Sarah has read at Story Shop 2014, the daily showcase at the Edinburgh International Book Festival of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today. You can find the two short stories she read on Sat 9th August 2014 below.
Sarah Gundle is an American writer currently living in Edinburgh, though she spends as much time travelling as she can. The first time she stepped foot outside of Waverley, she knew Edinburgh was the place for her, and she moved here as soon as she could.
The 2 short stories she read at Story Shop
a short story by Sarah Gundle
Timeflies are the worst.
I’ll be sitting at my desk, trying to focus, trying to get work done, hoping to get carried away and have time fly by, but there’ll only be one measly timefly perched on the back of my chair, tick-tick-ticking away. It’s always one of those old-school clocks, too, a little round face with skinny black hands and a brass alarm on top. Why can’t one of the digital flies show up when you really need to concentrate? A nice, quiet read out, a steady red glow as the minutes pass by. That’d be nice.
This one time I saw a fly shaped like a grandfather clock. It was swaying as it flew, left and right and left again, changing direction every time its pendulum swung. Grandfather clocks and bumblebees – did nobody ever tell them they shouldn’t be able to fly? Their poor little wings.
When I was a kid and my mom would send me to my room there was this really obnoxious fly that would perch right inside my ear and the ticking would echo through my head until I couldn’t think about anything except how much longer I’d be stuck there, listening to the lazy, measured beat of time going by. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick.
And then, when you actually want everything to go nice and slow, when your friends are around and you’re drinking your wine and having fun, the stupid things swarm. Everything goes faster and faster and timeflies are everywhere, ticking madly, and sometimes the cloud of them is so thick you can’t see three feet in front of you.
Why can’t they come around when I have to do something boring? Just once I’d like a swarm of them when I’m at the dentist, or in the last hour at the office before I get to go home. Some things should just hurry up and finish, you know? But no, they just fly around speeding things up and slowing them down however they like, completely ignoring our feelings on the matter. Power-drunk jerks.
The day I met Bruno, a particularly obnoxious fly was buzzing around my head, a silvery, Dali-esque clock about the size of a dragonfly, melting at the bottom, with long green wings so thin I could see the light through them when it flew in front of my face. Bruno had a timefly following him around, too – a big, black alarm clock with a glow-in-the-dark face and feathery white wings. He was at the table next to me reading the paper. He dropped a section and I picked it up for him, and my fingers brushed up against his hand when I gave it back to him. The next thing I knew, five more clocks were flying around my face, perching on my shoulders, ticking in my ear. He blushed a little, a faint red that crept up his neck like a sunset, and flies began to swarm around him, too.
Before we knew it, he was at my table and a mass of timeflies was moving towards us like an early spring fog. Every now and then an alarm would go off and he’d reach out and swat at the offending fly or I would try to find a snooze button, using the tip of my nail to reset it. Anything for a few more minutes together. Eventually they all began to ring at once and we looked up, startled, only to realize three hours had gone by.
We met up at the pub for drinks that night and to nobody’s surprise, the flies were already there, waiting for us. By the time we sat down, the haze of them was so thick we couldn’t even see the rest of the bar. We talked for hours, half-shouting to make ourselves heard over the constant ticking and the beating of wings.
We began to talk more quietly, words less important than sheer proximity, noses almost touching, lips so close I could feel the gentle puff of air from his mouth when he spoke. He said something I didn’t catch and pulled away. He reached out and began clapping into the cloud of flies, catching them and squashing them between his palms as his hands met. I could hear the shattering of glass and wood and the crunch of tiny metal wings. Gears and springs no thicker than a strand of hair were scattered all over the table and were even floating in our drinks. They began to attack, flying themselves towards his face, wings cutting his lips and the fine skin near his temples. He swatted at them and I watched the flies sail across the room, trying to get under their own control, wings flapping angrily. If they came back, he sent them flying again.
I joined him and as we crushed them, squishing the small ones under our thumbs and knocking the larger ones down and feeling the crunch of minute hands and shattered clock faces under the heels of our boots, things became calmer, little by little. When we’d cleared most of them out of the way, he leaned back.
With a last glance around to spot any lingering timeflies, he pulled me to him and kissed me gently. My hand rested nervously on his thigh and his hand was on my back, keeping me close. Without the cloud of flies around us, time began to move so slowly I had a chance to really absorb it all: the softness of his lips, his baby-fine hair, the pressure of his palm on the few inches of exposed skin above my jeans. My heart was beating in my ears and I could just barely hear a small cuckoo clock, the sole survivor of our massacre, cautiously flying around our heads, pendulum swinging back and forth.
(c) Sarah Gundle, 2014
Before the Blood Clots
a short story by Sarah Gundle
You dug your fingers into the grooves in your chest and your ribs spread open on well-greased hinges. Reaching in, you plucked your heart out with a practiced twist of your wrist and set it down on the table in front of me.
I wanted to tell you it was too early for this, but your skin began to turn the light green grey of a tornado brewing and you held your hand out to me expectantly. I took the scalpel, hands shaking, and you wrapped your hand around mine and pressed down. Together, we felt the skin part under the steady pressure of the knife, but only I felt the pain. My lip trembled and I bit it before you noticed, before you had a chance to see the fear behind my offering.
Once the skin was opened from clavicle to navel in my jagged approximation of a Y incision, I pulled the flaps of muscle and skin back as you handed me the saw. I could feel my heart rate rise as it began to buzz. I pulled it down along my sternum and, setting it down again, felt the crack reverberate through my limbs as I pulled my ribcage apart to reveal the red and pink and purple organs, my own internal geography colour-coded like a child’s map. I saw your heart in front of me, each beat growing slower and shallower, and I cut my own free of the constricting veins and arteries and handed it to you. I missed it even before you took it from me, but you tucked it into your chest and promised it’d be safe as you stitched it in. I saw the hollowness around it, however, the empty space that would envelop it, and I wondered how you would keep it undamaged. Even your walk was careless, a jumpy, arrhythmic stomp, and I felt the vacant spot in my own chest ache in sympathy as my heart rattled around its new cage.
Your heart barely fit in my hand. But you were watching so I, obedient, tried to squeeze it in before my blood began to clot and closed me off to you forever. But your heart bubbled up in the middle of my chest and I knew my ribs would never shut.
Shaking your head, you lit a cigarette and took a deep drag and I thought for a second I could trace the smoke into your lungs and watch the faintest deposits of plaque being carried to my heart. I pushed the thought aside. It was your heart now, I’d given it to you, and no matter how reluctant, a gift was still a gift. Arching your eyebrow at the halt in my work, you stared pointedly at your own heart, still homeless.
Reaching in, I pushed my lungs up and felt my esophagus coil itself into my neck, weaving to and fro like an extra intestine, larynx squeezing against vertebrae. Carefully, I took the lungs and spread them apart, pulling the bottom halves towards my shoulders to create more space.
The heart still would not fit.
While you were lighting up another cigarette, I looked at the tray of instruments and picked up the razor. I began to carefully shave away the edges of my lungs, letting slivers of pinkish grey organ flutter onto my legs, each one sighing, “He loves me, he loves me, he loves me,” as it fell. The diaphragm was next, a deep purple band at the base of the lungs, and I chipped away at it, smiling. Your heart would fit this time.
You looked at me as I picked up the still-beating muscle from the table, and took a step back.
“You’re a mess.”
Your eyes lingered on the small pink and purple piles of organ shavings scattered around my legs. I tried to speak, to tell you it was all for you, that I didn’t regret it, but the pressure of vertebrae on larynx kept any sound from coming out.
You pulled my heart, bruised from rough wear, from your chest. Snatching your heart from my hand, you put it back in its cage of muscle and bone and pulled your chest shut. Without looking back at me, you took the sutures and only needle and stitched yourself back together as you walked away.
(c) Sarah Gundle, 2014
Other places to find her stories
Her work has appeared in FOUR magazine, DenizenMag.com, and will be published in Dactyl later this month.
- her home page: www.sarahgundle.com
- she is 1/3 of this creative writers’ blog: www.lovewritingadventure.com
- her Twitter account: @sarahgundle