By Lisa, Medha Godbole Singh, A. A. Rubin, Lesley Mace, and Anna Cavouras.
The following piece was composed by the authors as a surrealist cadavre exquis. The cadavre exquis is an exercise practiced by surrealist artists where an artist began by drawing something at the top of a folded piece of paper, and then refolded the paper so that only the bottom lines of their drawing were visible. They would then mail the paper to the next artists, and the process would repeat again, over and over, until the piece was complete. We have attempted to adapt the exercise for writers. The first writer composed a paragraph and then sent their final line to the next writer, who continued the piece using that line as their first line. The process continued until each writer had composed their paragraph. Each writer wrote with no knowledge of the content or style of the previous verse, save for the last line.
For more information about the Cadavre Exquis exercise, click here:
“In the beginning was the word. And the word was good.” The sounds echoed around, bounced off thick stone walls before some slipped into Charlotte’s ears. She was always a good girl. As the mob of children left their pews she walked without saying a word. It was 1978 most of the girls wore the same style of black laced shoe but hers although far from new were carefully polished and both were neatly tied. They tapped lightly on the uneven floor. Even when Gary tugged hard on her plaited pony tail she was a good girl. She didn’t turn and punch him in his smelly freckled face like she wanted to. She was a good girl back in class too. Wrote carefully in her exercise book, showed her workings for her sums and at the end of the school day tucked her chair slowly under her desk without a jarring floor scrape.
Charlotte always had the bus money but didn’t get the bus. She preferred to walk home she enjoyed being part of the bustle of the high street. Besides she was saving up. It was only March but she already had a reassuring weight of 2p’s in her pot pig. No one in her family knew that she did this long walk twice daily.
No one knew and no one cared which was exactly why Charlotte was not spending her bus money – she wanted to get out of there as soon as she was old enough to leave.
She was waiting. The wait was excruciatingly painful. Getting to the right age and saving enough money – both seemed to be eons away to her young heart. The fact that no one cared was another reason she used to wander off on her own a lot. The bus money was kept safely, tucked in the inner pocket of her jacket for another day or perhaps, days. The days which would be blessed by freedom. Charlotte frequently fantasized about what she would do when the right time comes. She would revel in those thoughts and lose herself in them. Until, well, she met with the harsh reality at home. Her bubble of bliss was always invariably burst by her parents. The verbal beating that followed after she was back home from wandering off in the woods for hours was horrid, to say the least. She would cover her years tightly to block the yelling, run off to her room and shut the door. Hours later, her mother would find her asleep, cowered, under the bed. A stare-down and a meal was what she would get in response. “Why do you have to be such a difficult child”, her father would grumble.
Nothing Charlotte ever did was enough. Even when she did exactly what was expected of her, she got glared at. Or simply ignored. Not a word of encouragement. The word ‘Love’ was missing from their life’s dictionary. Apathy was perhaps the word their life’s dictionary started and ended with. Charlotte had once popped a question to her best friend Nicole’s mother (who was a gem of a person), if she was really born to the people, she called her parents. Her eyes would sadden for a split second in response and then she would say, in an extra cheerful tone, “Oh dear. Of course they are. You see, they are going through a tough time. Adults sometimes cannot really say what’s happening to them. So, you know they behave in a weird way. But smart kids like you know that even though they behave like that, they love you. Right?” Charlotte used to nod in approval, thoughtfully.
She still wondered why there was never a single act or a word of empathy and love directed towards her by her parents.
Even now, many years after their deaths, it continued to affect her and profound and unusual ways. The ghost of her mother sat, constantly, on her shoulder, whispering criticisms in her ear, and second-guessing her every decision. Try as she might, she couldn’t get rid of her. Her mother’s specter was invisible to everyone else, but her coping mechanisms were not. The tick she developed, swatting at something seemingly invisible, caused other (living) people to believe she was as crazy as she felt. Worse, it did nothing to get rid of her nuisance of a parent, and just opened her up to more scathing criticism—for her ears only—which reverberated across the catacombs of her mind (I told you it was empty in there) like the last bit of hope screamed, privately into the abyss. Once, she has even blurted out “will you please shut up!” in the middle of an important meeting. That had been three jobs ago, each more ignominious than the last. If anything, her father was worse.
He only appeared in her dreams, staring at her with his cold, judgmental eyes, from beneath his clouded brow.
She always fought to wake from these recurring dreams. His telepathic abilities terrified her. There were so many secrets concealed in her mind, and if she met his gaze he would read them all. On the nights she succeeded in breaking free from sleep she would be gasping for breath and tangled in sweat-soaked sheets.
Sometimes she failed and then the dream turned darker, twisting into a fiery nightmare of burning and torture. But she always refused to meet his gaze.
In reality he was searching for her, and she fled before the sense of it. Moving fast and moving with minimum baggage, frequently changing her appearance and her accent, for months she believed she could outrun him. The Network helped her, she was smuggled from safe houses to cellars and attics, to priest holes and on one occasion to a cave in a cliffside.
She tried not to get involved with anyone, to stay aloof, and apart. But eventually a young man broke through her barriers, and she trusted him. The dream became reality. Handcuffed and roped to a chair she waited for him to arrive. Two men guarded the door, their breath fogging into the stench in the room, and their faces expressionless.
Closing her eyes she shut out her surroundings. The cold helped her to still her mind; she built walls, raised defences and hid what she must never tell behind them.
Not all the secrets she held were her own, and she couldn’t allow him to uncover any of them.
She reminded herself of this as she approached airport security clutching her passport and her yellow carry-on bag. The bag was gaudy, ugly even with large pink peonies on the side. Her passport was slightly sweaty in her palm and the hum of the airport activity filled the background with familiar sounds. Her bag held everything that mattered to her and her family. The only unknown in this plan was the next two minutes and what this security guard might do.
Security passed uneventfully. He waved her through, no secondary search. She let out a long exhale and wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans.
She had moved things before, money usually, drugs occasionally, once a selection of rare orchid pods for a wealthy collector. This time was different. Three uncut gems were sewn in to a small beaded purse and blended in perfectly with the glass ones that surrounded it. The purse was nestled in an ordinary small black duffel, surrounded by other ordinary carry-on items. Once she got these gems home she would be able to pay off the debts her family had incurred and everyone, including her, could start over.
After she boarded the plane she lifted her carry-on into the overhead compartment and quickly removed the yellow floral bag revealing her black duffel with the precious items inside. She scanned the compartment quickly and then grabbed a small backpack left there trustingly by another passenger, stuffing it inside her yellow peony bag. Her plain black duffel sat there, unassumingly.
Having made the switch, she sat down and buckled her seatbelt dutifully. She puts her phone into airplane mode. The dry unscented plane air blasts down from the fan above her head, and reaching up to adjust it, she does not make eye contact with her brother sitting three seats to her right and he ignores her. Other passengers board and she hears the pilot welcoming people. Grabbing the magazine from the seat pocket she flips the pages without catching any of the content.
A flight attendant approaches her, flanked by two plainclothes officers.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to step off the aircraft.” One of the officers shifts his jacket revealing a glimpse of a pistol holstered under his arm.
“Why? What’s going on?” She protests as she knows she’s expected to.
“We just have a few questions for you before you leave.” The other officer reaches up into the overhead bin and pulls down the yellow floral bag. “This one?” The flight attendant nods.
Collecting her magazine and her phone, she unbuckles her seatbelt and follows the officers off the plane. Everything had gone exactly as she had hoped.
The paragraphs were composed in the order indicated in the byline.
Medha Godbole Singh is a professional content creator with a penchant for creative writing. She has been a part of several anthologies and her short stories and poems have been published in online journals. She can be reached on twitter, instagram, and facebook.
A. A. RUBIN surfs the cosmos on winds of dark energy. He writes in many style, ranging from literary fiction to comics, formal poetry to science fiction and fantasy, and (almost) everything in between. His work has appeared recently in Love Letters to Poe, Ahoy! Comics, and The Deronda Review. He can be reached on social media as @TheSurrealAri, or right here on the website which you are now reading.
Lesley Mace’s writing ranges through many genres. She is the winner of the 2015 CWA Margery Allingham Short Story prize. Also loves making hedge-wine, sloe gin and sourdough bread. She can be reached on twitter.
Anna Cavouras is a writer living in Toronto. She writes diversely. Her most recent publications range from memorial jewelry made with cremains, to sideshows, to poetry on living with a disability. In the background she is working on a project set in the future about tattoo artists.