Saturday, January 29, 2011

Under the Radar and, er, being under the radar

Well, it's been a while since I posted here - partly because I've been settling in to a new job, and the blog has fallen through the cracks. But today I received a little nudge in the form of the latest issue of Under the Radar, the magazine published by Nine Arches Press. This is a short story special, and contains two of my stories, 'Back in a Jiffy' and 'Cichlids', both of which will appear in my book next year. ('My book' is so lame - must settle on a title soon...) It's good form of course to list the other contents of a magazine when bragging on the internet about being in it. But weekends are precious as they're the only time I get to see my family. So bad form it'll have to be - no time to read till Monday night.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Short Story: Markingitis

It's that time of year, so I'm posting a story to help anyone who should be marking to procrastinate further:

I had a lot of marking that semester. In the summer we were going to Bangladesh, and I’d taken on extra teaching for the money. But I couldn’t settle to it. It wasn’t that the scripts were bad: second-year criminology. I’d seen a lot worse. Their referencing was excellent. But me and marking are like magnets with the poles aligned: we repel each other. It’s as if my arse is allergic to the chair.
We had these wonderful plums from the hippy shop down the road, really special. They shone with light, or whatever. So juicy. My girlfriend had gone mad and bought us a boxful. They were sitting there on the kitchen table – so I made a little rule.
If I got the end of a script and I hadn’t had a plum, that was a first. It indicated sustained attention. If I’d had one, a two-one; two, a two-two; and so on. If the essay couldn’t keep my mind off the plums, it couldn’t be any good.
It was a good system: when it went for second marking I didn’t get any queries. The external examiner praised us, and I like to think the plums did their bit. But I hadn’t reckoned on the consequences: I shat brown water for three days.
When we realised what it was we called it markingitis, a bad dose of comfort fruit, and that was that. A giggle. But after we got to Bangladesh my girlfriend came down with the shits herself. It happens: different food, different water. We said it was markingitis again, and maybe it was the heat but we thought it was inordinately funny. She’d sit there in the cubicle of our chalet thingy, shaking with laughter and shitting, while I made cracks about the students being responsible for this, about plum bum and fruit juice. And so on.
She couldn’t keep much down, but she was game, and kept up a dry chuckle at my gags. I had a look round the neighbourhood and came back with stories and a few bland treats. And always the markingitis jollity. It was really pretty funny.
On the sixth day I came back in with a glass of coconut milk and asked her if the exam board was sitting that morning. She didn’t even smirk. I went over and found her skin felt all clammy.
She never regained consciousness. I had to call her parents and tell them. It was a sad time, of course, and I didn’t mention markingitis on the phone or at the funeral in England later. They were dignified and polite, and I was grateful to them for that. But even now, when I see a bowl of plums, I can’t help but smile.