How to waste an afternoon

(I wrote this short story while on a family holiday in Cyprus, c. 2007. I picked up a book of short stories written by an American writer whose name I have since forgotten, but found them frustrating in that the stories didn’t seem to go anywhere. This is my attempt at writing such a story, but I think I failed…)

I’ve read some books. Some people would say I’ve read a lot of books, but I know of others who’ve read more. When I was a kid I read quite a lot, then as I got older, into my twenties, I read less. Now I’m in my thirties and I’m starting to read more again. That’s just the way it goes.

It’s a hot, cloudless day; the afternoon’s heading into evening, and with nothing else to do, I decide to pick up a book and read for a while.

I select a book of short stories and sit in the garden. The stories are very short, most of them just a few pages long. Not much happens in them, and they don’t go anywhere – they don’t end, they just stop. According to the cover they are original and true, masterpieces even, but I don’t like them. What’s the point of a story that doesn’t go anywhere? Maybe that’s why they are original, and true, and therefore masterpieces. But as I say, I don’t like them. I carry on reading regardless, hoping I’ll come to one that I do like.

The pages turn, and the sun sinks a little lower in the sky. I decide to have a break – stretch my legs, and find the beer I left laying around someplace.

I wander into the house. My sister’s cooking chicken in the kitchen, where it smells of garlic and wine, with a slight lingering odour of fish from the previous night.

“It’ll be another hour or so,” my sister says, glancing at me as I walk in.

I nod to feign interest. I see my beer on the table, pick it up, and head back outside.

“Damn flies,” my sister says I leave. I nod again, but she’s not even looking in my direction, so the gesture’s wasted.

I sit back down in the garden and sip my beer. It’s no longer cold, and doesn’t taste too good, but it’s the last one so I don’t want to throw it away.

I pick the book back up and flip through to the next story, which is longer than the previous ones and actually has an element of drama. It’s about a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks because the husband has cheated on his wife. The wife wants to leave him, or kill herself, and the husband is trying to convince her that she should give him another chance, that they can get back on track. He doesn’t seem guilty about cheating on her, though. Then the story finishes, with no resolution, no indication of whether the couple stay together or not.

I read another, which is back to being about nothing in particular and going nowhere, till it terminates from a lack of further words.

I put the book down and pick up my beer. It’s nearly empty, and I decide to have a cigarette while drinking the remainder. I like to have a drink when I smoke, and when I smoke I like to have a drink. Sometimes I’ll feel like having a smoke, but realise I’ve got nothing to drink with it, so I don’t bother.

I feel inside my pocket, but my tobacco isn’t there. I must have left it someplace, like I’d done with my beer. I get out of my chair with a sigh and go inside, finding the tobacco in my bedroom. I sit on the corner of my bed while I roll a cigarette. I can’t stand the cigarettes that come in packets, readymade. I’m sure the filters in them contain worse chemicals than those in the tobacco. I don’t use filters at all, just a bit of rolled up card to stop the tobacco getting into my mouth.

I take the cigarette outside so I can smoke it with my beer.

The sun sinks further in the sky as I puff on the cigarette and sip from the beer till they’re both finished.

My sister steps out into the garden. “The chicken will be ready in half-an-hour,” she says.

I nod, and pick up the book again.

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