Kirsten has read at Story Shop 2014, the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust’s daily showcase at the Edinburgh International Book Festival of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today. You can find the story she read on Sun 17th August below.
Kirsten Waller came to Edinburgh on the way down from university at Aberdeen and hasn’t left yet. Originally from Suffolk, she’s a freelance writer and editor, who also reviews for TV Bomb, “mainly in for the free tickets”. She’s been published in Far Off Places, an Edinburgh-based e-zine and is currently working on a hoard of short stories, a radio play and a couple of play scripts.
The Short Story she read on the day
a short story by Kirsten Waller
You’ve done it again. There’s a crease in the spine, and the curled corner of a page. More than one page. Why do you do that? Who stops reading a book after a few pages, folds the corner, and then starts again?
And there are crumbs. Hidden between the delicate leaves. I told you, you have to be careful. There’s a slight burnt scent now, where’s that coming from? I bend my neck and sniff. Toast. Crumbs of toast. You’ve been eating toast, spraying flecks from your mouth as you casually turn the pages. Leaving buttery fingerprints. I know you have, I’ve seen you before. When we’re both home. Curled up on the sofa, tea in hand and buttered toast on the side, as you flick through a crisp Sunday supplement. You do it with the TV on, some inane home improvement show that you’re not even watching. It drives me mad. It’s like a comforting cocoon, you have to have everything on, all at once, like you can’t decide what you want most.
I’ve found other things before, nestled between the pages. Little trinkets in the books you bring me back, extra gifts I don’t want. Those little metal twists, whatever they’re called, you use them for tying up food bags, all coiled up or neatly knotted. Earrings. Loose change. Worn out bus tickets, why do you keep them? Hair bands, hair clips. Hair, often, long strands. I have to fish them out, they get caught up in the spine. They’re always clean, I’ll give you that, always soft, fine strands of spun gold. You don’t know how lucky you are.
I keep turning the pages, checking right to the back. There’s crumbs the whole way through. Look, there’s even a bit of crust. It’s dirty, the whole thing, I can’t stand it, it’s so thoughtless. You know how much it upsets me. You know. But you don’t care. You don’t think of yourself as uncaring, you’d hate to, but you don’t care about these books like I do. I’ve seen your shelves, packed full to overflowing. Piles of books left lying around, coated in dust, it breaks my heart. You laughed when I said that, not nastily. You’re not nasty. You said they were untidy, you meant to sort them, you keep meaning to. You don’t find it that upsetting. It doesn’t niggle at you, deep into the night when you’re trying to sleep.
All these habits I have. It’s not much. It’s just the little touches. I like things to be neat. I like my thinking to be neat, ordered. You charge around in a haze of late appointments, last-minute dates and drinks. Never time to check if you’ve emptied the washing machine, or even locked up. There was that time last winter, when you’d just moved in, do you remember? When you walked out and left your door clean open, and someone went in and nicked your laptop? You were so upset, you phoned me in tears. All my pictures, you said, my files, music, how will I get it back? It’s only luck that the police found it, that the thief tried to sell it on, in a known crack den of all places. It’s only luck that they took nothing else, that everything was still sealed tight in boxes, you hadn’t bothered to unpack anything yet.
I’ve had to get the cloth. The soft one, it used to be for your glasses. You gave it to me. See, I’m right, you’re not nasty. When you remember, when it dawns on you, you think of others. You never used it, you’re always wiping them on your shirt or skirt, or letting the dirt build up until you can hardly see. But partly, I don’t know. I wanted you to hang on to it. I wanted you to learn to use it, to do things properly.
I’ve taken the book to the study now, straight back on the shelf. It’s too warm, I’ll have to prop the door open. There’s a heater, a portable one, cord straggling out, what’s that doing here? Was I going to bring it over? Was I meant to give it to you, just now? I tried to pull you in for a coffee but you said no, you said it would be lovely but you had to run, late as usual. Meeting your flatmates, seeing that weird German film Alex or Heddy or whatever her name is, the one she was going on about. You spend so little time in the flat, all of you, it’s no wonder it’s so messy. That’s why it’s not taken care of. You say you don’t mind the cold, but you’re always out, whenever you can be. In cafés, nursing a pot of tea, typing, drifting. I’ve walked past and seen you, just a couple of times, on Marshall Road. I’ve always meant to go in, say hello. But you’ve got such an expression, such a faraway look on your face. You’re not noticing people walking, you don’t think about where you are. It’s looks lonely; at least it should do. On most people’s faces it would.
I’ll have to get that heater over to you. Drive it round this evening. You need something, it’s not enough with the blanket and all those jumpers you wear. All sitting round the TV, with hats and fingerless gloves, it’s ridiculous. Huddled over hot chocolate, marshmallows. Laughing sometimes, like it’s a big joke.
I go over to the window, open it for a bit of air, gaze out onto the street. It’s turning dark earlier. There’s a sort of frosted glitter on the street, though surely it’s too early for frost. There are mothers and fathers with pushchairs, other children running alongside. A tramp curled up on the bench. There’s a gang of teenagers, giggling and shouting about something. And there’s a girl wandering along, a young woman, walking like you do. Floating up the street, swiftly, but stopping every minute to gaze into some window or other. A hat, a thin coat, boots. At least your coat’s thick, nice and downy. She nearly trips once. Too busy staring across the road, at that little patch of lawn. The council’s really let it get untidy, the bushes really need cutting back. I glance back and she’s rounding the corner, gone in one sharp turn.
I jerk the blind and it falls, cutting off the outside world. I pace back towards the kitchen, past the study where the light’s still on. Go in and check the shelves, check nothing has fallen off, what if I didn’t put it back quite right? I push my face near the book, sniff it. The smell of charcoaled bread still clings, faintly out of place in a room perfumed with spiced candles. Head back, I turn and flick the light off. Shut the door, but not fully. I know you’ll be back.
(c) Kirsten Waller, 2014
- her arts review website: penandpuffin.com where she chats about books, radio, theatre, film and anything else that takes her fancy
- her Twitter accounts: @Kirsten_Hayley and @Pen_and_Puffin