‘Painstaking Progress’ revisited

 

sunset over the ocean

‘Painstaking Progress’ is another of my stories, like ‘Art and the Mermaid’, that was first published in Quadrant Magazine. It shows the difficulties of the writing process for the narrator as she tries to make sense of  her family history and agonizes about the relationship with her young lover.

Painstaking Progress

by Libby Sommer

I’m imagining a cloudy autumn morning.  There’s a room.  Half office, half bedroom.  Not too large and not too small.  The windows of the room face east and look out towards the ocean across the expanse of a green gully.

I picture a woman sitting on a bed with pillows behind her back.  The windows are open.  Perhaps it is Saturday morning.  On the bedside table is a mug of tea and a photograph of the woman’s daughter on her wedding day.

The wind begins to stir the big trees outside and the morning haze is beginning to move and for a short moment the sun lightens the carpet and heavy dark wood furniture.  The shadows of the curtains’ curves darken the floor, almost invisible to the woman on the bed.   The morning sun lightens the CD player, the alarm clock, the piles of books stacked on the revolving Victorian bookcase.

She looks out at the water and at the triangle of beach.  Sometimes it seems that nothing much changes out there, although on some days the waves break close to shore and at other times further out to sea.  She can see it all from the bed, even at night time.  The bed faces the beach and the ocean, and so does the desk.  The room is like standing at the rail of a ship.

On the radio:  ‘Waves, to me, are a reason to live,’ says the surfer.  ‘When you see the roar, the jaws, there is nothing that touches it on the face of the earth.’

In June the twilight begins in the afternoon.  The days close in on me, here in

this room.  The infinite possibilities in the sky and the sea and the possibility of nothing.

What is this writing life?  It tears me to pieces every day.

Continue reading

Fortnightly Story: Helen

Villefranche sur Mer

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

Fortnightly Story: Tom

man in black wetsuit riding a wave

May Ling steps across the skipping rope.  I’m waiting for her with her baby brother, outside the school hall, but she hasn’t seen me yet.   Every Thursday when she finishes her Hip Hop class I hang about with the other mothers and grandmothers and carers.  It’s a routine I enjoy—walking up here with the baby in the stroller and then chatting with May Ling as we walk home. Continue reading

Fortnightly Story: Mother

an adult and two children walking along a beach

The day is softening into night, my desk in shadow as the sun moves behind the building.  Birds hover in the trees as the wind blows across the surface of the sea.  It’s hard to know which way to go.  Every day I fear that I can’t do it.  So I’m watching as it gets dark.

Tonight I’m thinking about the saddest bits.  Thinking, for example, that the night was alight with thunder.  Lightening cracked the sky.  Just a flash and then darkness again.

That I loved him, and sometimes he loved me too. Continue reading

Fortnightly Story: Michael

black and white photo of the back of a man as he stares into distance

He’s waiting at the bottom of the ramp, just inside the steel fence that cordons off the entry to the station.  He said to give him a ring from her mobile when the train passed Gosford.  She quickens her pace, adjusts the overnight bag on her shoulder. She is close enough to see the soft fold of his graying hair, the clear smooth glow of his skin.  In his white socks and slip-on loafers he looks very English. Continue reading

Passions

colourful book spines on book shelves

Every once in a while, when I’m scratching around for something new to write, I make a list of the things I obsess about.  Thankfully, some of them change over time, but there are always new ones to fill the gap.

It’s true that writers write about what they think about most of the time.  Things they can’t let go: things that plague them; stories they carry around in their heads waiting to be heard. Continue reading