Showcase: Dining Room, Kitchens + The Trip
Edited by Amber Hall
Hello, Write On! readers and welcome to my third showcase. You can connect with me on Instagram: @amber.marie.123 and Twitter: @amber_marie_123
Our theme again this week is ‘Worlds Apart’ and I’d like to kick off with two pieces written by Write On! regular Claire Buss. Last week, we featured the first piece in this series, which sees the writer redefining the domestic spaces we know so well. This time, kitchens and dining rooms serve as the backdrop; the relative normalcy of these spaces has been subverted, to create a dissonance that, once again, has an unsettling effect on the reader.
I especially like the use of repetition in this first piece, Dining Room. It speaks to the monotony of daily life, which really amplifies the micro-narratives that unfold within the subsequent paragraphs.
“The dining table is for eating, not killing your brain.”
Mark’s mum sounded weary as she tried in vain to get her son off his phone long enough to eat dinner with her. It didn’t work. He just grunted in response and went back to scrolling through his newsfeed, pausing to like and comment on particularly funny memes.
“The dining table is for eating, not cleaning your football boots.”
Andrew’s wife pleaded with her husband but knew it was pointless. The table was not only a convenient dumping ground, it was an excellent workspace with all the good lighting available to see what he was doing and comfortable chairs to sit in. He promised to clean up after himself but she knew that would never happen.
“The dining table is for eating, not creating modern art.”
Julia’s granny gestured at all the art supplies all over the table and flinched when she noticed PVA glue dripping off the side and the upturned tube of glitter mingling happily with pencil shavings and felt-tip pen marks.
“The dining table is for eating.”
Adele said to herself mournfully as she draped dust sheets over the table and chairs, knowing that she would never host another dinner party, never have another family gathering, never lay the table again. They were downsizing. The dining room would become a forgotten relic in their photo album, exclaimed about no doubt when she passed away and the children’s children pawed through old photographs.
“Look at this table, love! Perfect for what we need.”
Kate jigged up and down happily as her boyfriend paid the secondhand dealer for the furniture, picked it up and slung it into the back of their van. The table jostled with various other pieces of wood on the bumpy journey, earning itself a vicious gash across it’s top. It didn’t matter, the disfigurement made it easier for Kate to chop the wood in two. She repurposed furniture for a living and would be able to make several small coffee tables from one dining table.
“The coffee table is for drinks, not your feet!”
Adele barked at her husband for the umpteenth time. There was something about her coffee table that made her feel extra protective. She buffed the surface with her cuff and smiled to herself.
(c) Claire Buss, 2019
Tess staggered to the kitchen counter and held on for dear life, her throat beginning to constrict making it difficult to breathe. With blurry eyes, she tried to look for something obvious she could use but it was hopeless, she couldn’t make out anything. Shaking her head in an effort to clear her vision unleashed a banging headache that made her gasp. She couldn’t fail now. Not here. Not in the kitchen.
She needed something to make herself sick. That would empty the contents of her stomach and should slow the effects. Think! she screamed to herself and then she had an idea. Stumbling to the sink Tess scrabbled for anything she could drink water from. There, a plastic beaker. That would do. As she fumbled for the tap, a sudden thought occurred to her. He wouldn’t. Lifting the beaker to her nose she caught a sweet aroma. Dammit. It was laced with hydrogen cyanide. Letting the beaker drop to the floor, she began frantically feeling around the kitchen, opening cupboard doors, seeing double and feeling like she was burning up.
The third cupboard was full of condiments. Grabbing the salt cellar, Tess moved back to the sink, bumping her hip against a cupboard door handle painfully as she misjudged the angle. Trying to hurry, she turned the tap on too fast and the water gushed out, splashing her top. Ignoring the wet fabric, she tipped the salt cellar into her mouth and then cupped her hands under the water, trying to scoop a drink. The gritty, salty water hit the back of her mouth, making her gag loudly, but years of trying not to barf were working against her and all she did was retch.
In desperation, Tess shoved two fingers down the back of her throat. This finally tipped her body’s reflex into action and she threw up noisily in the sink. She rested for a moment before giving in to her shaky legs and sinking to the floor. The room was pulsating and she felt incredibly light-headed, so she closed her eyes. Trying to take deep breaths, she made herself focus on relaxing. Breathing in and out slowly, Tess managed to slow her heart rate and take stock of her symptoms. She still felt sick, but the headache was receding and it was getting easier to breathe. Opening her eyes cautiously, she noticed the double vision was improving. She’d done it.
“Congratulations, Miss Winters. You’ve passed the practical but next time, don’t waste time with saltwater. Remember – you are everything you need.” Professor Guterriez smiled down at Tess encouragingly before walking to the next poisoning assessment in the adjoining test kitchen.
(c) Claire Buss, 2019
The following piece is an excerpt from a short story I wrote during a recent holiday. Here, the narrator is in transition. She is ‘Worlds Apart’ from what she knows, both in a physical and psychological sense. I was thinking a lot about what drives us to pursue change and the things that make us resistant to it, trying to capture the ambivalence and unease we feel in times of transition or upheaval.
We’re often so focused on the endpoint that we lose sight of the journey, and I think this is especially true of writing. Sometimes, we get so caught up on finishing a piece we miss out on the process. Getting away, without the distractions of everyday life, I was able to be more present while writing, allowing me to tune into the creative process and reflect upon the effect it has on me. Writing transports me to another world, in a sense. It gets me into a flow state and I always feel like I’m tapping into something very fundamental about myself when I do it. I’m sure this is an experience we all share!
“Come away with me,” he says. And, in my delirium, I go.
The journey is long, and it’s late in the evening before we arrive. It’s quiet and balmy and, even though we’re high up, there’s no breeze. We drove for what seemed like an eternity, traversing the narrow, winding roads to get here. It’s a typical Andalusian village: quaint and hilly, with whitewashed buildings littering the slopes. It’s by the coast, too. I thought perhaps the sea air would do me good, although I’ve never fared well outdoors.
As a child, I couldn’t understand why my peers would revel in the grazed knees and ruddy complexions they’d acquired after spending so much time outside during the summer months. My mother – afraid that my comparatively pallid appearance reflected badly on her – would usher me out, exiling me from the home. And then, the vastness of it all would hit me. I always felt I was being watched by some unknown, terrifying thing lurking amongst the trees and bushes, so I’d sit on the front step, refusing to venture any further. For me to journey this far is, to say the least, out of the ordinary.
We’ve barely said two words to each other since the flight, and the silence is palpable. Is the gulf revealing itself already? I can only hear the cicadas and my own breathing, which is louder than usual. I suppose I must be nervous, although I’m so rarely in touch with my emotions that it’s hard to know for certain. But in the quiet, I notice that it’s something physical: a fizzing in my extremities, as though everything I’ve kept down is bubbling up.
I’m right to feel something. After all, we’ve only known one another for a short while: three, maybe four months? Perhaps this has been the allure all along? Was it just the feeling of something – whatever it is, or was – that got me here? Because really, this man, this person with whom I have decided to spend the rest of my days, is a stranger. But I have nothing and no one else, and the love of a stranger is surely better than no love at all?
(c) Amber Hall, 2022
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