The fruits of Abstinence

As Socrates once proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. In the last six months I embarked upon an examination of sorts. An examination of my diet, the effects of certain foods on my body, and crucially, whether I was at all capable of living without certain naughties in my life.

For those of you who read my previous post Abstinence, you would have noted that I had planned a month long expulsion of four dietary baddies: alcohol, sugar, meat and coffee. Unwittingly, that month- May 15 till June 15- ended up being FIVE weeks long! And boy, was it a looooong month. It was a struggle in many ways. The easy ones to give up were the coffee and the alcohol. Perhaps because a binge of one nearly always followed a binge of the other. Co dependants, and therefore co evictees. The meat and the sugar were much tougher.

In the previous months, I had tended to over compensate in one quarter when imposing a ban on another. For instance, in my sugar free month, I happily munched my way through all manner of meat preparations, drank my body weight in gin and kept myself buzzing on cappuccinos. I still (miraculously) lost weight! However, this time around, I denied myself the crutches I had become accustomed to. My sense of deprivation would most certainly have derailed me, had it not been for one little detail: my stubbornness. There was a dogged determination to my pursuit of ‘cleaner’ living.

At the end of that month, I baked a cake.

This cake was a celebratory one. Not for myself, but for my daughter who had just finished her GCSE exams. It was a hazelnut torte, the layers sandwiched together with swiss buttercream, finished off with chocolate ganache and decorated with ferrero rocher chocolates. I wish I could say that not a crumb passed my lips. Alas, that would be a bare faced lie. I ate not one, but two slices, and you know what? I enjoyed them too.

So was all of that abstinence an exercise in futility?

Nope. Not at all. This was never meant to be a life long prohibition. It was meant to be an examination not just of the ouster of certain foods I had determined I was dependant on, but also of my will power and ability to see it through till the end. That I managed, and am quietly proud of my accomplishment.

However, the dilemma that faces me now is how do I carry this forward? When I’d tried explaining to a friend that I was doing a no sugar, no meat, no alcohol and no coffee ban, he’d looked at me quizzically and quipped, “No life either?”

Sadly, for those five weeks, I wasn’t the most fun person to hang out with. In fact, at times I was a bit of a pain in the rear. The restaurants I agreed to go to had to have vegetarian options. I always declined the wine and the dessert, and stared mournfully at the lattes my friends rounded off their meals with. That is not how I want to live the rest of my life!

So, going forward the catchword of MY life will be moderation. Don’t drink an entire bottle of wine because it’s there. Don’t eat meat everyday because you are too lazy to look up new and exciting vegetarian recipes. Don’t eat an entire bar of chocolate because you are bored. And don’t drink five coffees in a day because you couldn’t haul your bottom to bed at a decent hour.

Which brings me to the mystery element of my abstinence.

In all of this taking care of my body malarkey, I stumbled upon an interesting truth. My bedtimes were inevitably at some godforsaken hour. Not because I was working hard on the great Indian/English/American novel, but because I was trawling through reams of nonsensical social media postings. What was this strange pull that social media exerted on me, and could I break the spell? I set about finding out.

For the entire month of June, I have sworn off social media. Facebook, Instagram and even Whatsapp have been cruelly culled from my life. Aside of answering a few panic stricken messages on Whatsapp, that I reluctantly signed back onto for a day, my life has been social media free. And oh, the joy of it!

I can now choose to read the news items I wish to read, without Facebook’s algorithms determining I need a glut of information about something I might have displayed an interest in once. No more reading every Tom, Dick and Harry’s opinion on what is wrong with the world (and how they will solve it all, hiding behind their computer screens). No more seeing a casual acquaintance’s blow by blow account of her agonisingly mundane life’s minutiae.

What a relief it has been. I have caught up on my reading, my writing and finally started to listen to the podcast I’d earmarked two years ago! I cannot, in all honesty, Continue reading “The fruits of Abstinence”

Experiment 2

An idea has been bubbling in my sub conscious mind for a while. It has been two years since I did my last experiment series, and I think that, perhaps it is time for another one. Not only because it forces me to explore genres I wouldn’t ordinarily, but also because it keeps things interesting. Anything that does not push the boundaries of creativity often leads to stagnation.

This time, however, my series has a little challenge for my regular readers. The challenge being, to find the common thread that links these stories. Wait till I have completed the series, and then, by all means, send me your guesses, your ideas and your thoughts.

This experiment might take me a while to complete. I will carry on blogging about other things in the meantime, alongside. Each time I have a story that belongs to the series, I will preface it with Experiment 2. So you will know that this is one part of the whole.

Happy reading and happy guessing!

postscript

So, the experiment is complete. With varying degrees of success (and discomfiture) I managed to explore three hitherto uncharted genres. However, to begin at the beginning…

A while ago, I had posted the ten word story. It was an exercise in trying to convey an entire narrative in ten words. Something that has been done to amazing effect by some vastly superior writers with far less words. One in particular stands out. Hemingway’s For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. In six words he communicates a plethora of emotions to devastating effect.

Mine was far simpler. It said: Thank you for last night. This should cover it. Kisses.

Now, even as I posted it, I began to wonder what might have gone on before. Which is when the idea of concluding three different, completely unrelated stories, at the same point, occurred to me. I omitted the Kisses at the end, as it jarred with what I was about to begin.

Rear View: Taking inspiration from my neighbourhood, and also the frequent reports of people dying, lonely and undetected, came the story of an old pensioner and his widowed neighbour, who become friends. It developed into a ghost story, but one I hope, that didn’t scare as much as sadden. Out of the three, this was the one that was the easiest to write, and evolved most organically. It was also the one that received the most appreciation, placing fourth in a competition.

Two Chevrons apart: The trickiest one to write. Erotica is not as easy as people may think. For one, I had to abandon all compunctions, and write as honestly and truthfully as I could. But the purpose was not just to arouse. It was to display the futility of an unrequited love, where the protagonist, time and again offers herself up to a man who is not worthy of her. I hope that the eroticism underlined this futile love. I noticed, after I wrote this story, that there was a lot of traffic on my site, yet very few comments. People who knew me, were perhaps jolted a bit by this uncharacteristic, almost voyeuristic display of bedroom antics. To them I say, to be honest to my craft, I must extend myself, and in this genre, I flexed muscles I did not know I possessed.

Central Reservation: Dystopian, dark and disturbing was the brief. I hope I fulfilled it, much as my hero did his. Set in the distant future, where mortals abandon morals in pursuit of longevity, I had initially imagined Robert as an unwilling assassin, who gets embroiled in a plot unwittingly. As the story developed, and quite another angle presented itself to me, Robert developed shades of grey. And so, he became a willing accomplice, who cannot wait to fulfil his mission of hijacking another’s life. The story within a story was a surprise even to me. Yet, strangely, that struck a chord with most readers, and I was complimented on the cleverness of it all. I must confess, there was very little cleverness involved. It was a sub conscious desire to bring a bit of realism to a very futuristic fantasy.

This concludes the post mortem on my experiment. I hope you enjoyed reading the stories, just as much as I enjoyed writing them. If you have any suggestions on any further experiments I should undertake, I would be happy to receive them.

Oh! And as a last word. Why were my titles all metaphors of driving? Quite simply because I see life as a huge metaphor for driving. Now, go figure that one out.

Two Chevrons apart

I sense him before I see him. It’s always been that way. I had forgotten the feeling. Except that now it revisits me. The goosebumps that appear quite suddenly on my arms. The slight shiver that accompanies them. I scan the room quickly, trying to be as discreet as possible. My drinking buddies engrossed in their conversation and cocktails, barely notice. I spot him at once. He’s at the bar. Alone.

I perch myself precariously next to him, leaning forward to catch the barman’s eye, maximising my cleavage, to give him an eyeful.

Does he remember me?

He turns slightly, takes in the wares, smiles into his drink, and turns away. I pay the grinning barman quickly, and totter back to my table, thinking fast on my feet.

“Miss?”, he calls out behind me. “You dropped your scarf”

I don’t respond, ignoring him deliberately. As I sit myself down, he appears next to me.

“Your scarf?”

I look up and smile, registering surprise and gratitude.

“Why, thank you! I hadn’t noticed. How kind of you. Please….do join us….Let me buy you a drink…”

He hesitates, then looks at me again, taking in the short dress that clings provocatively to my curves, the shapely leg that swings back and forth in invitation, and says, “Yes, okay. Why not?”

Does he remember me?

There are introductions, more cocktails, and then a colleague shouts out, “Time for tequila shots! It’s Sana’s birthday after all.”

“It’s your birthday?”, he asks, focussing on me.

“Yes”, I respond, searching his eyes for a spark of recognition.

“Then this round’s on me”

***

The lift is crowded with late night revellers, smelling of stale cigarettes and too much alcohol. I press against him, my heart tattooing a wild beat inside of me. I can’t remember if he asked me, or I suggested it. Coffee! What a euphemism for what is about to happen.

Inside his hotel room, he throws aside his jacket and grabs me in one move. His mouth is upon me, and my sigh gets buried deep inside my throat. His tongue pushes my lips apart, plunges into me, tasting, feeling, probing… I kiss him back with a desperate hunger. My fingers are ensnared in his hair and I pull him towards the bed. We fall upon it together, laughing, mad in our lust.

He tugs at my dress, pulling down the straps, exposing my ample breasts to his hot gaze. The dress bunches underneath, pushing the orbs up, offering them up to him, to do what he will. He licks a trail between them, his tongue sending ripples of desire coursing through me. Deliberately, maddeningly, he avoids my nipples, even as they pucker, waiting to be sucked, to be bitten, to be swallowed up whole. I moan, and pull his head towards them. He laughs, and pulls my dress down further. His fingers are at once strange and familiar. I lie there exposed, but for a sliver of cloth that covers the molten centre of me.

He leaves me there and quickly unzips his jeans, kicking them aside and begins to unbutton his shirt. His erection springs up: large, proudly tumescent, throbbing, a purple hue. I gaze at him reverentially.

Does he remember me?

Skin upon skin. I feel like I’m burning up. He trails kisses down my stomach down to between my legs, where he pauses, and then blows ever so slightly, to part the curls that are dampened, awaiting his arrival. His tongue darts in, exploring me, tasting me. Wantonly I moan, my head thrashing side to side. Bolts of pleasure shoot through me, very nearly sending me over the edge. But he withdraws again. His mouth searches mine and I taste myself upon him. His taste, my taste and the tequila mingling into a cocktail that quenches a long forgotten thirst.

“Rahul…”, I murmur against his mouth.

“Mmmm?”

“I want you….now…please….”

He parts my legs with his knee, and enters me swiftly. I am ready to receive him, and I stretch to accommodate his widened girth. We fall into a rhythm almost immediately, his chest hair tickling my nipples into even tinier buds. I feel so full, so complete, so at home, that I find myself wrapping my legs around him, to pull him in even deeper. I try and look into his eyes, but they are closed, his face contorting in pleasure. He is so close, and I find myself upping the tempo, to keep up. He roars his arrival and my whimper of an orgasm is nearly drowned out. Spent, he falls upon me, and I almost cannot breathe, but don’t want him to move. To remove his weight off me, to remove himself from inside me.

We lie wrapped up together for a while, his sweat, a damp, musky smell that merges with the unmistakable scent of sex. Thrilling, fulfilling sex.

Does he remember me?

We make love again, changing positions. I straddle him. He spoons me. I take him in my mouth, and drink in every precious drop of him. We barely pause for breath. There is too much to explore. Desire ricochets off the walls of our room, and if anyone can hear our moans of pleasure, we are too beyond caring. Night slides into morning, and we finally fall asleep,exhausted from our frenetic coupling. His hand cups my breast, and I feel his limp member press up against my bottom. I lie there, floating somewhere between ecstasy and pure, unalloyed joy. We sleep like the couple we were always meant to be.

***

The rays of sunlight that filter through the curtains are bright. Harsh and unforgiving, they illuminate a room that has been emptied of its contents and its occupants, save one. My legs are all tangled up in the sheets, and I sit up abruptly.

“Rahul?”, I croak, knowing instantly that I am alone.

My eyes search frantically for a sign, any sign that he means to return. They alight upon the note propped up on the bedside table. There is a wad of Rupees next to it. I read the note, with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Thank you for last night. This should cover it.

The lone tear drop that falls on the ‘o’ makes the ink run, till it shapes itself into a heart that is broken in two.

© Poornima Manco 2014

Rear view

She rummaged through the drawer, her panic increasing incrementally. It wasn’t here either. She had looked everywhere, at least in the most obvious places. Places where she could have put it, inadvertently, unthinkingly. Now, she was starting to look in the silly places. Refrigerator, shoe closet, paperwork drawer, airing cupboard. She wasn’t old enough to have lost her marbles yet, but she certainly seemed to have lost her precious pearls.

Walter’s pearls. The ones he’d bought her in Hong Kong when they were posted there. In their early, heady days of marriage when gifts, little and large, punctuated their idyllic existence. She had worn them frequently at first, her natural elegance enhanced by the soft sheen of the Akoya pearls that encased her lovely long neck. Then, as age began its ravages on her face and body, she wore them less. Walter was home less too. It all seemed pointless after a while. After no children and far too many postings, and whispers of concubines.

Still, within them lay wrapped her dreams and her memories, and she couldn’t bear to part with them. Even when the medical costs grew to the extent where most of her jewellery was swallowed up. Even as they downsized and Walter’s chairlift absorbed the last of their savings, she’d held on to them. They were a surviving symbol of the happy future she had envisaged as a giddy, young bride. And now, they were gone.

She looked at the mess strewn around her, and sighed. It would take far too long to put right, and in her frame of mind, all she wanted was to retreat to her little garden, and finish that bottle of Pinot Grigio she had chilling. The setting sun was casting an orange glow into her room, and she looked down at her shaky hands willing herself to be calm. She would return to her search tomorrow, and the many endless tomorrows that would inevitably follow.

The first sip was a delicious invitation into oblivion. She knew she was in that twilight zone where just one more step would lead her into full blown alcoholism. But after years of disciplined self deprivation, she no longer cared. She looked around at her well tended garden, with its neat hedgerows, and potted plants that housed a profusion of colours, and smiled sadly. There was never anyone to share it with. After Walter, she had licked her wounds far too long. Her self inflicted hibernation had lost her the few friends she had. Now, except for the hawk faced harridan that lived at number 10, she never came across anyone in her quiet cul-de-sac.

The wind had a slight chill to it, and as it passed over her, she pulled her shawl closer. Smoke wafted over the fence, and she heard a wheezy cough. Cyril? Cecil? What was his name, she wondered. The reclusive widower that lived next door.

“Hello?”, she called out, surprising herself.

There was a pause, and then a soft Scottish burr answered her equally hesitantly, “Hello?”

“I…I was wondering if you’d like to join me for a glass of wine?”, she said, once again surprised at her own temerity.

After two beats, the wonderment tinged response, “Yes, I would very much like that.”

She ran her fingers through her hair, and quickly tidied the cushions on the sofa, while mentally kicking herself for not applying any lipstick.

She yanked open the door on the first knock, and he stood there with his hand still raised, the other hand leaning heavily on the cane. She quickly took in the patrician nose, the grey hair, the tweed jacket that had seen better days, and smiled at him, slightly embarrassed at her open appraisal.

“Do come in”, she turned to let him pass, at once noticing the limp.

In the garden she learnt his name really was Stuart, and that his wife had passed ten years ago. His sons and their families ignored him except for Christmas, when he was passed around like a well used toy between them. He spoke without rancour, and she listened in sympathy.

“Martin lives fifteen minutes away. He is a GP. A very busy man. He drops in on me, when he can. He doesn’t tell Sue. Sometimes he stays for a wee dram.” His eyes lit up as he spoke of his younger son. Then he stopped, and looked at her. Really looked at her. “And what about you, little lady? Why do you hide in here all day and all night? Why aren’t you about, painting the town red?”

She laughed at him. “How old do you think I am Stuart? My days of painting anything red are long gone.”

“Ach noh! To me you are a spring chicken, too pretty to be gardening all day.”

And drinking all night, she surmised from the way his eyes flicked to the nearly empty bottle and away.

“Would you like a refill?”

She returned with a bowl of peanuts, her rumbling stomach reminding her that dinner time had come and gone. Somehow, she didn’t mind. This easy camaraderie was filling a different hunger.

He spoke of his youth in Inverness. She told him of her travels around the world. He talked of his hopes of Scotland finally gaining independence, the referendum he hoped would pass in his lifetime. She described to him the hustle and bustle, the smell and the chaos of the Bombay fish markets. He talked of his beloved wife, Jane. She topped up their glasses, thought briefly of Walter, and spoke no more.

The crickets came out, and the moths circled the lamp in the garden furiously. They sat together in silence. Till he reached across and put his hand over hers. The feel of his leathery palm dislodged something inside her. Her tears dampened the front of his jacket. Her gasping sobs interspersed with hiccupping sorries. Out came every worry, every silly and sad concern that jostled for space inside her. The mislaid pearls, the mislaid self esteem.His hand patted her back, smoothed her hair, muttered quiet soothing words she couldn’t make out, till she felt herself melt into him, reaching out in the darkness, towards his lips. He pushed her back gently.

“I must leave now, m’dear. It is late.”

She nodded, abashed, aroused, ashamed.

He let himself out. She staggered upstairs to bed, sleeping fitfully, her dreams a jagged landscape, peopled with smoke and pearls and a wistful heaviness.

The next morning, she stumbled downstairs, in search of water, the thudding behind her eyes, threatening to reach epic proportions. A note was placed carefully on her sideboard. The handwriting on the note was unfamiliar, almost old fashioned.
Her befuddled mind could not understand how her pearls sat next to the note, so innocuously, giving nothing away.

Momentarily distracted by the noise next door, she thrust the note and her necklace into her dressing gown pocket, and went out to investigate.

Paramedics, police, the ambulance and a multitude of people were traipsing in and out of Stuart’s house. Alarmed, she ran forward, to be briskly informed she couldn’t enter. Only family was allowed. A visibly shocked, pale faced man walked out and spoke to the police officer. Martin, she guessed. She called out. “What’s happened? Is Stuart alright?”

He looked at her, and looked away, as though she didn’t matter. She supposed she really didn’t.The hawk faced woman from number 10, came over to her conspiratorially.

“He’s dead. That’s his son. Found him this morning. Heart attack they are saying.”

“Oh!”, her sharp intake of breath made the shrew pause briefly in her narrative.

With eager relish she continued. “Been dead a week at least, they say. Poor sod!”

The ground swam up to meet her.

Hours later, revived by the paramedics, and treated for shock, she remembered the note.

It lay crumpled in her pocket. She smoothened it out, pulling her pearls out alongside. It simply said:

Thank you for last night. This should cover it.

The pearls sat in her hand like a coiled serpent. Slowly she let them drop to the floor.

©2014 Poornima Manco

 

Experiment

Indulge me. I am about to embark on an experiment of sorts. This is something that has been bubbling in my subconscious for a while. I am going to try and tell three short stories, different genres each, but arrive at the same juncture at the end. That conclusion will tie in with an earlier blog post of mine.

Why do I want to do this? Because I can. The beauty of writing for oneself, without any professional or time constraints means that I can explore a plethora of styles. Mental gymnastics that keeps me on my toes metaphorically. I would love to hear what you think, so, by no means, hold back. Give it to me straight. If it stinks, tell me. If it’s good, say so. If it’s indifferent, and you really couldn’t be fussed either way, well then obviously, you won’t bother reading any further. And that’s okay too. All feedback is welcome.