Short Story – First Meeting

Not flash fiction this time, but a short story. It’s about 600 words long, so it won’t take long to read! I welcome constructive criticism, so if you have suggestions as to how I could improve it I would be very grateful if you would comment.

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First Meeting

The cobbles were wet and slippery.

Susan skirted the edge of the market and paused at the butcher’s stall. She wondered whether she could afford their bargain offer of two rump steaks for £8. She shook her head. No. Too much Christmas shopping still to do and not enough money.

She was completely unprepared for the sudden shove and went flying, arms flailing, scattering packages all around.

“Oh, gosh! I’m terribly sorry. Are you alright?”

He was tall, about thirty, slim and dark-haired.

Susan sat on the cobbles and rubbed her right arm, wincing.

“Can you move it? I mean, is it broken?”

Susan flexed it gingerly, and grimaced.

“Just bruised, I think.” She glared at him and started to pick up her packages, ramming them into her bags. She stood up and tried, unsuccessfully, to carry all the bags with her left hand.

“Do you live close?”

“About a mile.”

He hailed a taxi, talked briefly to the driver, handed over cash.

“Give the driver the address. Once again, I’m really sorry.”

All she wanted now was a cup of tea.

It wasn’t until she was at home waiting for the kettle to boil that she realised her pendant was missing.

Sunday came. Jonathan wasn’t a regular churchgoer, but he woke early, the weather was fine, and it was, after all, nearly Christmas.

The sun brightened the east window and cast patches of light on the stonework above the choir stalls. Jonathan thought of how the light had gleamed from the corn-gold hair of the woman he had so unfortunately barged into on Friday. She had worn it in braids wrapped around her head. The colour was that of a schoolgirl; the style that of an elegant woman; but she was neither.

And he had her pendant, which was a lovely piece. How could he return it? He’d found the taxi that had taken her home, but the driver ‘couldn’t remember’ the address. Jonathan had the unpleasant feeling that the man had thought he was a stalker.

He’d probably never see her again.

He sighed, stood up – and there she was, right arm in a sling, hair covered by a headscarf. Her eyes opened wide. Jonathan suddenly realised how very much he wanted to know her better.

“Oh. You.” she said.

Jonathan looked at the sling.

“I’m so sorry. Was it broken after all?”

“Yes.” She looked hostile.

Jonathan fished in his pocket.

“I found this under the market stall. Is it yours?”

She reached out and grasped it. She pressed it to her cheek.

“I suppose I should say thank you,” she rasped.

“My pleasure,” murmured Jonathan.

He hesitated – and walked away.

Even though it was Sunday, the Christmas market was open. As he left the church, Jonathan could hear the mechanical organ of the carousel. He mooched, hands in pockets, towards it.

What on earth had possessed him last Friday? The raucous music had stirred him, lured him onto the ride, set his feet dancing as he dismounted – and sent him spinning into a young woman with golden hair and grey-blue eyes, knocking her headlong.

And now he knew that the accident had broken her arm. It was hardly surprising that she didn’t want to see him again.

He watched as the brightly painted horses, with their gilded manes, raced in endless, futile pursuit. There was no exhilaration left in the day. The sun had disappeared and a fine drizzle was slowly soaking him.

He felt a tap on his shoulder.

She stood, looking apologetic.

“I’m sorry I snubbed you in the church. You took me by surprise – not that that’s an excuse! I’m Susan, by the way.”

“I’m Jonathan”. He smiled. “Shall we have coffee together?”

Susan smiled back. “I’d like that. Thank you!”

 

 

 

15 thoughts on “Short Story – First Meeting

  1. Great stuff here Penny Gadd! hmm for constructive criticism… Well, the start felt quite slow although still enjoyable. Perhaps, it was due to there being less description at the start. Some exposition into the mind of Susan but not really sometimes. So some sentences felt somehow… Loose, apart, nor from the same story : “Susan sat on the cobbles and rubbed her right arm, wincing.
    “Can you move it? I mean, is it broken?”
    Susan flexed it gingerly, and grimaced.” The dialogue seems broken into pieces I think because of how the sentences are dispersed here. Without the earlier part, we ( readers) would have no clue who is talking and the description doesn’t help us learn much about Susan apart from the fact that she is hurt. Also, is the repetition of Susan necessary if you are cutting the sentences like this? We know that Susan is a she and the man is a he.

    I don’t know if this helps. I do not wish by any means to have you change your piece because of my words. This is simply a suggestions from what I felt while reading. I hope it will help, or, if it does not I am still glad to have read this piece because I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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    • Dear Issa
      Thank you very much for the concrit. I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to think about how I could improve the story. You’ve suggested some sections that could be swifter and more focussed, and you’re right; I could definitely sharpen them, and that would speed up the opening. Good suggestions! I’ll definitely try them. I shall also look at the rest of the story to make sure that nothing is redundant.
      One side effect of your suggestions is that they prompted me to think more about the difference between different types of fiction. With flash fiction what matters is telling the story as compellingly as possible, using prompts to make the reader use their imagination. With a short story, you need to show character, setting and location – and usually nothing else; everything must serve the story. With a novel you need to show in detail how the protagonist’s intentions play out in context, which means a much more leisurely pace is usually appropriate.
      Those were my thoughts. What do you think?
      With very best wishes
      Penny

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      • Hmm I will think about it today and give you a concrete response when I have my answer. If I answered now it wouldn’t be a thought out response. 🙂 I am glad that my words got you thinking. 🙂

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  2. I like that Penny, thank you! Yes it might be more enjoyable when it become faster, but….life is not fast. Life can sometimes be very lengthy and need a lot of patience. it depends on the statement you want to make. You can certainly draw stylistically things in the length to show the apparent endlessness and patience …..

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    • Dear anie
      Thank you very much for reading, and for your thoughts. I’d like my stories to be enjoyable, so I’ll try speeding up the pace of the opening of this story!
      You’re right that life can seem slow. On the other hand, when I look back over my life it seems to have flown by.
      I agree that you can use the pace of the writing to convey things such as patience – although it needs great care, if you’re not going to bore your reader.
      In general, I am very, very wary of equating fiction with life. If they were equivalent we’d read true stories rather than those we writers cook up – and wouldn’t that be a shame?
      With very best wishes
      Penny

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      • well, this is what I meant if you want to show, how different fast time goes by, you can use it as a stylistic moment that parts are really long and need patience …also to read…; :…other parts you just handle short ( if you want to show your reader what you mean, you chose a part your reader would really want to read more about, like a love scene…; ) )…but of course this was not your intension here, so you are right to speeding up the opening!
        O.K. fiction is fiction and not reality, you are right. But behind every fiction there is a intension to say something…this is the principe of art. So is always a truth inside, there is also always a message. You can be interessted in the author, so you try to find his message, but you also can just read and wait what message it brings for you….so I think fiction has much more in common with reality than a written “true” story…because this true story is the story of someone you do not know, but fiction is always a bit of your own story….

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      • the less things are defined, the more it will serve your phantasy. It is the same thing with clouds..their have undefined shapes but you can see the most beautiful and defined figures when you look at them!

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  3. A sweet story Penny but it made me think! 🙂 I will take you up on your offer for constructive criticism (more to see how good I am at this stuff so forgive me if I nitpick!). I think the first line isnt needed, she didnt fall because of it did she? And even if she did this could be mentioned when he bangs into her. I was a bit confused with the Jonathan’s age as there was no hint of her age. Was she older younger, a mother shopping for her family? Secondly if she did have a broken arm, she wouldnt be wanting tea would she? Perhaps a painkiller? or asked the cabbie to take her to the hospital? “The colour was that of a schoolgirl; the style that of an elegant woman; but she was neither.” This somehow doesnt seem to fit in with the idea of his being impressed with her the first time around. I know! Nitpick nitpick nitpick. But I know you will take it in the right spirit (and correct my editorial ‘skills’ )

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  4. Dear Dahlia
    Thank you so much for your detailed thoughts. They will definitely help me to improve my writing. In fact, you’ve caused me to understand better what I was trying to say, as well as how I was saying it! Your editorial skills have been very helpful!
    Point by point, then:

    I think the first line isn’t needed, she didn’t fall because of it did she? And even if she did this could be mentioned when he bangs into her.

    No, she doesn’t, but it was intended as part of ‘setting the scene’. It tells us that the market is outside, that we’re in a town rather than a city (it wouldn’t be cobbled in a city), and that the weather is poor, as well as that the ground is slippery. Your comment suggests that this might be a distraction rather than adding to the emotional mood of the story.

    I was a bit confused with the Jonathan’s age as there was no hint of her age. Was she older younger, a mother shopping for her family?

    I think you’re right here; Susan needs describing in more detail, especially her age. I can see (now you’ve pointed out!) that the reader might well visualise her as being an older woman. However, I want to keep an ambiguity about her that will be consistent with what Jonathan can observe.

    Secondly if she did have a broken arm, she wouldn’t be wanting tea would she? Perhaps a painkiller? or asked the cabbie to take her to the hospital?

    It’s a bit of a myth that you always know when you’ve broken a limb, that you can’t move it etc. In this case it wasn’t a bad fracture and it was only when the pain kept her awake overnight that she went to the hospital. The story requires that she doesn’t realise she needs hospital treatment, because Jonathan – being a nice young man – would have taken her, and the love story would have been different – indeed, it might not even have happened!

    The cup of tea thing is British; when something goes wrong, emotionally or physically, we’re apt to want a cup of tea! However, it’s lazy writing on my part to rely on such a cliché.

    “The colour was that of a schoolgirl; the style that of an elegant woman; but she was neither.” This somehow doesn’t seem to fit in with the idea of his being impressed with her the first time around.

    Yes, I know what you mean. It’s definitely not quite right. And it’s actually extremely important, because the story is, in many ways, about how male/female attraction happens. It’s often a single detail that initially attracts. In this case, the braided golden hair seemed to glow and looked almost angelic to Jonathan. He didn’t notice Susan was mid-twenties, in a cheap raincoat and looking rather tired. Your comment also highlights an improvement I should make in the church scene; Susan shouldn’t be wearing a headscarf, and I need to describe her in a way that shows why Jonathan’s initial attraction to her becomes stronger.

    Thank you so much for your help, Dahlia!
    With best wishes
    Penny

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  5. A cute little story. Except for the broken arm, it could morph into a Hallmark movie. I mean that in a nice way. Yes, even in today’s world, a woman would not wear a scarf into church. As for Susan’s age, you do mention Jonathan “spinning into a young woman…”

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