If the events of a story unfold over more than a season, how do you evoke the passage of time? We can allude to the weather, seasonal flowers and the nakedness or otherwise of trees, but not all readers, and especially those looking in from other climates, will be grounded by these changes in the natural world. We can also, as I sometimes do for blog posts, draw on key events in the annual calendar to show that time has moved on. Christmas is an obvious choice, but what about Easter, when the date changes from year to year?
Steve and Liesel spent their first Christmas together in their hideaway love nest in the cellar. A couple months later, however, the relationship has soured and Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if Steve won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. The novel’s timeline isn’t so tight that it is muddled by Easter occurring any time between late March and late April. What matters is that it’s a deadline and, from daffodils on the table to bank holiday quiet at work, Steve can feel it looming and it’s got him worried (p154-5):
I strolled into Holding Bay to collect the chit for the next patient. Good Friday and the whole world seemed on Go Slow. I wouldn’t have minded ordinarily, but I’d been relying on keeping busy to distract me from the fact that, with Liesel’s deadline two days away, I still hadn’t worked out how I could keep her without poisoning our lives with a child.
The area was deserted, as lonely as the boardroom in the management suite on any ordinary weekend. I wandered down to the coffee room, but all I could see on the armchairs surrounding the jangling TV were yesterday’s newspaper and a heap of sweet wrappers. I put my head round the door of the quiet room, but no-one was there either.
It felt weird, like a kid told to close his eyes and count to a hundred while everyone disappears. One of those movies where a guy runs out of gas in a thunderstorm right outside the psychopath’s house. And then I heard the music.
And so to this week’s flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story featuring a ring, in the sense of jewellery. An earring has a role in progressing the plot in Underneath, but it’s shaped like an anchor rather than a circle, so I’ve had to look elsewhere for inspiration. Not drawn to adornment, I thought I’d write about the risk of rings:
I emptied the contents onto the table-top. Plastic decked like playing cards, coins rolled on their edges, a foil-wrapped migraine tablet squat among the notes. He held my fingertips so gently, I almost anticipated congratulations. “Take it off!”
I babbled about its sentimental value, worthless to him. He grabbed me roughly by the wrist. “Fucking take it off! I won’t ask again.”
I tugged at the gold band. Bonded with my body, it wouldn’t budge.
Spreading my hand across the table-top, he brought down the knife.
I stared at the stump. I’d lost my finger, but kept my promise.