Ruth 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 Sun 1oth August 2014 below.
Ruth Aylett came to Edinburgh from Manchester in 2004 to work at Heriot-Watt University where she teaches computing and researches artificial intelligence and robotics. She is a writer and poet with work ranging from an online epic called Granite University written with three colleagues, to a poem about cyclists on Mont Ventoux in the anthology Tour de Vers (Red Squirrel Press, 2014).
The 2 Short Stories she read on the day
Tell Me the Way to Go Home
a short story by Ruth Aylett
There was this man down the pub. “Want a Tom-Tom, going cheap?” Well, not an actual Tom-Tom, but at that price, who was complaining?
I’m a man with a van, shifting stuff from places I don’t know to places I can’t find, so GPS was just the ticket. It stuck onto the dash; no on-off switch, came on automatically when I turned the ignition. Hands-free voice-operation, the man in the pub said.
I was collecting a wardrobe from Sheffield and taking it to a farm somewhere round Holmfirth. The pickup was after 6 and on the last day of October it would be pitch black out on the Pennine roads. GPS: just the ticket.
Didn’t like the voice much. Not a celebrity like some I’d heard about, just some young woman. The instructions went up a pitch at the end, all sounded like questions. Didn’t inspire confidence but I suppose that’s how young people talk. Should have picked someone with more oomph I thought. Halfway there, past Stocksbridge, the mist came down. Often does in late autumn. Couldn’t see where I was going. Time passed, the GPS had me making a lot of turns, then the road climbed, which didn’t seem right.
Suddenly the mist lifted. Jesus! Looked like I was right out in the middle of a moor on a tiny bending road. Total blackness. Was there really a farm out here? No lights anywhere.
“In fifty metres, take the next left” went the GPS. I slowed right down and just made out a tiny lane, with big dry-stone walls either side. Maybe that could lead to a farm?
“Sure about this?” I said aloud.
“Yes” the GPS said. Nearly jumped out of my skin, drifted towards the wall and then stalled as I put my foot on the brake.
“What the effing hell is going on here? Bloody candid camera?”
“Continue for 200 metres and you will reach your destination”, the voice said.
“We’re effing lost aren’t we?” I shouted.
“Continue for 200 metres” it repeated.
There was nothing to lose at this point. So on I went. The lane ended in a field. Not a farmhouse in sight.
“Effing useless device,” I muttered.
“You have reached your destination,” the voice said.
“Get out of the car, walk 20 metres right.”
“What? There’s nothing there, you electronic idiot. ”
“Behind the large rock you will find my body.”
Could have shat myself with fear at that point. Every story I’d ever heard about murderers creeping up in the dark went through my mind. Nearly turned round and put the foot down. But no. Be a man, I thought, get the torch. Must be a joke. Got to be. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.
You know the rest. Battered body, young woman. Dead a while it looked like. So I dialled 999. What else could I do? Course, I never let on what happened, told them I got lost following the GPS. I could see they didn’t believe me, but luckily nothing linked me to her.
Oh – the GPS never said another word, ever. Binned it.
(c) Ruth Aylett, 2014
Mother of god
a short story by Ruth Aylett
How long has she been standing there with her hands in the washing up water? The water’s gone cold. Her fingers have gone crinkly. A long while.
She’d been doing last night’s dishes, looking out into the wintery garden. The sun came out, for the first time since she’d got back from the hospital. A patch of blue sky appeared and a bird launched itself up into the wind shaking the bare roses. A gust carried it over the fence and away, and she felt herself lifting off into the air with it, into the blue sky.
Blue sky, blue eyes. Blue silk, framing a face. A woman. With a calm featureless expression. The baby on her lap with a knowing too-old stare.
She accuses. “It’s alright for you. Yours doesn’t look as if he cries much. You don’t look as if you’ve been feeding him yourself.”
“But you had yours in hospital, so much cleaner.” The woman sounds confident, like the health visitor telling her she’d soon feel more cheerful – “won’t we dear?”
“Dragged out with forceps. His head all pointy like the top end of an egg. I bet you had a completely normal delivery. Holy Spirit on your side.”
“I had to bring him forth with pain, dear, just like you. We’re all casualties of that fatal mistake with the apple.” Such a calm smile.
“Apples good for the brain then? That huge head had to be dragged out of me.”
“Brains are overrated dear. Motherly instinct is what you need. The heart knows what to do.”
“But I don’t know what to do. He cries and cries, nothing works. You don’t know. Your baby isn’t natural. Look: he’s staring at me.”
“That’s because he can see into your heart, dear.”
She looks down. Where her own breasts should be is a large red heart floating in a lake of milk, just like the jam in the hospital rice pudding.
Startled, she looks up again. Now there is only sky. The water has gone cold. Her fingers have gone crinkly. How much time has passed? She steps backwards, confused.
She’d forgotten her empty belly, flapping when she moves. The stitches in the tear between her legs, stinging. She’d forgotten the baby. Oh god, the baby. She shuffles into the back room and leans over the carrycot. Is he breathing? Moves her crinkled fingers close to his nose, feels them go colder and warmer as his breath flows over them.
She remembers the dark hours loaded with his screams and her despair; dozing, waking, struggling to get the nipple into his mouth. The sharp pain as he latches on and the cracked skin fragmenting under his unsympathetic gums. Her breasts ache in response, milk flooding into the tissues making them hard. A body clock telling her he’ll be waking soon.
The slate blue eyes opening, failing to focus, the head jolting as the mouth looks for milk. Looks for her. Only her. His mother.
(c) Ruth Aylett, 2014
Other places to find her stories
Ruth has had worked published by New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Doire Press among others. In 2012 she appeared in the Free Fringe with Sarah the Poetic Robot.