Because She Could: Part 1

January 10, 2014 § 18 Comments

A short story in two parts. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.

Enjoy – and any feedback, as always, will be appreciated!

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The first time it happened, Isabella was playing in the garden. She’d fallen off the swing and landed upside down on her head. A feeling of lightness stirred in her solar plexus, spreading through her body until the tips of her toes tingled with a pleasurable kind of emptiness. Isabella looked down and saw herself lying crumpled in the grass. She was floating – or to be precise – something that had been inside her body had got out and was cruising around in the sunlight in a rather disorderly fashion. Isabella had left her body behind.

She hovered for a while trying to keep her balance, then discovering a pair of invisible limbs, moved them back and forth in a kind of frenetic breaststroke she’d been practicing at swimming club. The air was slippery and heavy like water.

‘What are you doing up there?’ her mother yelled. ‘If you go any higher you won’t come back, and you’ll stay dead forever.’

Isabella looked around but couldn’t see her mother anywhere. She pointed herself sleek as a shark, and swooping down into the garden slipped back inside her body. She had found the sensation of lightness utterly delightful.

Isabella came round and opened her eyes. Bright lights flickered at the end of her bed, and machines were clicking like the crickets that hung upside down on her bedroom ceiling. Everything echoed and was making her head swim. She closed her eyes tight shut.

Her mother sat by the bed squeezing a handkerchief.

‘Where am I?’ Isabella asked.

‘In hospital, my love.’

‘Why?’

‘You had a little accident.’

Isabella blinked, and squinted at her mother. ‘What did you mean about me staying dead forever?’

‘I said nothing of the sort. All I did was shriek and dial 999. You must have imagined it.’

‘But I didn’t.’

‘Have a little nap, sweetheart,’ her mother sniffled. ‘They think you’ve got concussion.’

Isabella never forgot that day, and on the way home from hospital she decided she’d never, ever go flying again in case she got stuck and ended up dead.

But she wasn’t altogether successful. It started happening again. If she was cross, or frightened – or just wanted to be somewhere else because she was bored – she slid out of her body and cruised around for a while. After about five minutes – although she was never sure how long it really was as time was passing in a rather peculiar way – she slid back in again. Although it was a nice feeling, Isabella found being in two places at once rather confusing.

Nobody seemed to notice anything strange, until her mother made an announcement. ‘Your father and I have thinking,’ she said. ‘You’re always falling asleep these days. It might help if you went to bed earlier.’

Isabella rarely argued with her mother – it wasn’t worth the trouble when she used her slow, loud voice – so she went to bed half an hour earlier every night. It didn’t help. She still fell asleep without warning in front of the telly, and however hard her mother shook her, Isabella wouldn’t wake up until her body had joined itself up with the rest of her.

She didn’t really mind about the early nights, because she could go places without anyone noticing. She kept an atlas under her bed, and was soon travelling the world. She flew around corners and saw things that were supposed to be private, like next door’s baby being born; and she flew so high she could see the whole planet revolving in front of her in bright shades of green and blue. If somewhere took her fancy – like Italy because it was shaped like a boot – or the Horse Latitudes where she could hunt for her favourite animal, she would point her arms into a dive, and zoom in like a telescope to get a better look.

Isabella stayed tired, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. ‘Must be psychological’, he said. ‘I recommend lots of sleep.’ Then it happened: Isabella stopped leaving her body.

That winter the dog got sick. Titus was old and stiff, and could no longer climb the stairs to sleep in his favourite place on Isabella’s bed. He got thinner too, because he forgot to eat. He lay in his basket all day, and even refused the chocolate she saved for him in secret.

‘His body’s wearing out,’ said her mother. ‘Soon it will be time for him to go to heaven.’

‘Is that where I nearly went?’ Isabella asked.

‘I really don’t know, my love. But it’s alright now because you don’t go there anymore, do you?’

‘No, I don’t, she replied.

Every night for a week, Isabella stroked the old dog’s bony frame. ‘It’s probably very nice in heaven,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sure you’ll like it.’

On the seventh day, his breathing slowed down to a whisper, and the air around him turned dark into a grey cloud. He opened his eyes wide, looked hard at his mistress, and breathed out a loud, slow sigh. A shiny, bright shadow rose slowly from his body and hovered above his head. Isabella put out her hand to catch it, but it floated through her flesh – like her hand wasn’t there – and was gone.

She put her lips to his ear. ‘Are you coming back, Titus? If you don’t do it soon, you might get stuck there forever.’ Titus paddled his front legs like he was having a chasing dream, then lay perfectly still.

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§ 18 Responses to Because She Could: Part 1

  • Marvellous! I can honestly say that I was hooked from your opening sentence, and the way that you have unfolded your story so far is wonderful. I like the way that you have left just enough doubt for the reader to consider what is the true nature of what has happened (a near-death experience, a free soul drifting between lives, a dream, the possibility that she has actually died and is dreaming what her life might have been, a pure metaphor for how ‘growing up’ smothers our natural creativity – I could go on, but won’t!). Each paragraph has opened up just a little more, which is most tantalising, and I think that the death of Isabella’s dog and what she experiences with it is a very clever device.
    I wait with baited breath for Part Two!

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      You have a wonderful imagination! I hadn’t thought of most of those possibilities. I find the difficulty is giving just enough information to make the reader want to read on. I’ve often been accused of not giving enough so the reader just gets confused! Thank you for your useful, sensitive comments. I’m a bit down about writing at the mo, and you’ve really helped.

      • You shouldn’t be, Rachael, as you have a wonderful turn of phrase and know how to use your words to paint evocative pictures. Personally I feel that the most effective writing is that which makes one think and stimultes the reader’s own imagination. I, generally, do not want to be told the minutest details about each character and setting – I want the words to ge my mind racing. Stay positive, keep writing and take care. Chris.

        • Rachael Charmley says:

          Of course I agree. Poetry and short stories – I think – are made good or even great, by what is omitted or simply alluded to.
          Blips of doubt are necessary sometimes – they allow the opportunity to free fall if I’m anxious about a piece or holding on to tightly to an idea that doesn’t want to work. The trick is to know what’s going on! Have a good weekend.

  • mikesteeden says:

    Lovely story – even as an old atheist I liked how Titus took his ‘rest’ on the seventh day!

  • JessicaHof says:

    I liked this. It did what you so often do – grabbed the reader from the start. It took me on the sort of journey you are so good at providing – some disconcerting but delicious uncertainty about what had really happened, and then what you may not like hearing, but is so, that child’s voice you get just right; you somehow capture the child’s view, whilst remaining an adult. You are so good at capturing ‘child-like’ but never being childish. Looking forward hugely to part II.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, Jess. So pleased you liked it. The second half is looking like a shipwreck at the moment, but I’ll post it anyway as I said I would!
      I don’t mind a bit about the child’s voice. It is indeed a compliment! Have a nice peaceful weekend.x

  • Miranda Stone says:

    Ah, that ending with Titus really got me! And I agree completely with JessicaHof–you have a gift for capturing your character’s voice, be it a child or adult–and maintaining it throughout the story. That can be tricky, particularly when writing from a child’s POV. One suggestion I would make to you if you’re not doing this already–read your work out loud. I noticed just a couple of words used repetitively very close together, such as “help” and “although.” (I always find these little things in my work when I read it aloud, because I seem to skim over them when reading silently). I look forward to reading the second part tomorrow, Rachael!

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks Miranda. This piece, in a much cruder form, was shortlisted for a major competition a while back, but it needed a lot of work.
      I do read out loud but I still don’t spot things!!
      Have a good weekend.

      • Miranda Stone says:

        That’s fantastic that it was shortlisted, Rachael! I can see why–it’s a compelling story. Do you plan on continuing to work with it and maybe submitting it elsewhere?

        • Rachael Charmley says:

          I’m not sure. I’ve had two rejections and no luck in a local competition – all in a month! Next week should therefore be ‘brush myself off and do it some more’ week!

  • This was beautiful, the last scene brought a tear to my eye..
    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

  • exiledprospero says:

    Eloquent fantasy. You strike a good balance between dialog and description. Imagination, for children, knows no bounds.

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