My Micro Fiction: When the New Boyfriend Nearly Died

My micro fiction ‘When the New Boyfriend Nearly Died’ was first published in Quadrant magazine in December 2021.

Have a read. Hope you enjoy it.

When the New Boyfriend Nearly Died:

In the hospital’s public toilet, your face pleads back at you, white and worried. Far as you know, your new boyfriend had a heart attack while bouncing between your child-bearing hips. Too much of a strain. It’s not your fault. When he was admitted to Emergency you didn’t know if you’d ever see him again.

After five hours of waiting, you ask the receptionist if you can go in. When she asks you, you can’t pronounce his Polish surname. You spell out the letters. She considers you through the gap in the partition. You tell her you’re his new girlfriend. So you’re the one, she must be thinking before pressing the red button that lets you in.

He is lying in bed, a canula in his arm. His eyes are closed. You sit in a chair beside him and hold his hand. This would never have happened if it weren’t for you. Nurses and doctors hurry past clutching clipboards.

Don’t die on me, you plead.

If he dies, what you will miss are his text messages of love, the thwack of his body, and the pots of Japanese tea you shared. In bed you’d sip from tiny ceramic mugs.

You make a mental list of your strengths and weaknesses: you’re good at hedonistic pleasures, bad at Cryptics, bad at lonely Sundays, good at making new friends, bad at staying in touch, good at making loose-leaf tea after sex with an addict, good at falling for men who can’t stop swallowing uppers and downers. Good at loving your new boyfriend who took too many pills and now you’re worried he’ll die.

Are you dreaming, or did he just squeeze your hand?

Copyright 2021 Libby Sommer

My First Published Short Story in 2000

Libby Sommer with her book The Crystal Ballroom in book store
At Harry Hartog Bookseller

I’m very happy to say that I have been publishing short stories and poems in literary journals for 21 years.

‘Around the World In Fifty Step’ was my first published story. It appeared in Overland Literary Journal Autumn, 2000. Since then, more than 40 have been published.

Have a read of this first one. Hope you enjoy it.

Around the World In Fifty Steps:

  1. Joanna lives in a Sydney suburb with her two sons. It’s 1992 and Australia is in recession.
  2. “I’m sick of licking arse in a service industry,” she says of her marketing business. “And I’m fed up with financial insecurity, the feast or famine of too many projects or not enough and chasing new business and getting clients to pay their bills.”
  3. “I’m thinking of renting the house out and travelling,” she tells her grown up sons after reading “The Pitter Patter of Thirty-Year-Old Feet” in the Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. “You’re ready to leave home are you mum?” said one son.
  5. “Why don’t you just go on a long holiday instead,” said the other.
  6. “I want a new beginning, a change of career, a new home, a community of people, an intimate relationship with a significant other, that sort of thing.”
  7. “You could always get yourself a dog,” suggests a friend.
  8. Her son moves out when she puts his rent up.
  9. “Are you going to wait till he buys a new house for cash before you ask for a decent rent?” her mother had said.
  10. “I’ve decided to go and live with Dad for a change,” says the other son.
  11. “I’ll be away for six to twelve months,” Joanna says as she throws her client files on the rubbish tip.
  12. She spends the spring in Italy. The summer in England, Scotland and Ireland. The autumn walking the gorge country of the Ardeche in France.
  13. In the winter she rents a studio apartment in Villefranche on the French Riviera. The studio belongs to a friend of a friend so she’s able to get it at a good price. She works as a casual deck hand on one of the luxury cruisers in dry dock for maintenance. “The first thing I want you to do,” says her boss when she arrives at work on the first day, “is blitz the tender.” After a backbreaking morning of hard physical work cleaning the small run-about she goes to lunch. She orders a salad nicoise and a coffee and realises her lunch will cost her a morning’s pay.
  14. A young and handsome French man who lives in Paris but comes to Villefranche to visit his grandmother most weekends, pursues her. Joanna comes to realise that French men love and cherish women as much as they appreciate good food.
  15. She shops at the markets, paints and reads and falls in love with the light and the colours of the south of France.
  16. “I’m able to live contentedly alone without a regular job, without a car, without speaking the language,” she writes to her friends back home.
  17. In the summer she moves on again before the tourist masses arrive and the rent goes up.
  18. She gives away to her new friends in Villefranche all the things that won’t now fit in her backpack but keeps her paint brushes and pallet knife.
  19. On the Greek island of Skyros she joins a group of landscape artists led by a famous English painter.
  20. “My purpose in leading this group is to help everyone find their own unique style,” says the woman.
  21. Joanna spends the autumn in London meeting with other artists from the island and the woman becomes her mentor and they meet for a cup of tea every week and talk about the isolation of being an artist as well as many other things.
  22. “It’s important to stop and regenerate before the creative battery runs flat,” she says.
  23. Joanna paints every day and goes out with an English man named Clive.
  24. “Your painting is vivid and alive,” says the famous English artist. “I’ll write you a letter of introduction to my contacts in Australia when you’re ready to exhibit this collection.”
  25. Clive has a strong face with chiselled square cheekbones. Dark brown eyes and dark hair that falls in a square fringe on his forehead. His fingers are long and sensitive for playing the piano.
  26. “What are you doing there?” her mother asks on the phone from across the ocean.
  27. “I’m painting,” says Joanna.
  28.  “But what are you doing?”
  29.   “My mother is like a poisonous gas that can cross from one side of the world to the other,” Joanna says.
  30. Joanna dreams about her sons every night and Clive tells her she cries in her sleep.
  31. She yearns for the bright Australian light and for the sound of the ocean.
  32. She returns to Australia for her eldest son’s wedding.
  33. In Sydney, Joanna supplements her income from the house rental by getting a job as a casual for a clothing company. She unpacks boxes and steampresses the garments. Her back, neck and shoulders ache and she suspects she’s getting RSI from the steampresser.
  34. Clive rings to say he’s coming to visit her.
  35. In preparation for his arrival she moves all her furniture out of storage and rents a small place near the beach hoping that he’ll love it in Australia and decide to stay.
  36. Two weeks before his arrival Clive rings to say he’s not coming and Joanna finds out through a friend that he’s met someone else and is moving in with her.
  37. She tears up his photos and throws his Christmas present at the wall.
  38. Joanna stops painting.
  39. She reflects on the past and all that she’s lost.
  40. I thought when love for you died, I should die. It’s dead. Alone, most strangely, I live on. Rupert Brooke.
  41. Joanna stays in bed most days but still feels so tired that she can only remain vertical for four hours in any twenty-four hour period.
  42. The phone stops ringing.
  43. She rehearses her own death by going to the edge of the cliff.
  44. From the edge she sketches the waves breaking on rocks, the lone seagull on the shore at the water’s edge.
  45. At home she fills in the drawing, blending black charcoal and white pastel reminding herself the darkest hour is before the dawn.
  46. And, after winter spring always comes.
  47. Joanna sells the house where she lived with her children and spends half the money on a home unit overlooking the ocean and the rest of the money on Australian shares.
  48. Her new home faces the east and she can smell the salt from the ocean.
  49. “It takes twenty years to be a successful artist,” echoes in her mind.
  50. On a new canvas she drags the colours of the sunrise across the blank white space.

Copyright © 2000 Libby Sommer

My Microlit ‘In the Mall’

My Microlit ‘In the Mall’ was selected as an entry in the Microflix Writers Awards available to be chosen by filmmakers for adaption to a short film for the 2019 Film Awards. On the theme of SOUND it is available to view on the Microflix SOUND extracts page on the website of Australian short story publisher, Spineless Wonders.

So what is Microlit? According to writer, teacher and editor, Karen Whitelaw: Imagery is important to all writing, but none more than microlit. … Writing is a visual art; paint pictures with words. Things don’t have to be explained, merely implied. This is the beauty of the form, that behind the words a whole world is peeping through. The micro-story has to say something.

Have a read of my story. Hope you enjoy it.

IN THE MALL

In a café inside a mall in Sydney a small curly-topped girl sobbed and sobbed. She sat on her father’s lap, stabbing her finger into a slice of banana bread. Her dad soothed, whispered, coaxed. What would you like, Tara? He cut into his poached egg. Toast? he cajoled. The girl sobbed more loudly, wailing, coughing, staring out into the mall. I want my mum. She cuddled a pink soft piglet. Our eyes scanned the glass display of croissants, pies and pastries. I loved every carb that did not pass my lips. I loved the sobbing child who heard no one else in that cafe but herself, whose lungs fought hard to reach a soaring, sorrowful pitch. What have you got? an elderly woman asked her. Still crying, the child held up her toy. Her father gave up on his poached eggs and carried her out, still wailing. We went and sat at the table with the stabbed-at bread her finger had made and swept the moist crumbs into a heap.

Copyright © 2019 Libby Sommer

 

Short Story: Helen

 

vf clock

Another one of my short stories, first published in Quadrant magazine June 2015, inspired by visits to France.  Each year, if possible, I rent a studio for a month in a little fishing village in the south of France. I refer to these periods of quiet time away as a Writing-Retreat-For-One. A great place to read and write and go for long walks and, hopefully, come up with story ideas.

Although she loved her nieces and nephews, it was when she turned thirty-nine that driving young children around in her car seemed to make her nervous—a tightening in the stomach.  “Aunty Helen, would you like to take Naomi to see The Muppets?  Are you free?”  Always these requests from one of her sisters looking tired and desperate—one of her younger siblings, they used to be so close—and Helen would force herself to make the effort to be the good aunty.  The responsibility of passengers in her car always made her anxious.  She was anxious about one thing or the other most of the time, but wanted to appear selfless and generous-spirited.  Her availability, or non-availability, was noted, itemised, either in her favour, or against her.  She didn’t want to be labelled self-obsessed.  She had entered an era when the nicest thing a person could say to her was, “You’re a fabulous aunty.  The kids love you.”  Continue reading

Short Story: At the Festival

pexels-photo-167491.jpeg

My short story ‘At the Festival’ was first published in Quadrant May 2016. It was inspired by my yearly visits to the Canberra National Folk Festival. The music is really world music rather than folk. A happening event. 60,000 people. Lots of colour and movement for a writer who likes to get ideas from the world around them – though this is a work of fiction.

It was six o’clock in the evening when she finally passed the wind turbines.  There, at last, stood Lake George, where long-woolled sheep grazed the field and to the west the Brindabella mountain range was coloured grey and pink by the setting sun.   On she drove along an ink-black strip of road where, on either side, tall green-grey eucalypts had formed a welcoming archway.  The way flattened out then curved into a narrow empty road.  Not one person did she see, not one building, just a handful of brown-bellied cows and later a group of kangaroos standing formidable and still in the headlights.  The turn for Watson wasn’t clearly sign-posted but she felt confident in turning east along the row of liquid ambers in autumn bloom that took her to the cabins.

Twice on the journey she had pulled into a service station and shut her eyes and briefly rested but now, as she neared Canberra, she felt wide awake and full of energy.  Even the dark length of road which progressed flatly to Reception seemed to hold the promise of a new beginning.  She sensed the towering, protective presence of the mountain range, the forested hills and, further on, just past the turnoff, the clear, pleasant thump of music coming from the festival.

The receptionist gave her a key, and eagerly she drove further on to cabin number five.  Inside, the room was renovated:  the two single beds replaced by a double.  The same compact kitchenette set into one end of the room but a new television secured to the wall by a multidirectional wall bracket.  In between, on the bare linoleum floor, stood a small table laminated with melamine and two matching chairs.  She set her keys and mobile on the table and reached for the electric jug for tea. Continue reading

Short Story: Jean-Pierre

vf clock

‘Jean-Pierre’, first published in Quadrant magazine in July 2016, was inspired by my frequent visits to a small fishing village in the south of France. Basically, I am always looking for story ideas. I use anything that moves or makes a noise, is what I tend to tell people. And as I like to ground my stories in a strong sense of place, Villefranche-sur-Mer was my inspiration:  

This was in a far distant land.  There were Pilates classes but no surfing beaches or vegan restaurants.  People said to hell with low-fat diets and tiny portions.  Charles, who had wanted her to hire his friend Jean-Pierre as tour guide, had encouraged her in yoga class.    ‘Look, Zina, you’re a facilitator—you’ve been running those groups—for what—thirty years?’

‘Only twenty, for goodness sake.’  She had turned forty-nine and frowned at him upside down between the legs of a downward facing dog.  She had a face marked by the sun, a face left to wrinkle and form crevasses by years of smoking, a face made shiny by the application of six drops of jojoba oil, although the shop girl had recommended she use only three.  ‘I love that word facilitator.  It says so much.’

‘Twenty.  All right.  This guy’s not at all your type.  He’s a numbers man.  He shows tourists around in between Engineering contracts.  He can show you how to buy a bus or a train ticket, how to withdraw money out of the wall—get your bearings.  You can hire him for half a day.  Or, in your case, half a day and half the night.’

‘Very funny,’ she said, stifling a laugh.  Now they were on all fours arching their backs like cats, then flattening their spines to warm up the discs.  Indian chanting music took your mind off the fact that the person behind you was confronted with your broad derriere. ‘So what’s the story with Jean-Pierre?’ Continue reading

Short Story: Alfresco

 

pexels-photo-317157.jpeg

Hope you enjoy reading this short story ‘Alfresco’ first published in May-June Quadrant 2017.  It took me a year of rewrites until finally reaching a publishable standard. What gave me the idea for the story was that I’d booked into a yoga retreat in Queensland and thought I’d probably get some creative writing ideas when there. But what happened was the retreat was cancelled due to lack of bookings. As I’d written a beginning for the story already I had to make the rest up. It had amused me that you could make a booking for a room with an ‘alfresco’ bathroom: 

She remembers the exact moment she agreed to go to the mid-winter yoga retreat. Her friend Vivian had been there before and said she would come back a new person. Transformed. Continue reading

Short Story: On Valentine’s Day

colourful books on bookcase shelves

On Valentine’s Day was first published in October 2017 in Quadrant magazine. It is set in Perth, Australia. I like my stories to have a strong sense of place, so used a visit to this city to research the setting. Usually it takes me two to six months to write a new piece of fiction of 3,000-5,000 words. This one took about a year of recrafting until the story reached a publishable standard. I was so happy when it was finally accepted. I’m not sure what inspired the story itself. I usually come up with a character and then work out what happens to him or her as the story progresses, but ‘place’ is what grounds me in the story telling.  Continue reading

Fortnightly Story: Jean-Pierre

buildings and Town Clock of Villefranche sur Mer

This was in a far distant land.  There were Pilates classes but no surfing beaches or vegan restaurants.  People said to hell with low-fat diets and tiny portions.  Charles, who had wanted her to hire his friend Jean-Pierre as tour guide, had encouraged her in yoga class.    ‘Look, Zina, you’re a facilitator—you’ve been running those groups—for what—thirty years?’

‘Only twenty, for goodness sake.’  She had turned forty-nine and frowned at him upside down between the legs of a downward facing dog.  She had a face marked by the sun, a face left to wrinkle and form crevasses by years of smoking, a face made shiny by the application of six drops of jojoba oil, although the shop girl had recommended she use only three.  ‘I love that word facilitator.  It says so much.’

‘Twenty.  All right.  This guy’s not at all your type.  He’s a numbers man.  He shows tourists around in between Engineering contracts.  He can show you how to buy a bus or a train ticket, how to withdraw money out of the wall—get your bearings.  You can hire him for half a day.  Or, in your case, half a day and half the night.’

‘Very funny,’ she said, stifling a laugh.  Now they were on all fours arching their backs like cats, then flattening their spines to warm up the discs.  Indian chanting music took your mind off the fact that the person behind you was confronted with your broad derriere. ‘So what’s the story with Jean-Pierre?’ Continue reading