by: James Burr
The Writer continued to stare at the blank screen, as she had done, frustrated, for the previous two hours. Words refused to flow and her ideas remained stillborn, seemingly loath to join her in the cold and damp of her squalid bedsit. It was then that she remembered a way of triggering creativity, an old Surrealist game, where one would cut the words out of an old newspaper then rearrange them at random, the old words and symbols creating something new and improved.
So she dug out an old copy of the local free newspaper and then with an oversized pair of scissors she set about hacking at the news stories, the tales of new gym openings, charity fun runs or disgraced local Councillors just waiting to be made into something fresh. She then took the words and started rearranging them, creating phrases, then sentences then finally new stories, of a sort.
Eventually she sat back, satisfied with her new tales, some nonsensical but all telling new, unusual but undoubtedly refreshed narratives. But her creative satisfaction was short lived as a night train rattled by, shaking the mouldy windows in their frames, drawing her attention back to her bedsit– the damp patches by the ceiling, the soggy wallpaper held up by Blu-Tack, the cigarette-burnt carpet that fell some six inches short of reaching the skirting boards.
And it was then that she realised that the pedestrian mundanity, the sheer mediocrity of her squalid home could also be improved. So gingerly, with some reticence as she had never attempted this before, she took the scissors and started to hack at her room. Firstly, she cut out the television, Casablanca distorting on its screen, as she peeled it away from the void beneath. Then she cut around the edges of her lamp, the bed, the windows, the door, half of her wardrobe….. She continued to hack and cut and then, satisfied, she started to rearrange the pieces into what she hoped would be a new, refreshed whole. She smiled as Mr Tiddles, with Humphrey Bogart’s face endlessly intoning “Play it again….play it again….play it again….” slinked from his litter tray. The top half of her bed now looked out onto the street as rain pelted upwards against the panes, and the door apparently lead up either somewhere into the attic or out into whatever was now outside. One bedroom lamp was embedded in her bedroom wall where the window had once been, the other window replaced by the base of her wardrobe, a plastic fern lying sideways along its top edge, like a hat.
The Writer glanced around her bedsit, content with her new, collage creation.
It was then that she saw her podgy thighs, untoned despite hours of jogging, her pot belly, flabby and round despite the yoga. She paused for a moment, irritated that the unyielding nature of her body should upset the creative harmony of her new work before remembering that her body too could be a work of art, an expression of creativity, if she so willed it.
So she reached for the scissors and started hacking at herself, cutting and slicing, in this last creative game and final act of self improvement.
Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton while serving as the US vice president. James Burr is the author of the collection Ugly Stories for Beautiful People and is currently putting the finishing touches to his second collection, State of the Nation, and a work of non-fiction which will, he is sure, make him richer than his wildest dreams. When not deluding himself about future success, he can be found at: http://www.james-burr.co.uk/.
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by: James Burr
It was a cold October morning when Eleonora Pinkerton first realised that her actions influenced it all. Like that apocryphal butterfly whose beating wings can cause hurricanes on the other side of the world, Eleonora concluded that her every action influenced Everything: scratching an itch would cause a tsunami in Indonesia, an overly energetic blink could cause a 747 to plummet from the sky over Minnesota, an unguarded burp could result in hurricanes in Guam. So Eleonora did what all rational beings would do in such circumstances and thus resolved to do nothing. Literally nothing. She gingerly, as if her slightest movement could set off a bomb, placed herself in a four lotus position and then sat, unmoving, utterly immobile.
When her boyfriend, Gavin, found her sat on the bed like an anorexic Buddha, he was at first confused, then concerned and then, as the days went by, increasingly grateful. Eleonora would no longer moan and bitch about his coming back from the pub too late at night and full of too much beer. She wouldn’t nag or moan or force him to see her mother or her annoying friends. Instead, she would just sit there, unmoving, while he played Halo or Grand Theft Auto, until such point that, feeling the need for sexual intimacy, he would stand up, drop his tracky bottoms and Calvins, and skull-fuck her until release.
Work had been a little more tricky at first, though, but eventually Gavin worked out that all he had to do was lift Eleonora into a wheelbarrow that he had bought especially for the purpose, and then, after a short trip on the Number 9 bus, wheel her to her desk at the local council offices. There, she would sit immobile in her wheelbarrow for eight hours until Gavin arrived to wheel her home. Her work colleagues were, as you can imagine, somewhat dumbfounded by this somewhat odd change that had come over Eleonora, but her 100% attendance meant that she was soon promoted to senior diversity consultant in the council and her career flourished as her bosses noted that she was one of the few who didn’t have months off with “stress.”
So all in all, Eleonora’s life flourished as first her relationship with Gavin deepened and her career reached new heights. And while Gavin wasn’t the most thoughtful bloke in the world, he did take care to lift her to the shower every morning to wipe away her waste and he did try to give her at least one full meal a day, even if it was just McDonald’s Happy Meals or chicken dhansaks, which he would then feed through a liquidiser so he could spoon it past her rigid lips.
For her part, Eleonora showed a strength of will that even she had no idea she was capable of. There would be times when the pain in her limbs was so great she wanted to just straighten them out and stretch and scream and jump in the air. But then when that urge grew, she would think of the resulting typhoons shredding farmsteads, the satellites knocked from orbit to blaze into the cities below, the concrete overpasses collapsing as a result of her twitching pinky. So, terrified of the chaos that would ensue, her resolve would return and her limbs would remain unmoving, her arms like concrete, her back like steel, so that order could reign and others could live.
And so the years rolled by and there came the patter of tiny Pinkerton feet, the doctors rolling her on her back so they could prise the babies out of her and then later, Gavin devising a clever harness system that meant she could breastfeed as she sat motionless on the bed. Then, later still, they would eat at the dinner table, children shouting and screaming at each other as Eleonora sat in her wheelbarrow, unmoving. Family selfies posted to Facebook showed the children growing, day by day, year by year, as Elonora remained the one constant, the only change being the gradual greying of her hair.
Eventually, the children moved out, and then Eleonora retired from her role as chief executive officer of her local council after decades of exemplary service. And so started the final phase of her life, as she would sit on the bed while Gavin pottered around in the garden. But then, one cold morning, Gavin was in the potting shed when he groaned, clutched his chest, and then slumped to the ground.
They didn’t find Eleonora for several weeks after his death. Neither of her children cared—Molly was living in a squat in Brixton and was constantly full of heroin while Alice was engaged in 24-hour narcissism as an Instagram yogi in Ibiza–so it was that by the time they found Eleonora, she was sitting in her bed, covered in cobwebs, her rigor mortised limbs locked in place, congealed blood weeping from the small toothmarks where vermin had taken bites out of her. The council officers who came to their house to move her body away found it relatively easy to just hook an arm under each armpit before just flinging her into the back of the van for disposal.
And as their van pulled away down the dismal tarmac of the street, shaven-headed children swearing, smoking and playing football, no one thought about Eleonora Pinkerton or her solar-flare triggering twitches and no one considered her tsunami-causing sneezes.
James Burr is the author of the collection Ugly Stories for Beautiful People and is currently putting the finishing touches to his second collection, State of the Nation, and a work of non-fiction which will, he is sure, make him richer than his wildest dreams. When not deluding himself about future success, he can be found at: http://www.james-burr.co.uk/
Send your weird little stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by James Burr
“You, sir, have spilled my pint!”
All eyes in the pub turned at the sound of breaking glass, a pool of foaming ale rapidly spreading out at the feet of the furious Academic.
The Professor eyed his accuser angrily. “And I contend that I did not spill your pint, as all property is theft. Ergo, if a pint was spilled, it was certainly not yours.”
The Academic jabbed the Professor in the chest. “But a pint was indeed spilled, as we can see from the shards of glass and pool of beer at my feet.” His companion, an elderly man in a tweed jacket tried to restrain him, weakly muttering, “Leave it. He’s not worth it.” The Academic continued. “And the pint was indeed mine for does not First Occupancy theory proceed on the basis that it does not particularly matter how I took possession of it or what sort of use I intended to make of it; what matters is that I am acting as the owner of said beverage.”
The Professor snorted at him. “Well sir, I could proffer Liebniz’s contention that everything is contingent: that is that, logically, it is quite possible for the pint to not even exist!”
“But something can be said to exist if it has a place as part of objective reality?” the Academic replied.
“But what is ʻreality?’”
“ʻReality’ is real existence, what is real, what underlies experiences.”
“But what is ʻreal?’” the Professor asked.
“Something can be considered real if it exists as a thing or occurs in fact. I can determine the existence of the former pint through my eyes and the stickiness under the soles of my shoe. A pint has been spilled. Such a fact can be undeniably determined through the sense organs. The fact that the pints exists – or at least did until you spilled it – is an undeniable, objective fact.”
“Very well,” said the Professor. “I shall accept your objectivist observation that the presence of an ex-pint before us means that a pint was spilled. However, I counter your assertion that it was I who spilled said pint as that would require conscious agency on my part. Without such deliberate intention, the very best that can be said is that your beer was spilled – the result of mere accident or act of God.”
The Academic puffed out his chest. “Pah, but God does not exist. A claim that is further evidenced by the fact that if He did exist, His omnipotence and omniscience would ensure that He did not go around accidentally spilling pints.”
“And yet, my slippery-fingered friend, you contend that God does not exist when the adherents of scores of faiths and religions would argue that their personal experience of God is very real. Billions of souls have experience of whatever deity they worship, so by your own definition, God must exist and so be real, as is evidenced by the fact that we are talking about Him.”
“Rubbish! Liebniz believed that it is possible to describe the essence of a person or thing whether they are real or imaginary. God has an essence, in that his qualities and personality and station can be described, yet he does not exist. The fact that an entity has an essence does not necessarily imply existence! The pint was not spilled by accident or through some act of God. Ergo the pint, if not spilled by a non-existent deity, must have been spilled through some agency, and I contend that that agency was you, hence my original assertion!” The Academic angrily pushed his face into that of the Professor.
His companion turned and cried, “Someone, call the Police!” to the other patrons.
“Nonsense!” said the Professor. “We may have determined that there was a pint and that it has now been spilled. We may have even decided that it was not spilled through some act of God. However, I cannot yet be sure of your existence, as your existence is integral to your belief that it was your pint that was acted upon. Just because you may, as proposed by Liebniz, have some essence as an argumentative, small-minded buffoon, the fact that such an essence can be described does not necessarily mean that you exist. Using your own argument, you, like God, may not exist, and so it was not your pint that was spilled.”
The Academic’s companion tried to feebly pull him back by the arms. “Leave it” he muttered weakly. “He’s had enough.”
“Indeed,” said the Professor. “Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. I can be certain of my own existence but not of your own.” The Professor smiled as he sought to end the barbarous altercation with a brutal strike. “And of course, as Spinoza believed that everything is ruled by an absolute logical necessity, there is thus no such thing as ʻFree will’ in psychology, or ʻchance’ in the physical world. As such, the pint was simply spilled – not by accident and certainly not through any intention of my own.”
The Academic rounded on him. “Yet you argue there is no free will! If there is no free will, there can be no independent thought. Thus, if you cannot think, using your own philosophy, you cannot exist!”
The pool of beer on the floor spread across to where the Professor may, or may not, have once stood.
The Academic cracked his knuckles, nodded at his companion, and went to the bar to buy another pint.
Jim Burr wrote Ugly Stories for Beautiful People and is working on a second collection, State of the Nation. You beautiful people can read more of his writing here and here. Ugly people can follow him on Twitter. Do either or both, depending on your mood.
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