Last month, following a brief discussion with my friend, I wrote and published a short story. I had written very few short stories before and most of those were created purely for my friends’ enjoyment (although I did mail one off to a competition), so I wasn’t particularly primed for the task. However, as is so often the case at the end of a year, I felt impulsive and when the premise was presented to me I happily latched onto it. In response to Simon P. Clark’s ‘1225 Challenge’ I came up with an idea and ran with it. ‘The Struggle’ was the end result.
It’s a rather short, even for a short story. There is probably room for expansion but, impulsive as I was, I published before I changed my mind and deleted everything.
So here it is…
The smell of the cold drifted in through the gap in the narrow window, piercing its way through the staleness inside. It was dark, but the sun was beginning to stir and only the whistle of a gentle wind could be heard.
“A new day,” said the man quietly to himself as he surveyed the scene.
He took a deep breath, allowing the cool morning air to cleanse his being, and returned to the sunken mattress in the corner of the room, ritually lighting a clumsily rolled cigarette. A half-eaten takeaway sat on the floor beside the bed, flanked by two empty bottles of beer.
There was a pile of old newspapers and magazines stacked high against the wall opposite him, discoloured and torn. Nestled among them was a blue bible, a gift given to him after he began attending local prayer group. He had become somewhat of a hoarder and his cramped box room was slowly closing in around him.
The man picked up a picture from the bed-side table and examined it deliberately as he smoked. The frame was cheap but decorative. After staring at the image for nearly a minute, a tragic, fleeting smile flashed across his face and he replaced it, carefully. In contrast to the surrounding squalor, the bed-side table stood empty and neat; the picture frame its only tenant. The man would look searchingly at the photo each morning upon waking and sometimes in the evenings too.
There was no room for a closet in the hovel and his few clothes formed a desperate mound on top of the chair next to the front door. He had one good suit, however, which he kept for special occasions, but he rarely had cause to wear it. Not anymore. It hung hopefully in the tiny toilet adjoining the flat gathering dust.
When he was finished his cigarette, the man rummaged through the heap on the chair and got dressed. His clothes were damp and dirty and clung horribly to his swollen physique. He walked gingerly over to the counter and filled the kettle with water. Slivers of the morning light quietly crept in through the window, lighting up his face as he turned it on.
“A new day, with new possibilities,” the man thought, repeating what his guide had told him at the prayer group.
As the kettle boiled he cast his mind back to the last meeting. The group met each week at a youth club in a council estate nearby. They were a diverse group and would have refreshments before engaging in discussion, prayer and meditation. The man’s sponsor, a guy named Joe, had reassuringly told him that every day brought with it a plethora of opportunities.
“We have a shot at redemption every single day,” Joe would beam. “That’s a beautiful thing.”
Even if he didn’t fully believe Joe, such platitudes comforted him and he genuinely enjoyed the social aspect of the group, for he had grown increasingly isolated in recent years. It was by no means glamorous, but it was warm and welcoming there.
A loud click of the kettle snapped him back into the icy filth of his own home. He poured the tea and sat back down on the bed, cautiously slurping from his mug. His eyes were drawn once more to the photo on the bed-side table and a trembling fear suddenly gripped his throat. He started to sob silently but stopped himself and stood up. He gazed out the window.
“A new day,” repeated the man as tears welled up in his eyes. He picked up the photo again, clutching it tightly. It showed the man delightfully hugging a young child.
“Happy Christmas, son.”