In the William Shakespeare Room (F2K): Lesson 6

Finally, we’re at the last lesson. I hope this piece fit the brief. My last lesson 6, I had a comment that it wasn’t a short story but a chapter in a longer one so this time, I kept that in mind.

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The phone inside the flat rang as I sat crumpled on Rafaella’s patio. The morning glory flowers snaking along the trellis next to me were still unfurled but the backs of my thighs were already plastered to the patio chair. A sultry breeze kissed my face, tasted my heart in the dampness on my cheeks.

dontcrydontcrydontcrydontcrydontcry

My head lay limp on the chair back; my eyes squeezed shut as I worked to silence the shrill ring. I’d closed the screen doors when I left my cold bed, but left the outer glass sliding door slightly ajar. Before today, I’d always remembered to close both. I let the phone continue to ring, hesitant to leave my temporary refuge.

It’s strange how you could be thisclose to a person one day and the next, hate their guts, wish you’d never met them. Sam and I epitomised this. My heart started racing and I breathed in through my nose, inflated my lungs and exhaled, contracting my abdominal muscles so that my stomach would concave. Although, concave was an optimistic description of the landscape of my stomach at that moment. I repeated this five more times until I felt my muscles relaxed.

Weary of the unrelenting ringing, I dragged myself from the chair, pulling on the roots sprouting from my feet. The action pinched and I let myself relish the pleasurable pain. My hand was a fingertip away from the sliding door when the ringing stopped. The sudden silence ballooned and my ears felt like it would pop. I dropped my hand and stood there; relief and disappointment washed through me in equal measure.

I returned to the chair I’d vacated only moments before and let the honeyed fragrance of frangipanis that wafted from Susan’s house next door assailed my senses.

Frangipanis, they make me feel melancholy. Sam and I had our first real conversation beneath a frangipani tree. The pure white ones, not the pink. I wanted to move away because my grandfather, once told me that frangipanis were guardians of the dead and this was why they were prolific in cemeteries. Sam didn’t sense my discomfort though and sat down on the curb. He grabbed my hand, pulled me down beside him and asked me how come the auntie charges me half price for the bowl of noodles at the corner coffee shop. I laughed, forgetting for a moment that I was beneath a frangipani tree, and gave him the first piece of my heart. And my phone number too.

Unsurprisingly, my thoughts drifted to the phone – its beige shell with faded grey buttons, the numbers barely discernible. It was already in the flat when I moved in.

“Does this work?” I asked Rafaella, using my forefinger to write my initials in the layer of dust that encased the phone.

“Yes, yes. You use this, okay, no buy new one,” she replied.

Eventually, I learnt that the beige phone belonged to a previous tenant, a messy fellow, Rafaella informed with a grimace, who kept his unwashed underwear in the dishwasher. I never used the dishwasher since.

Sam was the first person I’d called 18 months ago, when I unpacked the last of my clothing from my purple suitcase, folded them and placed it in the second drawer from the top in the dresser Rafaella had left in the flat.

We’d been inseparable for almost two years, best friends for nearly twice that long. The decision to try this long distance relationship had been an uneasy but necessary one. In the end, I’d promised not to plant roots here and to soar back to him when I was done. My wings were ready to sprout from my back.

“Thank you.” Sam’d said. His gratitude kept me warm during the Canadian winter and beyond. His hello, that first phone call after I’d settled in, was initially tentative, but once he’d learnt it was me, our exchange filled with I miss yous and I love yous. His husky murmurs intoxicated me.

Over the next few months, the beige phone was as vital to me as sunlight to cacti.

I remembered sultry nights on my couch-slash-bed, the receiver supported between my ear and shoulder, as we spoke softly of our Future Plans.

“A Short Engagement,” he said. “Ephemeral.”

“A Small Wedding.” I insisted. “And we’ll ask the green hummingbirds from my parent’s garden to gift us a tune!” I was overwhelmed with Wedding Ideas. I’d never been happier.

***

The two-inch crack on the right side of the phone was a scar from our last conversation. I missed Sam immensely and tired of seeing him only in my monochromatic dreams.

“Come visit me,” I asked.

“You’re too far,” he demurred, “and anyway, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

I slammed the phone down and the crack appeared.

The beige phone was silent throughout the night and deep into the next day, and I reviled that contraption of torture. However, the following sunset, it rang.

Sam had had a sleepless night too. He loved me, he declared. And he was foolish, he admitted. I held back my recriminations including every teardrop that had threatened to burst forth from within. It was only when I felt his weeping seep through the receiver that I finally felt safe enough to unleash my anguish.

“Us. Our love, it’s getting difficult,” I confessed.

“I know.” Sam muttered.

I loved the phone again. But the romance was short-lived.

***

It was Sam’s idea to take turns to call every Friday. Having a schedule and following it, he explained, meant there’d be little chance of missing one another. He’d called several times before, he complained, in a gentle way, and was exasperated when his calls were unanswered. I’d laughed. He wasn’t amused.

It was Thursday, the day before my turn to call. I had good news; my thesis proposal was accepted with the utmost joy! My dear beige phone beckoned to me the entire day: be spontaneous! Call him! Delight coursed through me as I succumbed and dialed his number.

His phone rang.

And rang.

And rang.

Where was he? Out? In class? No, it was too early where he was. I was ready to hang up when I heard the familiar click of the phone being answered. Immediately, I launched into my Hellos and How are yous before Sam could greet me.

When I eventually stopped to catch my breath, I heard only silence. Not even the sound of his breath.

“Hello?” I began again.

“Who is this?” A sleepy female voice asked.

My hand froze around the receiver. Ice formed, and broke, then reformed in my heart. An avalanche buried the world I’d built with him, deep inside me.

My ear still pressed against the handset, I heard the rustle of sheets and then Sam’s voice in the background “Babe, don’t!”

babebabebabebabebabe

Puzzling.

My Happy Ever After was swiftly evaporating but my mind was fixated on Sam’s voice when he uttered Babe. He’d never called me Babe. I was always either Eva or Dear, or when he was being especially affectionate, Honey. I hoarded the Honeys, all seventeen of them during our time together, in the world inside me.

I laid the receiver down gently and another crack appeared. I loathed the phone. Detested it. I wanted it damaged, for its body to reflect the wreckage inside me.

Eventually, I slept, but perhaps it was just that I passed out from a broken heart.

It was Friday morning and the sky was gradually being filled with mammatus clouds pregnant with rain. The beige phone rang.

It was him. I was sure. He’d attempt to placate me and tell me it was a momentary lapse. He’d tell me that I was the only woman he’d ever loved. His words had power to melt the ice that encased my heart, but I’d always remember that he’d never called me Babe.

dontcrydontcrydontcrydontcrydontcry

I tuned into the papery rustling of leaves that meandered through the air. New roots erupted from my feet and burrowed into the ground, anchoring me to this place. I gritted my teeth against the sharp pain. Inside my flat, the phone continued to ring. The ring slowly became part of the symphony of my life and memory by memory, the happy days fled.

(WC 1380)

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In the William Shakespeare Room (F2K): Lesson 5 Characterisation

Yay! An original Lesson 5! Again, the ideas preferred to stay in my head. Forcing them out through my fingers was a pain but I did it! It could’ve been better, in my opinion but I think it’s ain’t half-bad 🙂

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“So Ev, who was that guy?”

“Which guy?”

“The one you were nose to nose with at the elevators the other day? He’s dreamy.”

“Alexandra! Were you spying on me? I didn’t see you in the lobby that day so how would you know about that?”

“Many little birdies told me, and this isn’t about me, Ev, it’s about you and Dreamy. So, who is he?”

“No one.”

“Please, evasion doesn’t work with me and from what I heard, the both of you held up traffic at the elevators. Everyone else had to go around the both of you to get in and out of the lifts and I’m sure you didn’t even realise it.”

“Really?”

“Stop it! And answer the question already! Or I’ll go over to your desk and switch out your nicely sharpened pencils with my delightfully blunt ones…”

“All right, all right! Leave my pencils alone! His name is Benjamin and he’s absolutely NOT dreamy. A nightmare, yes. Dreamy, nuh-uh.”

“And…?”

“You asked me who he was and I just told you, Alex.”

“Hmmm…this sounds like a lady-doth-protests-too-much scenario which implies that this Benjamin-who-isn’t-dreamy got under your skin. Interesting…”

“There is nothing interesting about this whole thing, and he is NOT under my skin.”

“All I’m hearing is more protests…Eva and Benjamin sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-“

“Okay, I’ll spill! You’re really annoying; you do know that, right, Al?”

“Yes, and still I’m your bestest best friend in the entire world. Okay, I’m ready, go!”

“I’m so going to regret this. Okay, you remember Selena, my childhood friend who’s getting married in 2 weeks?”

“Yep, the one who’s making you wear that silvery-peach ugliness she calls a bridesmaid gown.”

“Alex…”

“Okay, I’ll can the sarcasm. A little.”

“She invited everyone in the wedding party to a pre-wedding get-together last weekend so that all the bridesmaids could meet the groomsmen. Also, she wanted to let us know her expectations for the wedding so that we don’t screw up her momentous day. Quote, unquote.”

“That sounds exactly like the Selena you moaned and groaned to me about. Tell me, why are you her bridesmaid again? Wait, don’t answer that, we were talking about Benjamin.”

“I’m getting there. Well, Benjamin was at the get-together because he’s Tobey’s best man. Apparently, they’re childhood friends as well and I haven’t met him before because he’d just returned from working in Tokyo the past couple of years.”

“Oooohhh..and you’re the bridesmaid. You know what they say about the bridesmaid and the best man getting together on the wedding day…”

“That’s absolutely not going to happen-“

“Come on, Eva, why do you have to be so negative all the time! Have hope! He’s tall and dreamy. You’re single, you guys looked good together. According to my little birdie informants.”

“Alexandra, it’s not going to happen because Benjamin is married.”

(WC 476)

In the William Shakespeare Room (F2K): Lesson 4 Conflict

Lesson 4 is not my favourite lesson, to be honest. For me, conflict always seems major and trying to write about a minor conflict is hard. I wanted to do a new piece for this one and already had some words down but then time ran away from me again (or I ran away from time) and so had to scramble to put up my lesson, which was a re-tooling of a previous lesson. Note to self: This shall be the last time I use a previous lesson and submit it as a new one…

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Eva grinned as she watched her younger sister Cassandra race down the stairs in her customary the-world-is-too-slow-for-her-magnificence flair. Her untied midnight hair streamed behind her like a superhero’s cape and her ear glued to her mobile while she spoke into it at a million miles a minute. Eva shook her head at the sight of her sister who was likely going to be late for school that day as the aroma of coffee and burnt waffles filled the kitchen.

Eva began to turn away from her younger sister’s exuberance but her gaze caught a familiar accessory which dangled from Cassandra’s right wrist – a leather bracelet with three blue and white porcelain circlets in a row; a gift from Grandpa to Eva.

When Cass reached the kitchen, Eva asked in the most neutral tone that she had in her “Is that my bracelet, Cass?”

“Yep.” Cass tossed the reply towards Eva and walked to the kitchen island and filled a mug with chicory-flavoured coffee.

Eva winced at the reply. “I don’t mind when you borrow my things but that bracelet is quite precious to me so I’d appreciate if you ask me beforehand.”

“Well, I’m wearing it now so that’s me asking you if I can wear it, ‘kay? Besides, it was the only accessory that matched my outfit today. What do you think?” Cass twirled showing off her trim figure draped in a light blue sundress that showcased her tan.

“Cass…” Eva continued, “You know what? Can you just give it back to me?”

“Seriously! What’s the big deal?! It’s just a darn bracelet!”

“Grandpa gave it to me, it’s kind of important…” Eva reached out towards Cass. The bracelet was the only thing she had of their grandfather. Cass was just a baby when he died and hardly knew him. To Cass, it was an accessory that matched her outfit. To Eva, it was everything.

“You want your bracelet – here!” Cass wrenched the bracelet from her wrist and flung it towards Eva. Eva felt the cool porcelain of the bracelet meet her right cheek, felt the welt that it would become and watched the bracelet hit the kitchen tile in so many pieces. Could she put all the shattered pieces back together?

(WC 370)

In the William Shakespeare Room (F2K): Lesson 2 Activating the Senses

I was so behind on posting this lesson because I procrastinated eventhough I had the seed of Part 2 firmly lodged in my brain. Getting it onto paper was torture. But I did. Part 2 is based on a sort-of true incident.

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Part 1

1. The music from the live band mingled with the chatter of the patrons at the bar.

2. They turned the corner and I resorted to following their shadows cast on the road.

3. I thrust my hand into the pockets of the jacket I borrowed from him and felt the crinkle of paper in the right pocket.

4. I removed the cherry lip gloss from my purse, touched up my lips then licked them, savouring the tart sweetness of cherry.

5. Tobacco smoke lingered at the table I occupied, perhaps from its previous occupant.

6. It was three songs ago that I’d ordered another beer but still no one came to deliver it.

7. The seating was crowded together that everytime I moved, I bumped into the person behind me.

8. The road forked and you have no idea where each path led.

Part 2

The sun had just set when I found myself sitting at the Drunk Monkey, a quaint street bar at the corner of Carpenter Street and Bishopsgate Lane. I was looking forward to savouring the citrusy notes of my favourite beer and to speculate about the personal lives of the pedestrians ambling along the narrow lane filled with boisterous watering holes and tacky souvenir shops. The owners of the bar had strung up fairy lights above the seating area which cast a soft glow on the patrons of the bar. It was almost romantic. Almost. I traced the condensation racing down the beer bottle, lifted it and tilted my head back, allowing the cool liquid to slide down my throat. The luscious scent of Buffalo wings from the next table wafted towards me and my stomach growled with appreciation. I lifted my hand, attempting to catch the attention of the wait staff to order my own portion of Buffalo wings when a familiar figure appeared along Carpenter Street. Benjamin. I smiled, hopped off my high stool and started racing towards him. He’d told me he was having dinner at work! I neared him then stopped. He was with a woman, one I’d never seen before, and they were holding hands.

(WC 209)

In the William Shakespeare Room (F2K): Lesson 1 Character Introduction

I’ve always used the F2K session as an opportunity to ‘exorcise’ issues that I’m working through. So it came as to no surprise that I decided to focus my writing assignments around what I’m going through (or not going through) with regard to Benjamin.

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I remember the moment I was born.

It was a Thursday afternoon, approximately 3 weeks ago. Amelia was at her favourite Chinese restaurant, Chatterbox, having egg foo yung fried rice and iced Chinese tea. Mid-way through the meal, after watching a couple at the next table argue in hushed tones and erratic hand gestures, she reached into her bag, pulled out her notebook and a pen and gave birth to me.

She named me Benjamin and according to what Amelia scribbled in her notebook, I’m going to have an affair with a woman named Elyse. Or Eva. Amelia hasn’t quite decided what to name her yet, only that the name starts with an ‘E’.

I’m wondering now if I’m the right person to introduce Amelia. After all, I’m quite new in her life and my story only consists of a few hastily written paragraphs. I’ve looked around for the other characters Amelia created before me, wondering who’ll introduce her this session of F2K but strangely enough, they’re all silent, much to Amelia’s dismay. Since there isn’t anyone else, even Elyse/ Eva is hiding somewhere, I suppose it’s up to me then to share what I know so far about my creator.

These are some of the things I’ve learnt about Amelia.

She names her characters after actual people in her life. For example, I am named after a Benjamin that Amelia met when she started her new job at a university a few months ago. Apparently, she has a love-hate relationship with the real Benjamin which I fear may spill over to my story. That’s also something else I learnt, Amelia tends to write stories that mirror events in her own life.

My story is the first story she’s written in months and Amelia could not be happier at this turn of events. She has been struggling to write but nothing came to her and the characters she created previously had nothing to say to her. Writer’s block didn’t stop Amelia from carrying around a notebook though. Just in case.

Hmmm…what else have I discovered about Amelia? Oh! She reads at least three books at the same time. Different moods require different books; I’ve heard her mumble to herself. I’ve seen her read all types of books – from self-help to fantasy to the classics. I wonder what genre my story will turn into; I think I can pull off swashbuckling. I don’t like that I’m having an affair and I hope that Amelia will change her mind about me.

I wish I could tell you more about Amelia but I too am still discovering her quirks. Anyway, I’m not sure if you’ll see me this F2K session; Amelia hasn’t quite decided it seems. I really hope so though, this classroom sounds like it’s filled with fun folks!

(WC 467)