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Thread: Summer afternoon.

  1. #1
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    Summer afternoon.

    They were the days of dragonflies, crickets and willows that whispered in the breeze. They were the days of summer. Those summers used to exist in the days of socialism, the days of my childhood – before the smog of exponential economic growth blighted the insects and clouded the skies. The building my mother and I lived in was a grey edifice of an apartment block. Like thousands of other such buildings it had the obligatory tangled mass of bicycles outside its entrance and the obligatory low-wattage light bulbs in its corridors. Poorly constructed and never maintained, and yet somehow (in my mind) contained as much character and life as the baroque architecture of the ancient British university I later attended.
    I retain only memories of summer from those days. More specifically: summer afternoons, spent alone in that concrete apartment peering through the iron bars of the security door into the gloomy communal corridor waiting for mum to come home. I remember one such afternoon with particular clarity. Martial law had only recently been lifted in the city and its tarmac still bore marks from tank tracks. Through the gloom I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. It was the old man from upstairs carrying something. As he was walking down the stairs the light-bulb decided to flicker. He stumbled down the stairs and ended up taking its last few steps on his backside. It turned out he was carrying a tin of red paint, whose content was now running down the steps – appearing like a viscous maroon river in the dim light. Briskly he stood up, dusted down his wiry frame and walked back up to his flat. Before he shut the door behind him I caught a glimpse of his sitting room. The sparsely furnished room had on its wall four faded portraits of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

    He was a well-respected but reticent member of the community. A retired cadre of the party, he had fought against the Japanese and later against American imperialism in Korea. I seem to remember that he had a son who was attending university. He was probably that bespectacled young man who came later that afternoon, bearing a watermelon to fulfil his filial duty. Slipping on the wet paint the watermelon flew out of his hand and smashed into hundreds of juicy pieces, adding texture to the already red staircase. He must have entered his father’s apartment (albeit empty-handed) because after I had stopped laughing the corridor was empty again.

    Shortly afterwards came three portly chaps smoking cigarettes. They were dressed identically and walked with an air of lazy authority. Seeing those three slip simultaneously on the stairs and then fall again whilst trying to get up was too much for me. I fell backwards laughing, delighted by this interruption of monotony. I was still having paroxysms of giggling when they brought out the bespectacled young man in handcuffs. The four of them walked gingerly down the stairs, all sporting red patches on their clothing as evidence of a lesson learnt. The old man stood in his doorway and watched them go. ‘Go carefully comrades’ he said.

    He stood there for a long time afterwards, on top of the red staircase, framed against a backdrop of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

  2. #2
    Registered User DieterM's Avatar
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    In its extreme shortness, this is one of the best stories I've read these last weeks. I was immediately drawn in by your choice of words, which brought back bitter-sweet memories of my own summers spent in my little village in the Austrian Alps (minus what was called "Real Socialism" back then, of course, and which makes the gripping background of your tale; we'd only have some watered-down, Catholic-imbued lukewarm Socialdemocratism, and thanks a lot for that). I really like your "voice" because it brings up many things without having to spell them out. Welcome to the Forum, and thank you for joining us by offering this gem.
    "Im Arm der Liebe schliefen wir selig ein…" ("Liebesode" - Otto Erich Hartleben)
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    Registered User hannah_arendt's Avatar
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    I agree with DieterMHowever, when I have the word 'socialist', I got not very pleasant feeling in my stomach, I must say. Nevertheless this fragment is well written and worth reading.

    I was immediately drawn in by your choice of words, which brought back bitter-sweet memories of my own summers spent in my little village in the Austrian Alps (minus what was called "Real Socialism" back then, of course, and which makes the gripping background of your tale
    This summer vacation I am going to Austria. I have never been there so I think that it would very interesting experience.

  4. #4
    Registered User DieterM's Avatar
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    @hannah (love your pseudo btw – Arendt was one of my choice reads at university when I was studying Political Science), I didn't mean to say the word "socialist" as used in Harvey's story could evoke even remotely pleasant feelings in me—I really agree with you on that one. All I wanted to say was that even if I didn't experience the same oppressive system in Austria, the story did bring up memories in me. I hope you'll be visiting Vienna, such a beautiful city! And I hope you'll enjoy every minute of your holidays. Go easy on them cakes, however, or you'll double in size (I always do when I go back to see my family) ;-)
    "Im Arm der Liebe schliefen wir selig ein…" ("Liebesode" - Otto Erich Hartleben)
    New poetry collection available (Kindle and paperback)

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    Registered User hannah_arendt's Avatar
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    It`s also my surname Now I have different surname after getting married. As a child an teenager with the first one I remember having many problems with it.

    We will see of course Vienna. I know that it`s one of the most beautifull european cities. During my studies at german department, I was told many things which now I want to see with my own eyes. I can`t do without sweets, so we`ll try cakies I hope that I`ll look like I am now.

    By the way, last year i went to Paris
    Last edited by hannah_arendt; 06-24-2013 at 05:33 AM.

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    Thanks Dieter and Hannah - very generous of you. I joined the forum out of boredom for my dayjob.

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    I have the same observation about the opening to this story as to your other offering today. Try to grab the reader in the first two or three sentences. Speaking of which, your first three sentences could be consolidated with no ill effects.

    I'm afraid that this piece, though highly amusing and entertaining, is not a short story per se, perhaps not even fiction, more like an anecdote or a fragment of a personal memoir. Nevertheless, I do think your writing can improve. Show, don't tell --that's the cardinal rule.

    At this point, spend more time reading than writing. Read a wide variety of contemporary and modern short stories, in each case trying to discover not only "what" the author is attempting to say, but "how" he or she is saying it.

    Also, please skip a space between paragraphs, while remembering to start a new paragraph with each change of speaker in dialogue. (I do hope your subsequent efforts include dialogue.)

  8. #8
    Registered User hannah_arendt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harvey Cushing View Post
    Thanks Dieter and Hannah - very generous of you. I joined the forum out of boredom for my dayjob.
    I hope that you`ll spend nice time here and maybe meet interesting people.

    Have a nice day

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    It's a fine first offering. It leans toward being wordy and there's pretense in the way it presents itself-- a statement which at the very least says something about one of us. Interested to see more.






    J

  10. #10
    in a blue moon amuse's Avatar
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    Oh my goodness. I don't enjoy short stories for the most part, but for some reason decided to look at them today.
    Knowing that the father may have, and very likely did, set his son up for a long stay or even a lifetime of hell on earth (should he have gone to a gulag or who knows where) was very startling, climactic, and sobering.

    I couldn't finish A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich...tried and tried but found it too darned boring. Were this made into a full-length novel I'd be able to complete it, however. Found it much more satisfactory. (Yes, all, realize this short story is based on socialism not communism. Still!)

    Interesting, not knowing where this was set didn't pique my curiosity. It could be in any country, which makes me like it more, at least in the very beginning. Am very glad that you joined. Look forward to reading more of your work.

    Thank goodness your day job bored you! Selfish of me, tsk and whoops.
    Last edited by amuse; 07-14-2013 at 10:04 PM.
    shh!!!
    the air and water have been here a long time, and they are telling stories.

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