Thursday, 27 October 2011

Short story: The Videotape

For the aforementioned short story course I was doing, we had to work on a 1,000-word story to read out in the final week. This was my story. It's sort of adapted from an idea I had for a collection of stories about people with sad tales to tell. The collection would have more impact than one story on its own (well that's my idea anyway) but this had to be butchered quite a bit to get down to the word count, and in order to try and put into practice the tips I received on the course I gave it a 'twist' which on reflection, I probably wouldn't do in the final story.

But anyway, here it is! Comments/constructive criticism as always, much appreciated:

The Videotape

The day I found the videotape had been just like any other.
Breakfast, put some washing on, think about what to do with myself in those long dead hours in the afternoon, between lunch and the six o’clock news, when my tea would be ready. I found myself envying the vegetables I was chopping as I put them into the slowcooker, knowing each carrot, parsnip and swede cube was nestled safely and purposefully in its own place, only one eventuality to become them all. Ha! Silly old fool, I told myself. Envying veg. What next? Better to put the long afternoon out of mind, work on your cross stitching, watch the news, and count your blessings before bed.
Except this Wednesday, I never got to the news.
A report on the radio reminded me of the talk at last Thursday’s social. Something about technology. As if a dozen or so widows cared about new technology! But it made me think about Bill and his love of gadgets.
In that instant I could see him, in his armchair nearest the telly, slapping his hands down on the arm rests and shaking his head.
‘It’s no good. We’ll have to get a new one.’
And that was it. I never asked why, or a new what? Just nodded and let him get the catalogues out to start comparing prices and models and specifications with faint pencil notes in a tiny red notebook.
I don’t know why I remembered the notebook, but I had a sudden urge to check – check that it was real, not imagined, that something tangible of dear Bill still existed. Before I knew it I was rummaging around in his precious Back Room.
Piles of books, magazines, papers and old boxes nestled together conspiratorially in the musty darkness. We’re safe, they seemed to say. Nothing ever changes in here.
As I tugged at one of the drawers in the old fashioned bureau that belonged to Bill’s father it came out clean in my hands, bits and bobs flying everywhere. My heart leapt – what would Bill say? Then I remembered, with a funny feeling in my stomach, that he couldn’t say anything because he wasn’t there.
So I ploughed on.
Old receipts, shopping lists, instruction manuals, light bulbs, screws and nails and wall hanging hooks. It was all there, just where he’d left it.
‘What on earth were you planning on doing with all this?’ I found myself wondering.
Instinctively, I started sorting things into piles, until I realised I was clearing out this bureau and I intended to do a proper job of it.
The notebook still hadn’t appeared when something else caught my eye. Hidden beneath ancient alarm clocks, radios and floppy discs was the old video player.
‘Videos? Pah. It’s all about digital versatile discs now love,’ I remembered him saying. But it was the only bit of kit I was interested in using. I used to tape old films to watch in the day, whilst ironing or stitching or the like. I didn’t fancy re-training to the new DVD player.
Now, with no accusing eyes watching, I grabbed it with both hands and pulled it free from its hiding place. Grabbing a few videotapes from an adjacent mountain I triumphantly bundled my booty back to the living room. After a few minor rearrangements of plugs and sockets, I heard the blip telling me the video welcome screen was running, clear as day. Where had this tech-savvy woman taking over her husband’s beloved technology come from? I barely knew myself.
In a daze, I shoved the first tape into the player and waited. The machine whirred and hesitated and seemed to get stuck, and I suddenly felt tired. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. My knees ached and my heart was racing with the sudden burst of activity. There was all the rubbish to put out and I’d have to unhook the damn thing as it looked so cumbersome and out of place in my neat living room.
Giving up, I left the machine clicking away and put the kettle on. Suddenly, I heard music.
Faint at first, then louder, but not like a film soundtrack, more like it was being played inside some other room. A voice, slightly muffled, was speaking in a few short sentences at a time. Curiosity got the better of me and I went to see what this strange film could be.
It wasn’t a film at all. It was a home movie. People, wobbly and faint with the passing of time, were dancing in pairs, in some kind of community hall. Then it twigged. Our anniversary party! I knelt right in front of the telly and turned the volume up.
Ahhh, look. The happy couple! It was Bill’s work colleague, Ian something or other. As he spoke, the shaky zoom focused and refocused again on a couple, dancing awkwardly in the centre of the room. It was me. Cradled in Bill’s arms. Clutched, more like. He always held on too tight, but I didn’t mind. We span amateurishly across the floor, all the while Bill catching people’s eyes, ever the friendly neighbour, chit chatting and making jokes with his friends. I basked in his being, allowing myself to be spun and twirled and shunted around the dancefloor like Cosmo dancing with the dummy in Singin’ in the Rain.
Then, as abruptly as it started, the screen flickered and was gone – replaced with static.
I struggled to rejoin the room. Where was Bill? What had happened?
It was just a normal Wednesday. Yet now it felt like the days and weeks and years had melted and merged and were swimming around in my vision like the black circles that formed when I looked away from the snowstorm of the screen at the disappearing sunlight. I closed my eyes and let my head sag down to my bony chest. That chest. It had been so close. So wedged in to Bill’s ample torso, squeezed until I could feel his heart beat against my bosom. Together we span, one person, never questioning the closeness that bound us, never contemplating how fragile that moment was, how quickly it would be gone. By the following Christmas, he was dead.
Slowly, carefully, I unplugged the wires and buried the video in its place back in Bill’s room. I shut the door, went back to the kitchen and made a cup of tea to drink before the news.
The last thing I remember is a warm, solid pressure against my chest. I imagined it was Bill, squeezing me tighter and tighter until I knew that my last breath would take me to him, I would be safe in his arms once again. When they found me, I was still smiling.


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