'When I turned out the pockets of my new jacket I made a surprising discovery. A flash of orange caught my eye; I investigated, and found that the insides of both pockets were lined with silk—and what silk! Not sober panels in a congruent shade of blue or grey, but finely-worked mosaics of small, grosgrain pieces, each vividly coloured and stitched to the others with great skill—by “the ladies of the town”, I realized, remembering the words of my Tsjerkesleat landlady. '
What is the significance of the strange patchwork? Suffice to say the conclusion is moving and satisfying. Another first-timer in 2009 is Rosalie Parker. Here is the first paragraph of her story 'The Picture':
The picture hung at the far end of the junk shop, its quality shining as clear as a moonbeam through the detritus that surrounded it. Sadie thought at first that it must be a print, but closer inspection proved it to be indeed a drawing, as the label affixed to it claimed. In it, a dark haired, curiously androgynous figure, half-draped in a voluminous white garment, gazed adoringly, imploringly, in profile at some unseen entity above. His slender, long-fingered hands (Sadie decided it was a he, despite the shoulder length hair) were clasped together over his chest. She thought it was mid-Victorian, probably Continental, possibly French, and of a very high standard of draughtsmanship.
Sadie is on a bargain hunt, but not in a naff TV sort of way. Rosalie Parker is one half of the husband-and-wife publishing phenomenon that is Tartarus Press (see my link list). So it's only fair that the other half, Ray Russell, also has a story in an upcoming ST. This one has a suitably seasonal setting:
‘So, why exactly are you here?’ asked the old woman.
Shirley could not have replied immediately, even if she hadn’t just put a large and glutinous lump of Turkish delight into her mouth. Spending the festive season with an elderly lady she did not know had seemed an entirely reasonable thing to do when she had agreed early in December. Her friend, Jane, had said she was aware of two people who would be on their own for Christmas that year, and she had played matchmaker. The fact that Jane knew both Shirley and Mrs Finch quite well did not mean that the two strangers would necessarily be compatible when their friend-in-common was removed from the equation. And anyway, Shirley thought, just how well did Jane really know this awkward old specimen?
From 'Company', by Ray Russell, one of those enigmatic tales reminiscent (to me at any rate) of Walter de la Mare, with perhaps a touch of the Aickmans. Like Tartarus Press, Joel Lane should need no introduction to the discerning reader. His story 'Beneath the Streets' is pretty grim, offering psychological realism in a modern urban setting:
A shadow lurched towards him from the side, and he turned away. Suddenly it was difficult to breathe. He stumbled in the murky light, fell, hit a snow-covered step. The pain felt like a memory. Footsteps rang out in the tunnel behind him. Mark climbed on his hands and knees, struggling for breath. Cold air and yellow light struck his face. He looked back. There was no-one there. The viaduct of Livery Street loomed before him, a black silhouette against the dull twilight.
Okay, so not a barrel of laughs, but powerful stuff. I'm rather pleased to have such a diverse range of styles and themes in my literary pipeline, so to speak. Let's end with a passage from another seasonal tale, 'Red Christmas' by the Scottish writer Jim Steele. This is a flashback to the Korean War:
“What do you think, boys?” asked Eric, “All over by Christmas?”
“I’ll be away by Christmas,” said someone sitting a couple of places down from Harry.
“Would that be yourself speaking, Donald MacDonald?” asked Private Sales in a mock-teuchter voice from across the wagon. Despite his first name being Ian, Sales was one of the Anglo members of the regiment.
“What makes you say that, Donald?” asked Eric.
“I just know it to be so. And I won’t be the only one, Mister Sales.”
A silence descended on them after this exchange. Trust the big Highlander to depress them even further, thought Harry.
All over by Christmas? Well, fragments of shiny wrapping paper will be all over my home by Christmas, at this rate. I really am rubbish at wrapping presents. I am also surrounded by empty bottles, and the two problems may not be unconnected. But in the meantime, in case I don't find anything else to post about, let me wish visitors to this blog - be ye a firm fan of ST or a waif passing in the cyberdarkness - compliments of the season.