“Heathered” – writing exercise
The name Heather has featured in a lot of my writing, and she’s always the same sort of character: self-loathing, lost, lonely. One day I hope she’ll come out full fledged.
This challenge was to choose a random sentence from a nearby paperback, then write a short story wherein each sentence started with the next word in the original sentence.
Mine was from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22:
At first there were just their own three girls in the dimly-lit drab brown sitting room that stood at the juncture of three murky hallways leading in separate directions to the distant recesses of the strange and marvelous bordello.
And this is my short:
At midnight – every midnight – Heather would make her way to the corner shop, where she met up with Johann as he finished work. First she would hand over the small, wrapped package, then together they would enjoy the riches therein behind the storage shed in the lane-way. There they would find themselves high as hell and Johann would throw her up against the brick wall for a few minutes. Were it a more serious affair, he might then have walked her home to her place and shared a bed with her, but there was nothing more to it than the drugs and the fucking.
Just as Heather had expected, Johann was a fantastic lover but a shitty boyfriend. Their relationship had barely budged from a casual fling, but should she so much as look in another man’s direction she would find him all over her, and not in the good way. Own insecurities aside, Heather considered herself to be deserving of slightly more than a foreign man with an accent so thick she could barely understand the various lies he thought she wanted to hear.
Three years before, she had been engaged to marry a pianist – Louis the Frenchman. Girls were an unfortunate fondness of his, and try as she might she could not be all the girls to this one man. In retrospect, she would never have been able to fit her wife-shaped body into a whore-shaped hole.
The lane-way was bathed in a cool moonlight, and Johann had passed out face-down in the dirt next to her. Dimly-lit houses blinked out at their tryst – houses with mothers and televisions and porridge, or so she imagined. Drab but safe. Brown but satisfying. Sitting on cold cobble stones with a man half her age and with possibly an even lower IQ was not what Heather had planned for herself, not by a long shot. Room to further her career and make a name for herself, sure, but definitely not the same security that came from a man who would kiss her as she walked through the door and wake her with a coffee on a Sunday morning. That was the dream.
Stood at the end of the lane was one of the few phone booths that remained in the neighbourhood. At one time in her life, Heather had used it to make calls to her mother after Louis had kicked her out. The old woman was never sympathetic, only telling her that she should go back to him and fix whatever it was that she was clearly doing wrong by him. Juncture, it was, of her mother and father’s tumultuous forty-year marriage and Heather’s following along in the same adulterous footsteps – she knew the old woman had good intentions. Of course, that wasn’t much good to her when she stood, alone, in the dark night, looking for a safe place to go.
Three years: Heather found it hard to believe that it had been so long since she’d stood inside of Louis’s magic smell and been mesmerised, captivated. Murky memories often pushed their way into the forefront of her mind and sat there, taunting her, challenging her to open her heart to breaking once again. Hallways twisted around the years she had spent not pleasing the Frenchman, always feeling as though she should have been able to offer him more than she had.
Leading him by the hand, she took Johann from his stone bed to the bus stop. In five minutes, a steel tomb would trudge up the street and take him away from her for another night. Separate houses. Directions spiralling out from the corner store, miles apart. To Johann, none of that mattered a dot – Heather was merely one of many Australian girls he spent time with. The less she knew about that the better, and she never asked. Distant images of finding Louis wrapped around her sister in their own bed sprung to mind, but she had moderate success in pushing them away.
Recesses created a dangerous return path, and in her heady state she found herself stumbling and tripping on cracks that might not even have been there. Of all the roads she could have chosen, this was the worst of all. The glow of street lamps was not enough to help her to find her way. Strange sounds crept out from behind rubbish bins and unruly hedges and Heather found the world swimming around her.
And then she fell, and her head hit the concrete footpath with a thud so loud it startled a family of possums from their hiding place in the trees above. Marvellous images of life and love danced in front of her eyes before she blacked out. Bordello of Louis and Johann; Heather as their own personal whore.