2013 STORGY SSC – Shortlist – Day 1- Tonight’s Dream by Ruth Brandt

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2013 STORGY Short Story Competition Shortlist

A little information before we begin.

Each entry was critically read by at least 2 STORGY contributors, after which, from the 120+ entries we received, 25 were chosen as an initial shortlist. All of these 25 stories were read by 5 STORGY contributors and a final shortlist identified. Due to the exceptionally high standard of submissions, a decision was made to extend the shortlist from 10 to 14. As a result, a new short story from the Shortlist will be published every day for the next two weeks. Once the shortlist has been fully published, voting will commence and readers will be able to vote for their favourite short story.

We would like to thank everyone who showed an interest and entered the competition. The reading of entries was extremely enjoyable and we are looking forward to receiving future submissions for online publication throughout 2014. If you were unsuccessful, please remember we aim to publish up to 6 short stories every month, so please continue to submit your work.

As a final note, if you enjoy short stories, please ‘like’ our Facebook page and invite friends and family to explore the wonderful writing of our contributors and shortlisted competition entrants. Your support continues to inspire.

Day 1

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TONIGHT’S DREAM

theatre1

by

Ruth Brandt

Enter stage left. Consider the audience. Check one’s hands. Move to centre stage with a hop and a skip, a whoop maybe. Then fling arms open, showering confetti, the mock rose-petal type, across the stage. Smile. This will be tonight’s dream.

            Enter stage left. Consider the audience. Check one’s hands. Check one’s hands again.

            Enter stage. The auditorium is full, no spare seats in the Stalls, or the Royal Circle, or the Upper Circle. Check again. The auditorium lights are low; it’s not easy to see. There. Stalls row N, or M perhaps, a seat tipped up. Someone has left; a trip to the toilet? That will be it. Check one’s hands. Move to centre stage.

            Enter stage. One’s eyes are drawn to the Stalls, row M, M23 to be exact. The seat is tipped up. The ticket holder has not yet arrived. On their way here, no doubt; delayed somewhere. Check one’s hands are clean, thoroughly clean; washed, dried and washed again, so as not to taint the confetti in one’s pockets. The seats to both sides of M23 are occupied; one by a man, his elbow on the communal arm rest; the other by a girl, no, a young woman, but so slight she could be a girl. She sits upright as though balancing a book on her head, her left hand clutching her ponytail at the back of her head.

            The stage. The almost full auditorium. The empty seat. Check one’s hands. A fleck of brown. Mud perhaps, but just a fleck, on the end of the forefinger of the right hand. The thumb nail pick, picks; the mud needs to be gone. Pick.

Tickets M22 and M23 had been bought as a pair. A young woman had reserved them; a teenager with a tight-back ponytail who had come in to the theatre.

            “Two tickets for Journey’s End, please,” she had said. “The Thursday evening performance. In the Upper Circle, please.”

            She held her purse in both hands upright on the counter. The man in the box office pulled round a monitor and tapped away.

            “We only have Stalls tickets left for that night.” He glanced up at her.

            “Only Stalls? How much are they?” the young woman asked.

            “Sixty-eight pounds for the two. And actually,” he clicked away at the keyboard, eyes scanning he screen, “there’s only the one pair in the Stalls. Otherwise it’s just a few odd seats on their own here and there. You wanted Upper Circle, did you?”

            “Yes.”

            “Would you like me to see if there’s anything for another evening?”

            “No. It needs to be Thursday.” The girl reached back for her ponytail and held it tight. “Sixty-eight pounds?” she checked.

            “Yes.”

            She let go of her hair, glanced at her purse.

            “OK,” she said.

The almost full auditorium with the empty seat, and on the stage three men in uniform sit at a trestle table while bass notes vibrate the theatre walls. Kaboom, crash. They speak of dispatches being sent up the line, of old school days. They drink, and a young lad full of excitement and derring-do has his spirits crushed by his former idol who has grown weary and cynical. It’s hopeless. A shell explodes. The audience knows that for these men on stage there is no future, that this story is full of dramatic irony.

“Oh darling, what a nice idea,” the young woman’s mother had said.

            “You said you studied it at school.”

            “I did. That’s right. Long time ago now.”

            “Not that long, Mum.”

            “Seems like an age.”

            “We can get a taxi there.”

            “A taxi?”

            “Travel in style. Better than the bus.”

            “That’ll be nice, darling.”

The safety curtain falls. The audience claps. Lights up in the auditorium and couples exit leaving coats crumpled on chairs and tonight’s newspaper crushed with plastic wine glasses on the floor beneath. Everyone has left apart from the woman in M22 who stays staring at the stage.

“I’ll wear my purple dress, darling.”

            “That one suits you.”

            “My purple dress and black shoes.”

            “You’ll look lovely, Mum.”

            “Thank you, darling.”

Enter stage. The set remains as it was left after the second act; the enamel mug lies on its side, the flask hangs from the hook. Nothing has changed. Consider the audience. Check one’s hands. Move to centre stage. Check one’s hands again. The fleck of mud has moved; it has smudged down onto the palm. Wipe it off on the opposite palm; rub, rub. The mud will soil the confetti. Rub, rub. Apart from the tipped up seat in row M, the auditorium has refilled. Someone coughs. Someone cracks an ice cream spoon. A shh.

“Tonight, darling? Is it tonight?”

            “Yes, Mum. It’s your birthday, remember. Happy birthday.”

            “I hadn’t put two and two together, that’s all.”

            “The taxi’s booked for quarter to seven. I told you that.”

            “You did.”

            “I’ll help you dress when I get home from school.”

            “That’ll be nice.”

            “Make sure you eat your lunch. It’s on the tray in the kitchen.”

            “Don’t fuss, darling.”

            “And we’ll have tea when I get in. A birthday tea.”

            “Lovely.”

            “I’ve put a tea towel over your lunch, Mum. Make sure the dog doesn’t go in there.”

            “He’ll stay with me, won’t you, Dennis.”

            “You will eat?”

            “Of course.”

The mud won’t budge. Fingers pick, fingers scratch with satisfying pain. Harder and harder but all that happens is the mud spreads over the back of the hands, up the arms. One touches one’s hair, grabs hold of the ponytail hanging down one’s back, and in doing so dusts the forearm against the nose. And now this isn’t mud at all, it’s shit; stinking watery shit that runs over the top lip and seeps into the mouth, finding the gaps between one’s teeth, pouring down one’s throat.

“You didn’t eat.”

            It’s the afternoon and the tray is as it was left on the side in the kitchen that morning.

            “I wasn’t hungry, darling.”

            “You need to eat. You won’t be up to the theatre tonight if you don’t eat anything.”

            “Is it tonight?”

            “Yes. I reminded you this morning. And you didn’t put Dennis out.”

            “He didn’t want to go.”

            “He needs to be put out, Mum. He’s piddled in the hallway. I’ll put him out now.”

            “He doesn’t like going out.”

Enter stage left. Consider the audience; blink through the shit that’s pouring down one’s face. Place one’s hands over one’s groin and arse just in case anyone thinks one has shat oneself, that this whole stinking mess is one’s own fault.

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Mu-um, happy birthday to you. Blow. Big breath. Shall I do it for you? There now, wish.” The young woman angles the knife. “A big slice of cake for you.”

            “What about you, darling?”

            “I’m OK, I had lunch at school.”

            “Are you sure; you’re getting very skinny?”

            “There you go.” The young woman places a slice of chocolate cake on a plate.

“Eat up and then we’ll get you dressed.”

            “For what?”

            “For the theatre.”

            “Is that tonight?”

            “Yes, Mum. I did tell you.”

            “Oh, darling.”

            “What?”

            “I’m not so sure.”

            “Journey’s End. You studied it at school. You told me all about it. I’ve bought the tickets, booked a taxi.”

            “You are good.”

            “You’ll feel better after cake.”

Enter stage left. Consider the audience. The auditorium is full, completely full, every last seat occupied. Check one’s hands; shiny clean, not a speck of dust. Move to centre stage with a hop and a skip, a whoop maybe. Then fling arms open, showering confetti, the circular, mock rose petal type, across the stage. Smile. This will be tonight’s dream.

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