As part of my creative writing module, as well as poetry, I also had to write a number of short stories. This one has been edited slightly and lengthened somewhat since my initial submission, but I’d love to hear your opinions – I also submitted it for publication in my university’s official creative writing journal, and it has been accepted which is great! Let me know what you think in the comments.
Harry was the kind of person for whom day or night didn’t matter. He wasn’t like the rest of us, confined by worldly restraints of light and dark, but who worked when he felt like it. His poetic squiggles of treble and bass clefs on the manuscript paper were frankly shoddy for his years’ experience, but it meant every time people read his music, they felt like they were approaching a work of art before they’d even heard the notes. A Jackson Pollock, of course.
To call him a recluse would be unfair. Recluses don’t leave their home and Harry often ventured up to the corner shop to buy himself some tinned salmon, a Dairy Milk and the occasional bottle of pop for his work.Recluses shrivel up inside at the thought of physical contact or interaction with others. Harry liked the idea. He just never got the chance.
One day or night, it didn’t really matter to Harry, he lounged in his living room, letting his wrist go limp, as he circled the page, writing his latest piece. It was a minimalist piece, so there weren’t many notes to add, but Harry took great pleasure in winding his hand around the ones there were. They stood out in stark contrast to himself, who was a character with edges where people didn’t normally have edges. Even his chest seemed to be as sheer as a cliff.
When Harry had finished his composing, he shuffled his pages awkwardly together like a news reader out of practice. He wondered if they even did that any more in the age of iPads and what not, and congratulated himself for not going to the dark side of electronic apps like the rest of the people in his field. He couldn’t really say colleagues, because colleagues implied a sense of camaraderie, but he liked to place himself against his peers nonetheless. Before he could finish his thoughts, there was a noise from outside his flat door. Not one normally to be deterred by such things which indicated the world might actually go on outside the comforts of his abode, there was something he found troubling about the noise.
It was the sound of a distressed, young woman, sobbing from the stairwell he thought, and as he opened his door, careful not to let the fire door slam, locking himself out, he was taken aback by just how close she was to his flat. Slumped against his exterior hallway wall, making a kind of sharp ‘h’ shape with her knees, was a girl he’d never seen before. Black smears decorated her cheeks and at one point, as Harry stood frozen to the spot observing, he could have sworn the noise she was making sounded like she was about to drown in her own tears.
“Are you alright?” asked Harry, fiddling with his pages which he hadn’t had chance to put down. His fingers brushed them so erratically, it was as if the pages had acquired life.
The young woman simply stared at him for a moment, holding back an enormous sob threatening to explode. Her mouth formed a downwards shape which reminded Harry of a slur straight off his stave from earlier. Funny that something which was supposed to smooth things over could take shape in such a difficult situation in real life, he thought.
“I’m sorry, I should go. It’s just my boyfriend upstairs. I didn’t even make it to the bottom floor before I broke down.”
“Well it is a rather large building, I’ve always thought the same, even when I’ve been happy,” said Harry, smiling at a time when he accidentally fell down the stairs but still landed the right way up.
She looked at him, trying to figure out who on earth this man was and why he was so awkward. I mean, she was slumped against his wall, but still. Had the man never seen a human being before?
“Might I hum you one of my newest pieces?”
“Pieces?” she asked, baffled at what he might mean.
“I’m a composer of sorts. Well not of sorts, I am really. That’s my job. I’ve just been writing a piece, I thought that you might like me to hum you it. Music helps me when I’m sad.”
“Sure, if you like,” she submitted, with a subtle jollier tone.
“I’m Harry by the way.” There was no hint of a question in his voice.
“Oh, how funny. Boy and girl twins.” Harry inhaled the ‘oh’ so sharply, Harriet feared for his heart. He already looked a bit feeble and jagged.
Odd notes peppered the air from the outside of flat 35, with long silences as Harry was determined to maintain faithfulness to his original piece, even if that meant sitting staring panicked at a stranger he’d just met. Harriet’s eyes began to close, but not with tiredness. She’d listened to a wide range of music before, even from different cultures, but nothing quite so sparse yet moving as Harry’s creation.
Long blows which challenged even his strong lungs conditioned by years of woodwind, fought gradually declining sobs, until neither sounded with any gusto.
“Thank you, Harry. That was so sweet. What’s it called?”
“Untitled. Not because I’m trying to be fashionable like some of them, but because I’m genuinely quite bad at titles.” He shuffled his sheets. She smiled.
“How about, ‘The Encounter’? It’s moody, and it will let all the pretentious people read into it loads won’t it, and then you’ll be spoken about. You know, give them something to ponder.”
“The Encounter.” Harry said it so softly that the points at which his tongue touched the roof of his mouth tickled. But they also made the same rhythm as the opening of the piece.
“It’s quite perfect, Harriet. Erm, you could come in. I have some Schwepp’s Lemonade. Would you like some?”
“I think I’ll pass, thanks. But I would ask for something from you, if that’s alright.”
“What’s that, Harriet?”
“I’m training to be a teacher and I’d love it if you came to talk to my class about the power of music. Most of them only get to hear what’s on Radio 1, and it would be great to show them that there’s more out there.”
Harry stood still clutching his music, then rocked from side to side with his weight carefully shifting from foot to foot. Maybe it could be that moment he’d been waiting for. He could even buy the class biscuits on his next trip to Londis. Yes, he’d do that.
“Why not? Yes, I’ll do it Harriet.”
“Great!’ she said, handing him a slim card, printed sparsely with her name and title. But not teacher. Something different, and a title he felt suited her altogether better. ‘Wanderer’. She noticed him looking.
“Oh,” she laughed, “I got those printed before I started training, I guess it’s not really even that applicable anymore, I ought to get some more done.”
“No, I think they’re just fine,” said Harry.