Friday, November 16, 2007

Photo prompt fiction

Joe’s girlfriend Dina took a picture of Joe in her father’s library one day. He wasn’t sure why she wanted him to stand with his arms crossed in front of her father’s library. There were lots of Greek and Roman books. Joe had read excerpts from ‘The Odyssey’ in high school. He liked Orwell, Burroughs, Ballard, people like that. Dina insisted he not smile in the photograph. She wanted him to look serious. A literary sort of guy. She stuck her fingers through the lacing on the front of his shirt and also through his hair. Dina really liked his hair. She told him about Samson and Delilah. Joe already knew about Samson and Delilah because his mother had been a devout Christian woman who had read the Bible to her older son until her husband left her. Everything changed afterwards. Dina’s mother thought Joe was ‘sweet’. Dina’s mother was much more beautiful and well-dressed than Joe’s mother, and she had a flatter accent.

Dina stepped away from him and took his picture. Later he found the picture distressing. He looked like an American Idol reject in his stupid shirt with his stupid hair. The books rose behind and above him like a vaguely potent symbol of… something.

The last time he saw Dina was the day before she left for a trip to Florence with her parents. She met someone literary, foreign and less boring there. There were two brief and straightforward phone calls, and that was it.

Three weeks later Joe was in a different city. There he met a girl. She worked in the Starbucks opposite the record store he worked in. He knew this because she was wearing a Starbucks work uniform, not because he had coffee there. Coffee gave him indigestion, plus he was new in the neighbourhood. Green was a perfect colour on her, and she had a few violet streaks in her shoulder-length hair. Taylor, who owned the record store, looked up at her with pure hatred in his eyes. It was the Starbucks uniform that had set him off. Joe had tried to explain to him before that being rude to prospective customers would do nothing to keep his flagging business in competition. The Starbucks girl shoved her very tiny hands into her pockets and peered at the vinyl on display. A boy no older than fifteen was browsing them, muttering and shaking his head. The boy was a friend of Joe’s younger brother from school. ‘Hey, Bren,’ said the Starbucks girl, in an unexpectedly raspy voice. The boy almost dropped the LP he was holding. ‘Uh,’ he said. ‘Uh.’ The Starbucks girl smiled, her hands still in her pockets. ‘Well, nice to see you.’

A few days later Joe and the Starbucks girl went on a date.

They saw a Wes Anderson movie and ate ice cream by the river. Joe was feeling peaceful. He was well and truly over Dina by now. It turned out that the Starbucks girl’s name was Mina. Joe was troubled by this fact, but chose not to let it show. Mina was a classic rock fan. He watched her pout prettily while she went on an extended rant about how much modern rock bands fucking sucked. Joe found it appropriate to mention that he thought Led Zeppelin was the best classic rock band. He did not add that he was no longer a fan of Led Zeppelin and had already given his entire collection, poster and t-shirt included, to his brother on his thirteenth birthday, who had actually jumped on to the bed and held him close in his chicken arms. Mina stared at Joe for a few seconds. She had a smear of ice cream on the corner of her mouth that Joe considered licking off but decided not to because that would be kind of corny. ‘Oh my God,’ she said. ‘Oh my God, I knew it, I knew it from your hair. Robert Plant has amazing hair.’ Joe blinked and tried to decide if this was an insult or a compliment or both.

They had sex and it wasn’t very good. Mina messed his hair up so that it covered his eyes and shut her own eyes tight. Then she sat up and smoked five cigarettes, craning her neck to look out the window of his apartment. ‘So,’ she said, finally looking at Joe. Joe wrapped one of the sheets around his waist and padded to the bathroom, where he found a porcelain soap dish. Silently he presented this to Mina. She looked at him through her hair. The violet streaks could not be seen in this light.

The next week he was in the record store arranging CDs in chronological order like Taylor wanted. Mina walked in again, but this time she was accompanied by another man. The man had long blond hair with corkscrew curls. His face was very unpleasant and he had enormous bags under his eyes. Mina talked to him and ignored Joe.

Joe went home after work and tried to read random issues of Wired before going into the tiny kitchen. He retrieved a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. He dug the spoon into the jar with a satisfying splotch. Then he started eating.

There was a small radio next to the kitchen window. He turned it on and rummaged in the drawers for a big pair of scissors. He wondered if he should finish eating the peanut butter first or cut all his hair off first. Joe walked into the bathroom with his scissors. He looked in the bathroom mirror. His hair looked limp and stupid. He could not remember why he had ever kept it that long. He wasn’t even a hippie.

He walked back to the kitchen. The radio was playing Led Zeppelin. It was the sort of thing that happened in movies and novels, but really it was just that the first station that always came up when he turned the radio was the classic rock station. Suddenly Joe was fourteen and chubby, watching TV in his bedroom, safe from the world. Robert Plant walked on the stage, wrists languid and chest glistening with sweat. He flipped his hair. He was bathed in golden light, most of it emanating from his body rather than from above. He was a god! And he knew it.

Equally suddenly Joe was adult again, and Robert Plant was wailing, don’t you hear, don’t you hear them falling, and Joe felt them, right on cue. He thought of Dina and he thought of Mina.

Then he sat down on the nearest chair and ate the rest of the peanut butter.


(better v v late than never, i daresay. i will try to upload the prompt photo sometime.)

Isheeta Basu Mallik

Monday, November 12, 2007

Let There Be Light.

Mukul Chakroborty stepped out of the cab and onto the sidewalk. It was unbearably hot. He turned the corner, fanning himself frantically with a newspaper and walked into Her. She was the stuff of dreams, nay, her beauty was beyond dreams even. This was who he had been waiting for all his life, this beautiful pilgrim of rarefied light. She was standing at the mouth of the Tunnel that led into the fish market and he had almost knocked into her.

He composed himself, this was big. “Breathe in, breathe out, relax, relax”, he muttered to himself. He reached out to tap Her on the shoulder when a large hammy hand clapped itself on his. “Arrey, hello hello Sirjee! How nice to meet you here! Buying fish, eh? Arrey hello Sevanti! You’re on time!” Mukul Babu shrank away from the strapping six foot tall young gentleman who towered above him and looked nervously at Her. She was smiling up at Arvind. He was appalled. “These girls, really, no brains at all, Arvind of all people! My God!” Arvind was the most gormless boy Mukul Babu had ever taught. Anyway, he was talking again. “Sirjee, this is Sevanti, my boss lady, model coordinator she is. I am doing modelling nowadays, you know?” He had not, in fact, known that. It made sense. “Oh, very good Arvind, you did rather well in sports, I remember. Much better than you did in Accounts.” The incredible hulk literally squirmed. “Oh never mind that, son, you’re doing well for yourself, I’m sure”. Arvind grinned sheepishly, reassured now that Sebanti would hear of no more embarrassing college stories. “Mukul Babu was my favourite teacher in college, Sevanti. Three years he taught me”. This was a blatant lie. Arvind had not attended many of Mukul Babu’s classes, only about one fourth. Half he spent punished outside class and the remaining fraction, he bunked. Mukul Babu could not quite see where this was going. “So Mukul Babu, I have come here for photo shoot. You have to come watch” , said Arvind and he dragged Mukul Babu into the dark labyrinth. Mukul Babu went sunblind for a few seconds before they stopped in front of a cleaned out fish stall. The raised concrete platform had been stripped clean of all piscine accoutrements, there were many men walking around looking busy, there were reflective sheets, neon lights and there was a photographer with a big camera. “Wow, impressive. Good work Arvind. Anyway, I must be off now”. “Heyy wait no, you can’t leave now, you have to watch everything! No, I insist”. With that Arvind jumped up on the exposed concrete slab and striking a heroic pose, took off his shirt. His face was lit up in the neon lights, bright red lips, glittering black eyes, beetling brows, the very picture of masculinity. Mukul Babu gaped. The photographer aimed and shot, aimed and shot. Somebody reached for a basket of fish and poured the glistening contents at Arvind’s feet. There were beautiful pools of light around Arvind’s head and feet, the rest shrouded in darkness. Arvind looked down at him and smiled, then the smile widened into a grin as he said, “Hello, Editor jee, why don’t you give Mukul Babu a chance to appear in your magazine? Hoist him up, let me take a few photos with him, you can use those too, no?” The editor seemed to think it was a good idea. “Oh My God! No! No! Please! I am old man!”, Mukul Babu’s pleas fell on deaf ears and several hands hoisted him up to the platform. Arvind gripped Mukul Babu and hoisted him up till they were equally high. It made for a strange but funny photo. The editor intended to use it, it would give his magazine the Human Touch without involving any breast cancer patients. Mukul Babu squeezed his eyes shut, he was truly sorry he had been so harsh on Arvind in college. He prayed for this humiliation to end. Next to his face, Arvind grinned. He’d been waiting for something like this to turn up for years.

Srinanda Ganguly.

A dialogue between a model and a proffessor, at a fishmarket.

Monday, November 05, 2007


The moon grew old and fat and bald. The astronaut pretended to sleep. The nurse tied him up securely, into a contraption of leather and metal that was only five weeks old.
‘Would you like some water now,’ said the nurse. His hand smoothed a corner of the sheet. He was a little embarrassed.
‘I am not your father,’ said the astronaut. His eyes were tiny glimmers in the dark.
‘That’s not the right answer.’
‘I’m not your father.’
The nurse poured some water into a cup. It was two in the morning. There were two chairs, both of which were nailed to the floor.
‘Are you going to kill me?’ said the astronaut, clenching his fists at his sides. His veins were like thin gnarled roots.
‘That’s not the right question.’
‘Jesus. Jesus.’
The nurse drank the water from the cup. He sat down on one chair, dragged his buttocks across the seat, crossed his legs, uncrossed them, stood up.
‘I just had something to tell you,’ said the nurse, and began to remove his shirt. His shirt was a deep red. He removed it slowly, almost sensually. The astronaut saw in the milky light how hairy the nurse was. The astronaut had stared down the void. This was not a void.
‘Jesus,’ said the astronaut. He didn’t believe in God.
The nurse turned.

* * *

The nurse was the fifth person to speak up. He spoke in a measured tone devoid of surface emotion. He seemed to be reciting the contents of a work of fiction written in a rather mannered style. This inspired some unease in the circle. In his clean white clothing and greyish white canvas shoes the nurse was more disturbing than a doctor.

‘I work in an old people’s home. Last Tuesday one of my charges, a Mr Hewett, reached eighty-five years of age. He celebrated by smearing icing all over his shirt and crying by the window. There was something cinematic and nightmarish about the way the little party disintegrated into a parody of a funeral. The single baroque candle on the cake seemed like a cruel joke. Mrs Doherty, another of my charges, started rocking on her feet, letting out choked sobs. Lizzie, a fellow nurse, put her guitar down and went to comfort her. Mr Hewett curled up against the windowsill and refused to move. He has two sons and a daughter, all of whom are employed adults living in this country.’

The rest of the group froze unanimously to digest this. The nurse added as an afterthought, ‘I have violent urges sometimes.’

A woman swathed in a pink cashmere sweater reached out towards the nurse. The nurse’s arm was cool and hard under her soft palm. ‘Thank you, dear, for sharing that.’

The sixth person to speak up said, ‘I like to break into my neighbour’s beach house on summer evenings and lie naked on his roof under the stars. On such evenings I am an astronaut, suspended in the amniotic silence of space, connected by a fragile umbilical cord that technology birthed through the miracle of science.’

The nurse inspected the crescent spaces under his fingernails. The rest of the group failed to notice that they were dashed with blood and dirt.

‘So many of us wanted to be something, when we were children,’ said the woman in the pink sweater. I wanted to be a firefighter. My husband wanted to be the emperor. Of China.’ She laughed, quivering candyfloss and braces.

‘You don’t understand,’ said the sixth person. He was now looking at the nurse. The nurse was not looking at him. ‘You don’t understand at all. I am an astronaut.’

* * *

The nurse was walking back to his flat. He had had a hard day at work. He walked down what some would call a working-class neighbourhood.

Suddenly a spaceship landed. It was round, with many fiddly bits, and emitted lights that reminded the nurse of the lighting at a rave party when he had been seventeen. A neon girl had placed a pill on his tongue. She had been struck red by the lights. He, too, had been struck. And transformed.

The spaceship flicked open. A being came out that was probably not a human. The nurse thought that it was dressed like an astronaut. The nurse burrowed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. If he actually stopped to think about it, the being was an astronaut.

The alien astronaut was short and had tentacles. It did something to the nurse’s brain and climbed back into the spaceship. The spaceship lifted off into the night. Soon it was no bigger than the full moon.

The nurse blinked. In his brain there was only one thought left.

He thought out loud.

Rosie Harding's cold cream jars full of family teeth.


(my dialogue assignment character picks were 'male nurse' and 'astronaut')

Isheeta Basu Mallik