her. Rob liked her the way she was. For the first time in her life, she was accepted. No longer did she watch what she ate. She could eat freely and without guilt. Rob had left her, for a size 8. Now she was fat and single.

For the next month, she went back to clinical ninja mode. Count the calories, exercise them off. Drink water, more exercise. Every day on the scales. Up one pound, down another pound. Up and down but still 14 stone or thereabouts.

At the height of her depression, she excepted a lunch invitation from a friend. Fi sat opposite her stuffing fries into her mouth whilst India nibbled on her lettuce.

“I don’t know how you do it?” India moaned. “Eat what you want and never put weight on.”

“ I run,” Fi said spraying fries out of her mouth.

“ You run,” India said.

“ Yea once a week with a club and sometimes on weekends if there is a race. I can eat what I want, I never put a pound on.”

By the end of the meal, India had all the details of the running club. She reasoned that if she ran and watched her calories she would lose the 2.5 stone in 6 weeks.

That was how she found herself the following Thursday. She was dressed in a bright green top and track trousers. She was following Fi through the streets. After India had run for 5 minutes she thought she was going to die. Her lungs were going to burn out of her body. After 20 minutes she started to feel better and enjoy herself. She had found her rhythm and could feel the pounds fall off.

Tommy left his mates at 8 pm in the pub after having a couple after work. He turned the music on and opened the window to take in the warm spring air. At one point the radio played his ex’s favourite song. Looking down he searched for a station rather than listening to that crap. When he looked up he saw the runners face as she hit the windscreen.

India knew nothing of the next month she lay sedated. She was sedated when Tommy was arrested for drink driving. She was sedated when the local papers ran the story of the drunk driver who had mounted a curb into a group of runners.

She woke on the same day Tommy went to court. She woke up for 2 minutes the next day it was 15 minutes. Slowly as the days ticked away she recovered and built her strength up.

Three months after her accident she sat ready to be discharged. Discharged to her parents for more recuperation. Nurse Susan came in and smiled.

“All set?” She said.

“ Think so, yes,” India replied.

Susan and India had grown close over the last couple of months.

“Right we need to weigh you before you go. Make sure we have the right dose of pain relief.” Susan said.

India took a deep breath and looked at the scales. Old habits died hard.

10.5 stone she had done it she had finally lost her 2.5 stone. That’s when her stumps started to itch. She looked down at where her legs used to be.

First Days at University

Angela twiddled with her long dark hair. She always twiddled when she was nervous and today she was especially nervous. The butterflies were still dancing around in her stomach. For the fifth time that morning she wondered whether forcing a slice of toast down was such a good idea. She glanced again at her reflection in the tube window, minimal makeup to bring out her dark eyes and a sensible dark business suit with white shirt. Again she wondered whether the skirt and blouse might have been better than this trouser suit which made her look older than her 30 years. The man opposite her reading his paper glared in her direction and she quickly averted her eyes and started smoothing down her trousers and picking imaginary fluff off her jacket. As the train pulled into the station the man opposite her stood and exited the train. Angela breathed a sigh of relief; she hated confrontation and a row with a grumpy commuter was not the right way to start your first day at work. Angela looked up and saw that her stop was the next on the journey. Just one last check of the route planner to ensure that she knew where she was going after leaving the tube. Not that this was necessary as she had memorised the route methodically over the weekend.

Walking down the busy road Angela spotted London University straight away. Modern in design the university stood impressively against the more traditional backdrop. Crossing the road Angela walked into the main reception and patiently waited for the students in front of her to be dealt with by the receptionist. She allowed a student to push in front of her in the queue to ask for directions to the science lab. He turned around and grinned at her.

‘Sorry, were you waiting?’ he asked with a cocky smile

‘No you’re fine, after you,’ she replied.

Angela glanced nervously at her watch wondering whether she was going to be late for her first day. No, she was fine, she still had time.

‘Can I help you?’ the receptionist asked. She was a thin woman with a mean face that looked like she wanted to be anywhere but behind reception dealing with the throng of people.

‘I have an appointment to meet Mr Gregson. He asked me to report here and said he would come to get me.’

Sighing the receptionist said ‘suppose I will have to ring him then.’

‘Thank you,’ Angela replied. Once again the nerves rose and she glanced nervously at the toilet and her watch working out whether she had time to dive in for the fifth time this morning.

At that moment a stout man with a friendly face smiled at her, ‘Angela.’

‘Yes, that’s me.

‘Hi, I am Mr Gregson, Carl. How are you? Glad to see you got here OK. Sorry we carried out the interviews in our other branch, but still you found us OK,’ he rattled on in a sing-song voice.

‘Yes, nice to meet you,’ she stammered.

‘Well, shall I take you up and show you where you are working?’ he smiled warmly at her.

As they walked up to the department Mr Gregson chatted endlessly giving Angela the history behind the building, introducing her to colleagues as she went past. Angela noticed that his trousers were a little too short for him and his suit jacket was crumbled like he had thrown it in the back of a car. None of this mattered as his friendly smile, the type that reached right to his eyes and his enthusiasm meant that Angela soon found herself starting to relax.

As they neared the room where Angela was going to work, once again her stomach lurched and she thought to herself what am I doing here? Why did I think of leaving my last secure job, where I had been for 10 years was a good thing?

‘Here we are,’ Mr Gregson said. ‘Now my office is just down the corridor. Come and see me when you finish and we can have a cuppa and a chat. Do you have everything you need?’

Angela nodded, frightened that if she spoke the tremor in her voice would give away the utter terror that had just gripped her. Why Why Why had she decided that this was a good career move? What made her think that she was right for this job? At that point Angela considered telling him that this was all a mistake, she wasn’t right for the job. She would have run away but, she was pretty sure at this point her legs would fail her like her voice had.

Mr Gregson sensing her anxiety, smiled warmly and put his hand on her arm and said, ‘You’ll be fine.’

With that, he turned with a smile and walked towards his office.

Come on Angela, she said to herself, you can do this. Putting her hand on the cold door handle she gripped it with all her strength opening it and walked into the room.

‘Good morning, I am your new English teacher. If you would like to get your textbooks out we will start the lesson,’ she said in a strong clear voice.

She could do this, well, of course, she could do this, this was her stage, her environment. All the previous nerves were forgotten as she started writing the date and task on the whiteboard.


The Love Crabs


They walked in hand in hand almost sideways like crabs so that they could look into each others eyes.

She was blond with jeans and a bright pink jumper and he had wavy blond hair, jeans and a blue jumper. They looked like a complete mirror image of each other.

As they sat down he pulled the chair out for her and she slide in. She gave him a kiss, that lasted a little too long for polite company. She giggled as he broke her embrace and then he walked round to the other side. Clearing the table of glasses so as not to break hold of her hand.

When the waitress came over and brought their menu’s she placed hers on the table. Instead they chose to share one menu, all the time looking into each others eyes and holding hands. Then there was a giggle and a movement under the table. The more observant diner could observe that one of her shoes had come off her foot.

When the waitress came back he ordered for both of them exactly the same dishes and drinks. She smiled at him. If you look at her eyes you could briefly see the fear.


Thank you for taking the time to read this.

The Mission.

I remember the day I was taken away from my parents, I was ten years old. I spent five years away from them. Although I can’t remember where I was or who had me.

We moved about a lot, the faces constantly changing. I was not alone. All children in our society are removed at the same age. The Mission arrive on your tenth birthday and take you away. No one can remember anything that happens in those 5 years.

Kids are returned to their parents at fifteen. The same kids reprogrammed for the year’s of adulthood ahead of them.

As I stood on the doorstep waiting for my parents to open the door to me. I started remembering the life I had before. The trips to the beach. Walking the family dog. I couldn’t wait to go back to this happy life, filled with love.

The door opened and I took a deep breath, at last here were my beloved parents. The first thing I realised was that these were not the parents I had left. I had never seen these people in my life. Didn’t stop the strangers on the doorstep welcoming their long-lost son home though.

They must have seen it on my face or it was the fact I flinched as they touched me. The next thing I know fake dad has my arm up my back and fake mum is calling The Mission. That was when I realise The Mission has a procedure for this sort of thing. I am not alone. This has happened to other teenagers before.

For up to date information on articles published please follow Twitter @samharnold

Divorced and Dating


It started through boredom and curiosity. After spending six months on her own, after her divorce, Claire decided to see what internet dating was like. With nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon, she typed dating sites into Google. Her first surprise of the weekend was how many sites there were.

After a while, she settled for a site that boasted a reputation for being for the older person who wanted to find a relationship, rather than a five-minute fling. For the next three hours, she worked on her profile describing her dreams and feelings to a blank form. The question — what would you like from a man? — was especially difficult to answer. She described her ideal partner as someone who was honest and generous, who made her laugh. Someone the complete opposite of her ex-husband.

After working on her profile to try to make it honest and attractive, she only had to decide on what picture to use. Searching through pictures that did not contain her ex, she finally settled on a picture of herself dressed up for a staff party.

Claire decided to hide her face in the photo and change her name. That way, if her friends saw her on this site, they might not recognise her as the desperate woman she felt. With one deep breath, she pressed the submit button. An old proverb found its way into her head. Something about taking one minute of madness to change your life forever.

The next day was the dreaded Sunday of family visits. It was late in the evening when Claire fired up the laptop again. To her surprise, there were already three emails from Dream Dating, each advising that she had a message from an admirer. More from curiosity than anything else, she logged into her email to look at her matches and messages.

One was from a gentleman twice her age who asked if she would like to chat for a while. She informed him that he was too old for her but wished him good luck with his search. The next was from a gentleman a couple of years older than her, a polite email to introduce himself. She decided to reply to this man and chat for a while to see how they got on. The final email was from some pervert who made it very clear what he wanted from a relationship. That email was deleted straight away.

This was how things went over the next couple of months; emails would arrive…some people were deleted straight away, some were told you’re not for me, and with others, she began conversations.

She’d noticed that she was starting to look forward to returning home. Chatting to prospective dates made her confidence and self-esteem grow. Over the months, Claire enjoying chatting with a variety of men, but none of them ever made it past emailing.

That was when Thomas started emailing her. The first email was much the same as the rest and they started talking via email. Over the next couple of weeks, they emailed each other daily. Thomas had many of the same interests as Claire: he liked the same books, enjoyed the same films. The emails increased in length and intimacy. Over the next couple of weeks, the subject changed to previous relationships.

It was during these emails that Claire discovered that, like her, Thomas was divorced. He was also very worried about joining a dating site, thinking that his friends would laugh at him.

Over time, it became clear that this was a more intimate relationship. She started feeling this could go somewhere. With this in mind, they decided that they would meet for a drink in a local bar the following Friday, to see whether they got on as well in person.

How will I know you? Claire typed to Thomas.

I will have a copy of 1984 in my hand, he typed back. Better than a carnation any day.

She giggled when she read this, they had already decided that 1984 was their favourite book.

She liked the way that he made her laugh, cracking the joke about the carnation. She couldn’t remember the last time a man had made her laugh, not since well before she had got married. The next email contained the bar and the time they could meet.

That was how she found herself, in front of the mirror in her bedroom, checking her reflection and makeup. Before making her way to the bar to meet Thomas, she felt the butterflies in her stomach.

When was the last time she had felt like this?

With a shock, she remembered that the last time was on her first date with Michael. God, everything seemed so perfect then, what had gone so wrong? Would this all end that way too?

Before her courage completely left her she decided to make her way to the bar early, take a slow drive, listen to her favourite album on the way to calm her nerves.

Claire got in the car and the rain pounded down so hard, she had to put the window screen wipers on full to see.

Just what I need, she thought. Still, she had left plenty of time to get to the bar. Being late was Claire’s pet hate. She was making good time until she rounded the corner onto the high street and hit the traffic jam. The queue was from one end of the high street to another. Claire glanced at the clock in the car whilst the rain continued to drum on the roof.

I decide to get back into the dating game and first the weather is against me and then the traffic. Someone is trying to tell me something.

By the time she cleared the traffic jam, she had five minutes to drive what would take ten minutes. With nothing else for it, she put her foot to the floor and sped along the wet, slippery roads.

As she rounded the corner to the bar, she felt the wheels slide from under her car. Looking up she saw the car heading straight for the wall. She started to fight with the steering wheel trying to control the skid. All the time she was screaming inside, waiting for the impact.

Eight minutes later, she walked into the bar heart still pounding from the near miss with the wall. She looked around and spotted him and her heart started pounding again. Standing at the bar in his cocky manner was Michael. Of all the nights to run into her ex-husband.

That was when she noticed the copy of 1984 in his hand.


Getting Rejected From a Top Publication Was The Best Thing That Happened To Me.

Photo by G. Crescolion Unsplash

Now if you want dirt on what publication it was I’m not telling you. Editors do an incredible job on all outlets and I’m not here to slag them off.

Harry Potter was refused by more than 10 editors before being picked up.

All editors have their own taste, reading is subjective.

My Writing

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a flash fiction piece. I submitted it to a publication and they came back and wanted major changes to it. I will discuss these later.

I looked at their comments, reread the piece and thought, no I like what I have done I don’t think it needs the alterations.

I hit the publish button without the backing of a publication. One week on and it has some of the best stats for a fiction piece I have written. It started by receiving 30 claps in the first five minutes. One of the people that liked it was an author I admired. It was a great result.

Now before we go on I am going to give the opportunity to read the piece if you wish. We are about to embark on some major spoiler territory. So if you want to read it first, click away.

Swagger

What Happened

The comments I received wanted me to change the end and explain what had happened to the man. One called him a conman. Not what I intended at all. They also wanted me to explain the role of the waitress. I thought that was obvious when I wrote it.

All the stories I write end this way with a big reveal, that you don’t see coming. These are the stories I enjoy reading so these are the stories I write.

By adding to and explaining the end of it would have spoilt the story. I want my readers to go away and discuss the end. Even have a difference of opinion. It was clear from the editors’ comments, that they didn’t get it.

Finally

  • Go with your gut. You know your writing better than anyone. This is how you build confidence.
  • You are free to follow your own path, let your readers decide rather than editors and critics what is good or not.
  • If one editor hates your work keep going. Reading is subjective what one hates, another may love.
  • Whatever you write. Write something you are proud of.

 Success will follow.