Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Fiction:Untitled

This Week’s Theme: Someone buys a dresser at a yard sale. When they get home there is a roll of film taped to the underside of one of the drawers. What happens next?

I don’t remember that we exactly argued about the dressing table but I did quite strongly suggest that we didn’t need it. Marty said at the time, and I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t kidding around, that we could take a course in furniture restoration together.
“It sounds like fun,” he quipped at the end and smiled his crooked smile.

I looked in disbelief at the man I been married to for the past ten years, who secretly took manicures to keep his hands perfect. There seemed no sense in him wanting to dirty those perfectly pampered fingers – strippers, vanishes, sandpaper and the likes. But he was adamant and when he dug in, there was no point in me trying to sway him. That was the way it went sometimes. I always joked to my friends that it was how we ended up married – he was just not going to take no for an answer. And so we bought the dark wood dresser.

We had to beg a lend of the next door neighbour’s ute to get the dresser back. Barbara looked at me with her own version of astonishment. As we drove back to collect it up, I could imagine her and Tony out in the front yard pulling weeds and gossiping that Marty had entered his mid-life crisis a few years early. I could almost hear the conversation word for word since I accidentally eavesdropped a discussion about us when I went out to do a spot of gardening one Saturday. Marty had taken the car out and I guess they thought I had gone with him – he rarely went out alone on the weekend. Barbara tut tutted and Tony tried to keep the jealousy out of his voice. I know he wished they paid someone to do their lawns and gardens too. But we were childless – barren, and could afford such luxuries. It still stung hearing that charge.

“Do you want me to turn off the air con?”
“You sure - you shivered.”
“I’m fine. Someone must have walked over my grave.”

Tony had a thrown a couple of ropes into the tray to tie in the dressing table. He was the practical dependable type of guy that Marty wasn’t. I missed the canister as Marty and I struggled to put the dresser into the tray and then secure it. It was only as Marty was swearing, trying to undo the knots in our garage that I spied it.

“We should take it back to the bloke who sold it to us,” Marty said, in between curses. He had many infuriating idiosyncrasies, but his honesty wasn’t one. He’d cracked a nail and I was wondering if the romance of furniture restoration had been a passing one, having died a quick and relatively painless death.
“We bought it along with the table.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean to sell it to us. An honest mistake.”
“What if he was hiding it from someone?”
“What if someone was hiding it from him?”
“Wouldn’t you want to know what was on it?”
“I think some things are best left unknown.”

I took over from untangling the knots in the ropes.
“Perhaps I’ll drop it for processing tomorrow,” he said changing tack, “and then we can decide what to do with the photos then.”
“But wont whoever took the photos know that we know then.”
“I never thought of that. I think I’ll just toss it in the garbage, and it will be like we never had it.”

And I thought that was the end of it – one of our less painful decision-making processes. Then they knocked at my door the following evening. I was out the back putting on a load of washing when the doorbell rang. My heart froze when I opened the door.
“Mrs Dennings?” the one on the left asked.
I nodded mutely and the rest of what he said came out distorted, as if someone had hit the slow-mo button.

It was weeks later that Rabbit Photos called about the film. It was only then that I remembered the dressing table – the one we’d bought the afternoon before Marty was killed. Instead of throwing out the roll of film he’d taken it in to be processed. I wasn’t ready to leave the house nor was I prepared to say out loud ‘Sorry Marty’s dead.’ Somehow I managed to keep my voice steady and thank her. I said that someone would be in to pick the photos up soon.

They rang three times before I went in. I’m not sure why I even bothered because they weren’t our photos in the first place. I could have asked Barbara to collect them but I didn’t. I felt like I had already asked too much of her and now she tut tutted to my face. Finally I drove myself the three kilometres to the shopping centre and spared myself the inconvenience of awkward questions.

“Please accept our condolences,” the manager said as I handed over the twenty dollar note and waited for the change.

I’d grown so used to those words that I nodded without thinking, kept my eyes lowered and accepted the envelope without again making eye contact. To do so would admit Marty was gone and I still wasn’t ready for that. Later as I pulled into the garage I realised it was an odd thing for them to say. I wondered if I had “widow” playing across my forehead in neon now.

From the shopping centre I drove straight to the next suburb to the house where we’d bought the dressing table. A real estate agent was knocking the For Sale sign loose of the front lawn with the insides of his over polished black shoes. He looked like an ungainly kid practising his soccer moves. A large SOLD sticker slashed the sign and I didn’t bother to get out.

When Marty was alive I had always decisive. I had to be, because he was prone to indecisiveness. My mother had been less kind when she’d said, “Martin is a ditherer love – you’ll have to wear the pants in the partnership or you'll spend your whole life going around in circle.” And I had. As I sat at the kitchen table with the photo pocket in my hand I didn’t know what to do – look at them, now or later? Put them away, throw them away – invite Barbara over to look through them?

I was glad that Martin had finally done something off his own back and made a decision. I smiled for the first time in weeks. He’d worn the pants for once. It never occurred to me until many years later that he would never have been on that damn roundabout that afternoon, if we'd never found that canister.

The smile faded when I took out the first photograph, blinking first, and then choking on the air that I was trying to force down my lungs. My hands shook as I laid them out one by one in front of me, side by side and then one on top of the other when I ran out of table space. Any sense of logic I’d had was suspended in time and space - and I still dont know now. I would have believed it was a sick joke had it not been for the date and time digitally stamped on the back of each photo, in addition to the handwritten date on the envelope they had come in.

The film had never been ours – we’d bought it with the dresser. Yet somehow, Marty was dead – dead in all twenty-four of the photos.
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Paul said...

Dammit that was eerie!

Glad I was reading this during the day and hadn't waited until later this evening Jodi. Very neat little twist.

Paul said...

I don't know how to say a page turner when you're reading on the web but it certainly had me hooked.

Smiler said...

Wow, you're such a great storyteller. This one had me on the edge of my seat with my stomach up in knots, wondering where you'd be going next. Fierce.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

High compliments from all of you - thank you! I'm glad that it worked because I had lots of fears that I'd got the timing wrong and that it was all really obvious (because it was obvious to me as the writer!) Any one care to offer up a suitable title ... that was what stumped me?

Paul A: I dont believe that I managed to spook you of all people! Perhaps after reading 'On Writing' I'm channelling a little of SK!!

Paul: Glad to have hooked you ...

Smiler: Welcome back here. It's a neat sense of satisfaction to know that you've evoked a somatic reponse in your reader (Beth's story did the same to me - felt like I'd been king hit in the sternum) I'll try for a kinder and more pleasent response next time.

b said...

I had wondered about those photos! So now it is my turn to ask the questions...would Martin have lived if they had just thrown the photos away. I seemed to me that the photos may have been a self fulling prophecy only come true if printed (spoken out loud).


SuseADoodle said...


Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment -- I stopped by here yesterday and read your story but it was so eerie I had to let it slide off before I came back to comment. I loved reading it. Hooked me. Almost want to know more about those horrible neighbors, Marty's manicures and the house being sold where the table had come from ...
I don't know why I assumed that the knock ont he door was someone coming to shoot Marty not to say he'd been killed in an auto accident -- probably because of how I'd thought about the film and what it might have been. Oh well ...

GREAT JOB! Ans I love your idea of a collection of the tales spawned by this prompt! I wonder if we could ever get the Write Stuff people to consider such a thing??

catherine said...

well written and very suspenseful. reminded me of a goosebumps story

Anonymous said...

it was eerie!
Timed to perfection, the conclusion was unpredictable. Each tale is becoming more captivating than its predecessor. Cant get enough. rjc

Smiler said...

Jodi: you don't have to go for kinder and gentler on my account unless that's what you're inspired to do - I actually like sitting on the edge of my seat stomach in knots, etc. If I can't handle something I just stop reading, so take it as the compliment is was meant to be. :-)