I like approaching writing from alternative angles; presenting genres in a way seldom done and experimenting with narrative and tone.
Here is a short piece which, I suppose, could be loosely termed as ‘Soft Sci-Fi’, even though its prime focus is relationships, particularly new relationships where uncertainty, doubt and apprehension go hand in hand with hope and anticipation.
The ping-pong ball bounced as it hit the edges of the glass bowls, eventually falling between them and onto the countertop.
This game was not as easy as it looked. But why was I surprised? After all, this was the travelling fair and they were here to take as much money from the local community as possible.
That is the way of things.
What I should be surprised at is the number of people who queued at each stall wanting to give their hard-earned cash to the travellers. The number who wanted to play games, which are heavily weighted in favour of the stallholder, for the vague chance of winning a relatively valueless prize.
I suppose it was the seduction of the fairground itself, the lights, the noises, and the smells. They cast a spell over the community, excited the children and the childness lingering within the adults.
Giant bears and candyfloss, Alice bands with flashing tentacles, doughnuts and sweet rock canes, some with your own name running all the way along the centre. The crowds, the laughter, the shouts and screams as the waltzes rattled and spun in gut-wrenching circles too fast too loud, overpowering rock music.
That is the way of things.
I had one more ball left, one small lightweight ping-pong ball which could win me a prize if, and this was the biggy, ‘if’ it landed in a bowl.
I have already thrown eight balls. It was one pound for three, my first six bounced everywhere except where I wished, as did the last two from this set. Which left me with one more chance to win and I wanted to win. I wanted very, very desperately to win.
You see, my girlfriend, my new girlfriend, who was bouncing up and down beside me in excitement and anticipation, “really, really” wanted me to win. She wanted me to win because she wanted one of these prizes, “Soooo much.”
As her new boyfriend, what could I do? This was a challenge, not only of my skills and capabilities but of my determination in front of adversity. This was a test of my loyalty, of my commitment to her. In fact, this was a trial of my manhood, an examination of my suitability as a mate.
Although these things remained unspoken, everybody knows that is the way of things.
I watched each of the previous eight ping-pong balls as they bounced, jumping from the edge of one bowl to another. Somewhere within their movement, there was a pattern, a pattern of chaos. Impossible to map by mathematics but one which was there nevertheless, instinctive, intuitive. It was a form, a tessellation of almost ethereal quality. It was a shape I could feel.
Tossing the ball, this ball, my last ping-pong ball, I watched its progress through the air. With bated breath. I saw it descend and hit the lip of the first bowl. The ball sprung up and forward before falling again, hitting another bowl and recoiling back towards me. It was going to clear the bench, it was going to fall to the floor. I was going to fail the test.
My girlfriend gasped, holding both hands to her mouth, biting the knuckles of her fingers. I stood immobile, helpless and hapless. The ball seemed to take an age; it appeared to float downwards, teasingly. As the ball fell it caught the edge of the final bowl, rolling around the inside of its lip, circling, spiralling around and down, down, down into its base.
“Yes,” I shouted punching the air with relief. My girlfriend jumped onto me, wrapping her arms around my shoulders and kissing my face.
I had won.
I had won my challenge, my manhood, my girlfriend’s adoration. I was a champion. I was king.
That is how things are; that is the way of things.
The stallholder was disappointed he must give away a prize. He looked even more disgruntled when my girlfriend demanded a Nanolion.
Nanolions were new, brought here from some small blue planet in a far galaxy. I think, if I recall correctly, my college tutor explaining the Nonolions called this small blue planet Earth. We call it Nano 15.
After all, it was the fifteenth planet of this type we found, simple. No need to confuse the issue with strange, foreign words.
Still, the Nanolions were amazing, tiny replicas of us in every detail. Some, it is said, can also speak. Which is, I suppose where the myth of Nano 15 being called ‘Earth’ comes from. Although, like many, I do not believe in such anecdotes.
The stallholder held up a plastic bag, it was inflated and tied in a knot. “There should be enough air in the bag to keep it alive until you get home,” he said.
My girlfriend took it from him. “What do you feed them on?” she asked.
“Oh, just small scraps. They will eat almost anything,” he said. All interest lost in us, he turned to the other punters surrounding the stall, offering their pound coins in hope of also winning a Nanolion.
“We shall find a box to keep it in tonight,” my girlfriend announced, “and tomorrow we will go shopping, buy it a cage and a run and things.”
“Is it a he or a she?” I asked.
Holding the bag aloft we looked closely, “It’s a she, maybe we could buy her a mate or… let’s go back, let’s win another one.”
I replied, “I don’t think so. It was only luck I won this one.”
“Oh please, please, pretty, pretty please.”
So, we turned around and headed back to the ping-pong ball stall. It looked like my challenge was not quite over, yet.
I now had another test to pass.
That is the way of things.
© Paul White 2015
You can find more of my short stories, although most are far longer than this one, in several of my books, such as ‘Dark Words’, a collection of dark stories and darker poetry, ‘Within the Invisible Pentacle’ where all the stories have a feminine connection, and in the three-book collection, ‘Tales of Crime & Violence’, which do not need any explanation, excepting to say, like the story above, they may not play out quite the way you might think.