Sunday 23rd August
Shona was the ninth reader Story Shop 2015, the daily Edinburgh International Book Festival showcase of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.
Her appearance was on Sun 23rd August 2015 at 4 pm in the Spiegeltent. Story Shop performances take roughly ten minutes and are free and unticketed.
Shona’s story Home Run was included in the Scottish Book Trust’s 2014 anthology Scotland’s Stories of Home, and she was a runner-up in the Emerald Street ghost story competition, with Buyer’s Remorse. On Twitter she’s @ShonaCook5.
You can hear the author read an extract of the story by clicking the play button on the photo above.
The Short Story she read
a short story by Shona Cook
Doris wound the window down and let the candy wrapper flutter from her fingers as the car sped along the narrow road. She disapproved of littering but didn’t think it mattered now, with the world about to end.
She took the curves at crazy speeds, flung the heavy DeSoto into every bend and punched the gas pedal on the exits, feeling the power flow from her feet. Her fingers tensed on the large, leather-bound steering wheel. She’d always been a careful driver. What a monumental waste. Her heart thudded along with the growling engine’s throb. Despite the imminence of civilisation’s fall, she couldn’t fight the grin that stretched her new-rouged lips. The wind from the cracked window mussed the Mae West waves in hair she’d never before dared bleach. Errant gusts twitched the hem of the dress she’d saved for special. Precious nylons rendered her calves deliciously silky as the skirt flicked against them. She looked a million dollars. It was a shame she’d left it so late.
Pop would be mad about her taking his car but he was away on business. She’d been alone when she heard the news and knew at once what she had to do. Left the wireless blaring its horrors and got herself licked into tiptop shape. Dashed out to the garage, handbag bulging with Pop’s emergency cash hoard.
If this wasn’t an emergency she didn’t know what was.
The DeSoto’s head beams merged with gaudy lights from a roadside diner. The town that followed was clad in Hallowe’en finery: carved pumpkins glowed in porches; the crisp air was singed with burnt sugar and stark trees bedecked with ribbons. Only October thirtieth, but a Sunday was better for celebrating. Playful rites to deter visits from angry spirits. Little did these innocents know the vengeful horde was massing already, in Grover’s Mill.
Doris slewed the car into a parking place outside the liquor store. Not much of a drinker and it showed, she was sure, as she scanned the shelves for something suitable. American bourbon and French champagne. Never tried either. Selected two bottles of each then drummed her shiny talons on the counter, in the manner of an RKO starlet she admired, while the owner advised her on a starter pack of cigarettes. She went for Lucky Strikes in the hope they’d be an omen. Nearly forgot to buy matches but the man took in her purchases, her attire, winked lasciviously, and threw in a box for free. Ordinarily she’d have been mortified, blushed to her toes, and insisted on paying. Tonight she blew him an airy kiss and sashayed out with a spring in her step. She had bigger fish to fry.
The drug store was open late. At least, its soda fountain was. The florid matron on duty twitched her apron disapprovingly and Doris was taken aback, till she glimpsed her own reflection and remembered she was now a scarlet lady of the type her backwoods community only knew through the movies. She flashed a thousand-watt smile and ordered a lemon meringue pie, staying the hand that went to slice it, and repeating that she wanted the whole thing. Talked over the objections and silenced them with an excessive gratuity. Doris knew it didn’t matter if they’d none left for tomorrow’s customers.
The pie glistened in its box on the back seat and the bottles clinked as she stowed them in the footwell, despite their paper bag mufflers. She leaned against the smooth hood of the Sedan and smiled back at the stars. The match flared and she felt a flash of premonitory nostalgia for the hand it revealed. A steady hand, it had served her well, though it trembled some now, as she lit the cigarette. Excitement, not nerves. She didn’t know why she was emboldened, not frightened. Armageddon suited her.
Her eyes flooded. Her lungs seared and constricted. She coughed and spat and threw the paper tube on the floor and ground it into the dirt with her dainty heel. Not enough time to learn to enjoy that, clearly. Smoking yet another thing she’d not tick off her list. A long list, but shrinking.
She drove through the night. The odd swig of whiskey proved surprisingly reviving. When she reached the coast a fat sun, like a ripe satsuma, floated in the ocean. She breakfasted on lemon meringue pie and popped the champagne. Swigged it from the bottle with her toes dug in frost-crusted sand. Watched the frothing waves till her mind slipped its tethers and washed free.
Satsuma flowered into grapefruit; a generous fall morning melted the shaggy silver pelt from hunched boulders bordering the beach, sent a shimmer up to hover at her knees and blended the skyline. Doris ached to preserve this delicate world, though the painful stiffness that crept over her might equally be cramp. She wasn’t dressed for these shenanigans but figured, if she caught a chill, she’d not be reaping the consequences.
Turned the car back inland, followed the signs for Chesapeake Bay and Annapolis. No traffic on the roads. No checkpoints. No sturdy ack-acks aimed at the sky. Prim green lawns and stately silence. The Academy’s placidity surprised her. Surely they’d be on full alert? Preparing the futile resistance to insuperable forces? Perhaps they’d mobilised already, and she was too late. She cursed her self-indulgent delay but the guard at the gates was a promising sign. The unopened bottle of bourbon, the mostly unsmoked Lucky Strikes, and her appearance were enough to win his assistance. He would soon be relieved of his post and promised to find Johnny for her. He didn’t think it would be difficult, and laughed off her allusions to a looming threat. She was proud of the bravery implied in his calm. Like death was nothing.
Johnny looked more like she’d expect; worry-lines scarring his face. His concern was for her, though; turning up without warning, when she’d barely written since they broke up. Driving Pop’s car, dolled up to the nines and offering liquor-scented kisses. Babbling of invasion; terrifying news reports of landings in New Jersey.
Not long before the East Coast fell, the continent, the world. He hushed her, happy this was where she thought to be when trouble came, however fantastical. When she quit school to run the household of her widowed father, buried both their hopes, sent him running to the Navy’s welcoming arms, he’d lost sight of her. This was his Doris back: vibrant, decisive, fearless.
She was only a little embarrassed to discover her mistake. When the giggling fits subsided she wrote a note of thanks to Orson Welles. If she’d caught the start of his radio drama, or stuck around for the end, she’d still be alone in her father’s house, fading into nothingness. As it was she found Pop a housekeeper; a decent woman Doris liked and was glad to accept, a few years later, as her stepmother. Doris finished school, stayed blonde and stopped saving dresses for special. She only drank at parties and never took up smoking. Her father put the DeSoto in her name.
At their wedding Johnny told the guests how the end of the world had made the day possible. And many more days. Years, in fact. Years of fun and conversation and a posting to Hawaii. Years of love and life and laughter, till another Sunday, in December 1941, when the invaders weren’t figments and the world ended for real.
(c) Shona Cook, 2015
Story Shop 2015
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