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Running Downstream 3

by redcoat 

Posted: 29 November 2006
Word Count: 2362
Summary: And another chunk, it having seemed to me that the previous one needed rapid support. We shift once more, back to the bar
Related Works: Green Dragon - Prologue • 

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The music had notched up a little and Gina leant forward across the table, raising her voice.

“Sam, I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking, what with Daisy and you being mates and everything.” A limp account but Sam sensed the genuine chagrin behind it. And when did Daisy and she become mates? And what did that have to do with anything?

“Forget it. It doesn’t matter. Truth is that Dave’s probably forgotten the whole thing and I’m just the last person in the World to catch up with reality. As usual. No reason why anyone would think there were feelings to be hurt.” Silly Sam.

“Yeah but I’m sorry anyway.” And perhaps by way of some compensation Gina offered, “Shane fancies you,” and waggled those Portuguese eyebrows. Gina pursued an unceasing quest to uncover such emotional and sexual tides amongst her colleagues. In Sam’s view this mania sprang from the woman’s desire to discover herself as the object of someone’s yearning, if only so that she could be scandalized by it. She was due to marry anyway, although Sam could recall the fiancé only as an amorphous blob to whom she had once been introduced at a party. Maybe that explained it.

“Oh come off it, Gina. He’s just being gallant.”

“Bollocks. Daisy thinks so, don’t you Daize?”

“Daisy thinks a great many things, not all of them closely connected to reality. You remember the Tippex thing?” Daisy had for some minutes been writing something in minute letters on a cocktail mat but looked up, guiding a lock of red-blonde hair back into position. Sam had watched in some bemusement during the course of the day as Daisy’s original, central ponytail of the morning had morphed and migrated about her head; firstly it had divided and risen into two bunches above her ears, then twirled itself into plaits before re-amalgamating into a single twist at the nape of her neck. Now, presumably in celebration of the end of the working day, the whole shiny mass had been magically wound into an extravagant top-knot, the free locks allowed to fall in strictly policed informality about her face. Probably a bit of mermaid in the DNA.

“I was right about that, and all you offered me was ridicule.” There was general laughter. Daisy had once gone to great lengths to prove, at least to her own satisfaction, that the correcting fluid being distributed by Rolf the Stationery Gnome was actually an inferior product repackaged to resemble the top brand. She had conducted randomized tests of opacity, speed of drying and, until instructed not to for health and safety reasons, aroma. She had sent a sample of the suspect fluid to the manufacturers of Tippex for analysis. She had been accused by Rolf of being barking mad and retaliated by also challenging the authenticity of his Post-it Notes; there had been a memo from above about excessive e-mail traffic on the subject. Sam watched her retreat once more under her fringe, lips twitching into a smile as she added, “Gina’s right though.”

“Look, I’m not getting into this bike-shed stuff okay? There’s plenty enough going on in my life without a regression to puberty.”

“Do tell,” said Clyde. “Leave no detail undescribed, since we pubescents love to hear of the affairs of those in the adult World.”

She gathered her breath. “Well, I’m doing an evening class in stone masonry, spend two evenings a week at the gym, have two cats, Collingwood and Bynge, visit my Dad most weekends and ride my horse, Beefcake, on Sunday if I can.”

“Your horse is called Beefcake? Come to that, you have a horse?”

“Also, I have a commitment to do voluntary work at least three days a month with the Bat Preservation League near Tonbridge Wells but I’m behind on my days because I can’t find my car and I think the parking permit is running out. You need a car to get there, really.”

“Probably got towed away. Beefcake?”

“He was called that when I got him. It hasn’t been towed because the council deny all knowledge.”


“You haven’t seen my car, or you wouldn’t ask.” Sam took a long draught from her glass, and couldn’t avoid a cowboy-film gasp as a slick of some liquor from its depths blazed down the back of her throat; it was in her bloodstream a moment later, softening the beat of the music and blurring her peripheral vision.

“I quite enjoyed puberty,” said Daisy.

“I didn’t know you were a horsewoman, Sam.” Shane again. I never see him coming dammit! He settled next to her, Gina’s radar having allowed her to scoot sideways to make space. “I used to do a bit of the old horseback back in Oz; one of my mates was off a sheep station and we used to go and help his dad with the shearing. A lot of the guys use trail bikes or quads but he keeps a few horses about the place for old times’ sake. I used to love it, charging through the bush before breakfast.” Clyde emitted a kind of snort and then seemed to be chewing on a double-entendre, but distinguished himself by producing something more picturesque.

“I see Sam more kind of galloping through the surf, myself,” he said. Daisy sat back then, regarding Clyde with her tongue in her cheek before handing him her neatly folded cocktail mat, the one upon which she had been writing, with a courtly turn of her wrist.

Shane placed a pint of pale beer on the table. “Did you go foxhunting?”

“Er, no.” Sam found herself amused again. “I mean I have, years ago. It was fun in a stupid sort of way, thrashing about the countryside after some scruffy animal. You probably disapprove.”

“No, not at all. Seems to me the fox gets a fair shake, and I’m not a veggie.”

“Neither am I,” said Gina, “but I don’t set dogs on animals for fun. It was horrid. I’m glad they banned it.”

Shane creased his face into a thoughtful wince. “Don’t get me wrong, Gina. I know its morally indefensible, I just can’t summon up the hypocrisy required to get offended by it.”

“Ouch!” Shane riffled the fur trimming of Gina’s coat collar. “That’s artificial, anyway,” she huffed. Sam decided to effect a rescue.

“How was Mick the Nerd?” She tended to avoid contact with IT professionals, particularly at social gatherings, although she recognized their likely destiny as inheritors of the Earth. In her three years with the company her computer had been changed four times, most recently to a wafer thin laptop in which she recognized some of the austere, purposeful elegance of design normally associated with weaponry. She’d concluded that it had been ordered by the IT people because it was 'cool', and pondered sourly on the possible relationship between their seemingly inexhaustible budget and her own rattling piggy-bank.

“Oh, pretty nerdular really. He’s trying to get our bits and bobs to talk in a new way to the bits and bobs in New York and not having conspicuous success.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Daisy, “have you tried talking to them recently? The people I mean. I tried to have a perfectly normal conversation with that Marcia Grolsch today, and she ended up calling me a sarcastic Brit. I had to end the call.”

“Leaving aside the idea of you having a normal conversation, you have to know that Marcia, being from Brooklyn, has no grasp of irony.” Sam spoke from experience. “We use it here all the time but over there, assuming they notice anything, it just registers as sarcasm. Her name is Grautz, by the way.”

“Whatever. I was just trying to help her out anyway.”

“I get my email from New York okay.” It was shop-talk but at least it seemed to Sam like a safe topic to pursue.

“Yeah, but there’s a techy reason why its better if all the management data flips to and fro at four in the morning. Trouble is Mike doesn’t want to sit in the chiller all night to try to watch where it goes wrong. I was leaning on him a little.” Shane looked over towards the bar. A rumpled knot of techno-savants were there, hunched around their pallid captain. “A lot actually. Probably pissed him off.”

Clyde emerged momentarily from the reverie that Daisy’s note seemed to have sent him into. “Don’t let it worry you, Colonial. He can cope.” He looked at Sam for a moment and then, appearing suddenly to notice the eye contact, refocused his gaze somewhere over her left shoulder.

Gina was trying to read the labels on her coat without anybody noticing, but everybody did.

* * * * *

“No bells ringing, I’m afraid.” Sam could think of half a dozen Marks from her past but none of those memories would mesh with the present in any meaningful way. Mark Purdy, Mark Johnson, Mark Stimpson? God forbid the latter! And that lab assistant guy at uni’ was a Mark wasn’t he? But kind of short and dark next to this one. “Maybe if you fill in some of the background?”

“It’ll come to you.” There was a bicycle shop here on the corner, and Mark stopped at the window, peering in. It seemed that the target market was young and edgy, with machines hanging on view that looked ready for lunar expeditions as much as for breezing around the park. Tight little nests of gleaming gearwheels roosted at the angles of the frames, although the classic triangulated form appeared to have evolved into a profusion of girders, beams and articulated struts. The tyres were ribbed and pimpled, even multicolored. Everywhere was displayed a profusion of bits and pieces of obscure function, some of which could equally have been worn by the machine or the rider. The place was logo’d to the hilt. “I used to love my bike. Never had anything like this though.” He seemed thoroughly absorbed for a moment then turned to Sam. “Do you ride?”

“Bikes? I know I’ve got one ‘cause it regularly bites my leg as I go past it on the stairs up to my flat. I think the tyres need pumping up. I was going to ride it instead of running but the traffic’s murder and saddle’s too small. Or my bum’s too big, one or the other.” She caught herself again. Her new theory was that he had some connection to the gym and she didn’t want to get into too much talk about bodies, hers or otherwise.

“It’s a more benign form of exercise. If the machine’s properly adjusted it places less stress on the joints than running. There’s less jarring.”

More stress on the arse though, pal. “I’ve heard
that. I’ve also heard its nonsense.”

“Swimming’s probably best all round, though.” And he looked at her again, with an uncanny jab of eye contact that she felt almost like a blow.

What? Why. .? “I don’t swim,” she stated. But she’d been startled and had to jog a couple of steps to catch up as he moved on across another side-road and past the scooter mechanics’ place, another shrine to logos and oily metal. You bloody know, though. How do you bloody know that? If her fear had abated somewhat her fascination had in turn begun to curdle in frustration. There was a sense that she was being played a little, like a fish, and that began to darken her humour. “Look, its cold and I’m going home. If you would just tell me who you are and how you know me then I could go to sleep thinking ‘good, he’s just an ordinary, kind person caught up in a weird coincidence’ and get on with my normal life tomorrow.” Or I can call the police or the gym and bloody well have you taken out of circulation, Mr. Mark.

He stopped and turned to her, his wonderful, grey eyes childlike once again. “I’m sorry. I’m doing this badly. I’ve been impatient.” He looked down for a moment. “I have to go this way,” indicating the onward road, south, “I’d like to have your company but I’ll understand if you choose otherwise. Sam,” another pause, and she saw suddenly that he was sad, almost on the point of tears perhaps. “Go carefully. You may be more alone than you imagine, and further from home.”

“More alone than I imagine. That’s just weird. A weird thing to say.” A threat. Okay Sammy, we’re officially freaked out now. She looked about her. Not many people around now. Could she flag down a car? “Go on then, off you go. Thankyou and goodnight.” Please just go and let me go home. For a moment he seemed about to speak again but instead his features resolved into a kind of facial shrug of eyebrows and twisted smile. He thrust his hands into the pockets of his voluminous coat, glanced again into the pulsating sky, and strode away.

Sam groped for support as watchful relief settled over her, finding the cool glass of a shop facade. She watched the tall figure stalk away, intent on watching him go a good distance before she would set off home, so that she was certain he couldn’t loop back and intercept her. If she saw him turn left into the side streets she knew she would go back up the hill like a rabbit. Really see how fast I am. God, what an arse I am. No way I’m telling this story at the coffee machine. What do the Police do when you tell them about this sort of thing? Probably say you should stay in, try not to be alone where the guy can find you. Move house. Change your phone number. God, who is he? Gangling bloody old-young weirdo. And then. I do know him, though. The realisation bloomed in her mind like a firework, like a whacking great millennium celebration showstopper, with a bang so loud you felt it in your guts and a dazzling burst of fizzing rays. I do know him.

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Comments by other Members

JenDom at 22:53 on 17 December 2006  Report this post
Apologies for the tardiness, but it being christmas and all... lots of things to do...

Anyway! To your story.

The social night out... how long is this going to go on for? Please don't get me wrong, your dialogue is exemplary throughout and I only ask because I'm beginning to wonder why so much detail is packed in dialogue between the work colleagues? It can't be just to flesh out the character of Sam could it? Or is there going to be a connection between the social scene and the other parallel story [Mark and Sam]? There probably is and if its obvious and I can't see it, or that's about to occur then maybe I'm just being a little impatient!

I just don't understand why this social meeting is played out to such detail. Then agian how else am I suppose to know about Sam and her angst? How else am I supposed to know why she is who she is and why she does what she does? But you started this story with her in her office area then to this night out and seemed to have stopped. This is probably deliberate and I'm just fishing for clues as to where this whole story is leading to.

What does seem to be progressing narration wise is the other story running parallel to the social night out. Sam's encounter with the mysterious Mark is gearing up a notch or two and you end with a cliffhanger. She remembers him and he is...???

I look forward to reading part 4 soon. Have a great christmas.



Apologies as always for any obvious typos!

redcoat at 08:55 on 19 December 2006  Report this post
Hi Jen

Don't worry about 'tardiness', since as my almost only reveiwer your thoughts are uniquely valued at any time.

Anyway you've more than earned some background on the story. So . . . I have always been one of those people who has been told they should write down some of the stuff they come up with rather than just entertaining people at dinner parties or in letters (now emails I suppose). One day a friend became so exasperated by my protestations that I could never think of anything to write that he said "okay I'll give you a brief. Write a story about a woman who travels between Clapham South and Balham and undergoes a transformation."

I sat down at the keyboard and 'Running Downstream' popped out of my head. Even now when I re-read it I still see the way that it became an exercise in 'can I do it' so,

(1) Can I do characterisation
(2) Can I do dialogue
(3) Can I do a narrative arc
(4) Can I be funny
(5) Can I do suspense

This is why elements of the story may not quite hang together, since in some ways it was assembled from a 'kit of parts'. The night running half was written first, but it didn't have enough room in it a well rounded portrait of Sam, hence the 'flashbacks' to the office night out (as you surmised). But this other half was great fun to write, could have jokes etc., and required extra characters whom I wasn't happy just to leave as ciphers . So then I had two equal sized strands of the story and had to make Sam do a bit of work in both so that they would 'balance'. I don't know if I've explained that well, but my main anxiety about the work as 'a story' is the strength of the relationship between the two parts.

So, to reward your patience I will here 'reveal' that the two strands of narrative continue to flip-flop right to the end, and that I hope my solution to that linkage problem between the two, to give Daisy and Mark parallel and analogous 'duties', is enough to minimise any sagging in the middle. Actually I like that you are feeling 'impatient' - I know that suspense maintained too long just ends up boring, but at the moment I think I'm on the right side of that line.

Thanks again for reading. Episode 4 will follow when I've completed the necessary prevarications.

Yours, with best wishes for Christmas


Oh and by the way, where is something of yours I can read . . . ?

JenDom at 17:36 on 19 December 2006  Report this post

I was thinking maybe you might benefit from joining other sites like youwriteon.com which is a free site sponsored by the English arts council. It operates like so:

You review other uploaded works and gain credits enabling you to upload your work and get reviews. You get rated, but more importantly, you get the all important feedback from complete strangers to gauge the readability of your story.

I was in it for a while and the feedback I got was so varied and wonderful. I left the site to concentrate on my novel but I have learned so much since being on that site! And it's free and the more feedback you get the better for your writing, I think. You really do have potential and are very talented so you can't go far wrong with joining other sites too. Check it out anyway whenever - if you don;t feel it's for you, then it's not for you! I apologise if I come across as advertising, but I'm not. I just thought that if I benefited from that site why not tell other people in need of constructive feedback?

Good luck and I do look forward to part 4!

I do have work I would value opinion on but my first chapter alone is near enough 5,000 words so it won't cut muster here I'm afraid, but that's ok! I enjoy reading and reviewing other's writing - helps me in the techinical side of writing and focuses my attention on detail. And I do know what it's like starting off raw: it's scary and horrible but you do meet some very interesting and stimulating and helpful people along the way!

I am still learning the craft of writing - so everything helps!

Take care. And I love the way your story started as a literary challenge! You have more than risen to it!


redcoat at 10:48 on 28 December 2006  Report this post

Thanks for that tip - I think I will try that other site as it looks interesting and well organised. Of course, my trouble will be the word limit . . . .

I hope your novel is coming along well!

I've uploaded part 4 of this story by the way, the last part before the reader begins to be rewarded for his or her tenacity.

Happy new Year


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