This came after our other teacher asked us to write a short story based on Erosive by Ali Smith, which can be found here http://textualities.net/ali-smith/erosive. It had to include:
- an oblique title
- a thread not linked to the main event
- dialogue without punctuation
- intro, middle, end and beginning in that order
- a broken relationship
- everyday activities which show state of mind
- a motif
I wasn’t sure what to do about at first. I’d originally done a piece on an ‘unusual voice’, so I wondered about doing it from the perspective of a cat, whose owner has died. But I didn’t think I could include all that I was meant to, so I had to look elsewhere. A friend gave me inspiration, and I began to think of how isolation could explain the broken relationship. It’s one of my best pieces, and I hope you enjoy it.
(Although my Creative Writing teacher completely disagreed…)
How long have I been here? Has it been too long, or not long enough? Time has become the constant disorientation of white, like up until now my life has just been a dream, and now I’m awake and trapped by the tangled sheets and unable to breathe. I look out the window. It is too dark to see and so the glass reflects my face back at me. The reflection is intersected by the decaying leaves and framed by the drooping flowers of the plant on the windowsill. I move into the bathroom, comb straw hair and brush grey teeth. They notice these things here. It hasn’t changed anything, but they’ll see it as an improvement. It seems like I’ve been asleep for a long time. I leave the room; leave the medicines and instructions on the bedside table. I bring the plant with me, look for water. You cannot drink the bathroom water, so I go looking elsewhere. Dead leaves fall off and float to the ground behind me.
I am about to water the plant at the sink in a kitchen when I am stopped by a man.
You can’t do that here, he says, the water has special chemicals in it. It’ll kill your plant instead of saving it.
Uh, I say.
Have you tried the bathroom in your room? he says. The water should be fine for the plant. You’re not supposed to be here either, are you? he says.
He ushers me out, and I keep walking, confused. I remember that the bathroom water isn’t drinkable, but I’m too late and the man has gone. I continue following the corridor, past an open door, through which there are many people talking and drinking tea and eating biscuits. One rushes out upon seeing me.
Hello dearie, I thought you weren’t meant to be out today? she says.
Flower, I say. Water.
I see, she says. Anyway dearie, how are you feeling?
Uh, er, I say.
What she says is: any problems? but what I hear is: do we need to increase your dosage again?
Er, I say, but she’s waiting for an answer. I shake my head tentatively, look down at the ground.
Come on then dearie, she says, grabbing my shoulder and pushing me back the way I came. Let’s get you back. She marches me back into the room, leaves me standing in the middle and loosely holding the dying plant.
Oh, naughty girl, she says as she looks at a clipboard, you missed your scan this morning. I’ll have to book you a new one. That’s what you get for wandering off, she says.
Flower, I say. Water?
Leave the plant! she says. I’ll water it in just a bit. Wait for me to come back.
She leaves and I continue to stand. The plant was a gift from my friends. I don’t want it to die. I stand like this whilst the whiteness creates spots in my eyes, still holding it, until I’m certain that she has forgotten. I step forward and try the door that she locked behind her. I move to the bed, place the plant against the pillow and fish around the floor under it. I come up with a dusty key that I had found under the bed a month ago. It’s not mine. I unlock and open the door, look back. Slumped against the pillow, the two remaining two withered flowers look like the drooping eyes of a friendship nearly dead. I pick the plant up. As soon as I exit the room, turning right this time, it is like I am transported from not unfamiliar surroundings to a maze of gleaming white and squeaking shoes. Blue lines lead me to a large room filled with people sat on chairs. Below the sign ‘reception’ and behind the counter are two women, one of them the person who forgot. She stands up, but it is the other woman who comes to me.
You alright love? she says. Do you need any help? She says that, but what she doesn’t say is: we were just talking about you and your plant. What’s wrong, the asylum full?
Flower, I say. Water.
Please, I say.
Yes, I’ve heard about your flower, she says, looking back at the other woman who is now sitting again. Let me have a look.
She wrenches the plant out of my resisting hands, tuts at the defiance shown.
Well love, she says, I think it’s one of them desert flowers. They don’t need water.
Dying, I say. Help.
You might actually have given it too much water, she says. Maybe you’ve been drowning it.
I look down at the flower. As she’s been talking three petals have drifted to the floor.
Why don’t you sit down there love? she says as she points at a chair. Don’t move until we can sort you out. Alright with you, who dini?
I sit hunched up, staring at the plant. I ignore the curious stares of the strangers on other chairs; flinch when a hand brushes my arm. I’m an anomaly to them. They are unaware that my brain still functions, if not well. Even if it doesn’t look like it, it still works. I keep watching the plant as people come and go. It dies in front of me, and I’m left holding an empty shell. My newly broken mind feels its loss keenly.
I’m in a hospital bed, telling worried friends that it’s for the best, that I’ll get better soon. I don’t tell them that it’s the kind of thing that will only get worse. The doctor enters, tells them that it’s just in case, hurries them out. One of my friends, a girl whose name I do not recall, has left a little pot of bright purple flowers by my bed, the name of which I have also forgotten. I ask the doctor and he doesn’t know. But he may never have known, whereas I (used to.) have just forgotten the name briefly. They are my favourites though, I remember that. Blank time on, and I still don’t know, until it has just become nothing, and nothing has ever had a name, not any that I remember.
When I was writing this one I put a bit of myself in the character. As someone who has depression, I felt that as I was writing I could be seeing my own future, if it goes really bad. I wanted to show that, despite outward appearances, the person is not stupid. It was kind of my small attempt to end the stigma against mental illnesses.
I tried to use a lot of symbolism throughout the piece. The attempts to keep the plant alive were like trying to keep a friendship alive. Looking for water, with which to revive the plant, was like searching for a way to keep a friendship going. The solution that they do find could end up doing more harm than good, and they are advised not to do it. In a case of ‘if you want something doing, do it yourself the nurse gives the easy option of letting someone else take care of the problem, however it does more harm than good. By not taking care of their own issues, they end up adversely affecting the plant’s condition, and it would also be likely to have a large impact on a friendship that is already on its last legs. By the end they adopt a laissez faire attiude, with the belief that things would improve if left alone. There is also the suggestion that it is an overabundance of care that has caused the problem, and the result of this is the plant and the friendship dying. However, the subsequent death of the plant gives the impression that it would have been better to take a chance and water the plant at the sink. It would have meant that at least something was done to remedy things, and so promotes the idea that ‘what’s worth the price is always worth the fight’. (If Today Was Your Last Day, Nickelback)
- No pure water – the water in both the bathroom and the kitchen will likely kill the plant, so we wonder why both the bathroom water and the kitchen water would have an affect on the plant’s condition. If it’s not fit for plants, then how can it be fit for humans? Promotes the idea that the place is an unhealthy one for the person, especially with the forceful and unkind nurses. By linking the beginning section to the plant dying, we wonder if the person is also fading away from their time in there, which again shows the poisonous element of the hospital.
- They are genderless and ageless – I kept the character completely anonymous so that people would find them easier to identify with. They could be an elderly man with dementia or a teenage girl with severe depression. They could be in a care home with abusive nurses, or their own minds could have distorted what they’re experiencing. The section labeled ‘beginning’, by showing the start immediately after the ‘end’ section, means that the reader is given a sense of what might happen in the future, from normality to severe problems. The lack of a timescale also makes it easier to identify with, as we are unaware if the decline happened quickly, or was a slow decay.
- Only describes their body possessively – up until the ‘beginning’ part they only use possessive language when they are talking about themselves. This provides a sense of detachment from their surroundings, as if they are moving through a dream land. This also helps to give the impression that they are the only thing they trust in the situation, whereas before, in the ‘beginning’ section, it is clear that they had accepted what was happening, and could therefore deal with it appropriately. This contrasts to their future, as they seem to be rejecting what they once recognised as being their fate.
Please let me know if you see anyhing else of interest!