Intolerance: Chapter 1

A serial fantasy.

  Marta leaned back against the wall, tilting back one high-heeled shoe, her elbow dug into the waist of her little crushed velvet dress, her hand holding a glass of bubbly. She shook the mane of her long black hair from her eyes, and gazed up at the chandeliers on the ceiling above her.
‘God, I need a ciggie!’ she said. ‘Is there nowhere in this house where anyone can have a smoke? They must have dozens of rooms.’
‘I could do with one too,’ said Steve, stood beside her, a pained smile on his gaunt face.
Mrs Marchant, the hostess of the Nelson Mandela anniversary gala, came gliding by in a floor length gown, and called out to the assembled guests.
‘There are broccoli and feta cheese canapes being served in the dining room,’ she declared. ‘And there are also honey and lettuce sandwiches. And there are an assortment of our finest low-alcohol parsnip and nettle wines.’
‘Yuk!’ Marta whispered, wrinkling her nose. ‘I want a bacon buttie.’
A smile of satisfaction suffused Mrs Marchant’s face as she finished listing the food available, and she turned to leave. Steve caught her arm.
‘Yes, Stephen. What may I do for you?’ she said.
‘My friend here would like a cigarette. Is there anywhere she can smoke one?’
Mrs Marchant stiffened and glared frostily at Marta. ‘I’m afraid there’s no smoking permitted anywhere in this house. If you really must engage in that filthy habit, you must do so in the garden. It’s out the door at the back down this corridor. If you go past the greenhouse and the orchard, you might find somewhere to smoke.’
Marta’s face flushed with anger as she spoke. ‘So why do you invite smokers at all, if you’re not going to give them houseroom?’ Marta snapped. ‘There must be dozens of people here dying for a smoke.’
‘I beg your pardon!!’ Mrs Marchant gasped, her eyes widening at Marta’s question.
‘I said: why invite smokers if you’re not going to make them welcome? Why not send out invitations with No Fucking Smokers on the bottom in copperplate writing?’
‘Stephen, do you know who this impertinent, foul-mouthed young lady is?’ Mrs Marchant asked primly, recovering her equilibrium. ‘I don’t remember inviting her.’
‘No Fucking Smokers or Alcoholics or Fat People,’ Marta continued, louder. ‘All in nice curly copperplate.writing along the bottom of your poncy invitations to your next frigging Nelson Mandela liberation dance…’
‘Mr James!’ Mr Marchant called loudly across the room. ‘Mr James. Please will you show this young lady out at once.’
‘I’ll show her out,’ said Stephen, taking Marta firmly by the arm, and guiding her along the corridor to the back door.

They stepped out of the rear door onto a flight of steps leading down into the spacious sunlit garden. In the distance they could see a greenhouse, partly obscured by trees, and a brick pathway leading towards it.
‘Do we have to go all that fucking distance?’ muttered Marta, who had been babbling to herself all the way out of the house. ‘Why can’t we just sit on the steps right here and light up a couple of sparklers.’
‘I don’t know why I bothered to come,’ she continued, her face flushed almost as red as as her scarlet lipstick. ‘I mean what’s the fucking point? What’s the point if you’re going to just end up standing outside?’
As they walked down the steps together, and stepped onto the path,.they heard the rear door creak shut, and footsteps behind them.
Marta looked back. ‘Hi, Vin!’ she called. ‘We’ve been thrown out! Now we’ve got to walk a mile if we want a smoke.’
‘I heard all that back there,’ said Vin. ‘And I liberated a couple of bottles on the way out.’ He held up two bottles.
‘I hope they’re not turnip wine or something,’ said Marta.

The three walked along together, passing the greenhouse and entering an orchard, with Marta muttering “Fuckity fuckity fuckity fuck” with every step she took on the soft ground, into which her high heels sank..
Eventually they came to a river, and Marta pulled out a packet of cigarettes from a tiny blue velvet handbag, and offered it around.
‘I suppose this is far enough for them,’ said Marta, glaring back at the distant house.
They wandered slowly along the path beside the water, looking for somewhere to sit. Eventually they came to a wide grassy area. There was a bench on the grass beside the path that continued along the river.
When they reached it, Marta collapsed onto it, kicked off her shoes, and lit another cigarette. Steve sat down beside her, and pulled out a tiny notepad computer from this knapsack, and fitted a couple of tiny speakers to it, and set it playing music.
‘It’s some sort of park,’ Vin said. ‘Or maybe a golf course.’
‘Who cares what it is?’ exclaimed Marta. ‘You go out hoping to have a good time, and you end up walking miles through gardens and forests and along rivers to the middle of nowhere.’
‘Do you know our friendly hostess?’ she asked, turning to Steve.
‘Yes, I’ve known her for years. She’s a family friend. She’s a pillar of the community. Always throwing bashes of one sort or other in support of worthy causes. Asian orphans. Boat people. Marxist exiles from Latin American dictatorships. That sort of thing.’
‘Welcoming one lot of people with open arms through the front door while bundling another lot of people out the back door,’ said Marta.

They sat thoughtfully gazing out across the river at the derelict mill opposite, in whose blank windows thin saplings grew. A few ducks circled slowly the water below it.
‘We’re not part of this society any more,’ said Marta eventually. ‘We’ve been expelled.’
‘If we’re not part of it any more,’ said Vin. ‘ Then we don’t have to obey its rules anymore either.’
‘We’ve become outsiders,’ said Marta. ‘We’ve become outlaws.’
‘So we make our own outlaw rules,’ Vin continued. ‘There are laws within laws. Rules within rules. People make their own house rules. Like Mrs Marchant back there. She has her own law in her own house: nobody can smoke. That’s not the law of the land. That’s her own law. And we respected it. That’s why we’re sitting out here now.’
‘And sitting out here on this park bench,’ he continued, ‘We’re the inhabitants of this park bench. And so we get to decide what the rules are on this little patch of ground around us.’
Vin got up and walked to the edge of the river, and picked up a few loose stones, and walked around the park bench placing them on the ground one by one.
‘See,’ he said. ‘Those are our boundary markers of our little country. Inside those stones, we make the rules. Outside them, somebody else makes the rules. Agreed?’
‘Agreed!’ cried Marta.
‘But we’re only here for a few hours,’ said Steve. ‘We’ll be gone soon.’
‘The people around these parts are only here for a little while too,’ said Vin, pointing towards the distant houses. ‘They also are gone soon. They go with God. If they can make rules, then so can we.’
‘And in this little country of ours, which extends from here to over there, smoking is permitted, yes?’
Steve and Marta laughed. ‘Yes,’ Marta giggled. ‘Smoking is permitted. And so is drinking. And dancing.’
‘And wherever we go, we take our little country with us,’ added Vin. ‘So if we move to the next park bench, we set up the same little country around that.’
‘Stevinmartaland, we can call it,’ said Marta. ‘And I’m its queen.’
‘Is it like on a beach, where people come and put down towels and windbreaks and sunshades, and that’s their patch?’ Steve asked.
‘Exactly like that,’ said Vin.

They sat together in the afternoon sun, gazing out across the river, talking and smoking and sipping their drinks.
‘Somebody’s coming,’ said Vin eventually, gesturing towards a distant figure walking along the path.
‘So what?’ said Marta. ‘It’s probably just somebody out for a walk.’
The figure gradually resolved itself into a man aged about fifty, with weather-beaten face, a dark blue uniform, and an armband which read, ‘Park Warden.’
‘No smoking in the park,’ he said as he came to a halt, pulling out a fat notebook. ‘Didn’t you read the sign at the gate?’
‘We didn’t come in through the gate,’ said Steve. ‘So we didn’t read it.’
‘That’s illegal entry to the park then,’ said the warden. ‘You’re supposed to come in through the front gate.’
He gazed at their bottles and glasses.
‘No drinking in the park either,’ he added.
‘Oh fuck,’ said Marta.
‘And no littering in the park,’ the warden continued, pointing at the bottles and cigarettes ends.
‘And no unauthorised music in the park.’ Steve’s notepad continued tinkling.
‘And, furthermore, the park is closed. It’s illegal to enter the park while it’s closed.’
The warden counted up the total. ‘That’s five offences. Each offence carries a hundred euro fine. Per person.’
‘Five hundred euros each!?’ screeched Marta, incredulously.
‘Excuse me, officer,’ said Vin quietly, lounging back on the bench. ‘But I must explain something to you. You see, your laws don’t apply on the patch of ground around this particular park bench. It’s marked out by those stones. See there, and there, just by your foot. This is our sovereign territory.’
‘And I’m its queen,’ added Marta, helpfully.
The park warden gazed stonily at Vin.
‘Your rules and regulations stop at that line of stones,’ Vin continued. ‘On this side of them, our rules apply. And our rules allow smoking, drinking, and music. Furthermore, I must warn you that if you step inside this circle of stones, it will be considered an act of aggression against a sovereign state.’
‘Absolutely,’ said Steve.
The park warden continued making notes on his notepad.
‘It’s an offence to argue with a legally appointed park attendant,’ he added. ‘That will be 600 euros each. Now, you will give me your names and addresses. I’ll need to see your ID.’
‘Fuck off!’ shrieked Marta. ‘Just fuck right off!’
The warden took a step towards them, over the line of stones.
And with a single fluid gesture, Vin drew out a small pistol from a small leather satchel, and fired a single shot into the chest of the advancing warden. The echo of the sharp report of the gun came back faintly from the mill on the far side of the river, where the ducks all took to the air and flew away through the trees.
A look of surprise and confusion came over the face of the warden. He staggered backwards, and fell into the river.

‘You frightened the ducks,’ said Marta to Vin, reproachfully, as ripples spread out across the river from the warden’s body, which had already begun to float slowly away..

Go to Chapter 2

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About Frank Davis

smoker
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14 Responses to Intolerance: Chapter 1

  1. Anonymous says:

    Keep in mind, Frank, that unless the three characters your establishing here have previously killed someone, no matter how vehement they feel in defense of their ideas, they’re unlikely to have such a blase reaction to killing someone. It’s unrealistic, unless perhaps you intend to establish that in chapters to come.

  2. Frank Davis says:

    Yes. I hope that will be established, little by little.
    I didn’t want to start by explaining how these three characters came to meet, and how they came to be what they are. I decided instead to begin with them fully formed, as I originally first imagined them, and in the setting I first imagined them. I spent a long time working out how to carefully introduce them to each other, but eventually threw it all out and went back to the original concept. And in the original vision, they were precisely that blase.
    Frank

  3. Anonymous says:

    Crikey! I have next year’s batch of parsnip wine simmering on the hob at this very moment. Mine’s definitely NOT low-alcohol though.
    Looking forward to chapter 2.
    Karen

  4. cantiloper says:

    Nicely done!
    I don’t see a need for a more formal introduction: the characters are not necessarily full blown reality figures, and I think the blase attitude is simply representing one aspect of the artistic fantasy you’re developing.
    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”
    {Hey, I’m pretty blase myself when doing those dissections! Of course I accompany them with a nice chianti… }

  5. Happy birthday
    Raising a glass and having a oke for you tonight. Keep up the good work.

  6. That should have said ‘a smoke’ of course! Stupid touch keyboard.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Some people just seem to want to criticise other peoples creativity – unrealistic? go and write your own then anon, this is, in the authors own words, Chapter 1 of a serial fantasy, and I personally can’t wait for Chapter 2.
    timbone

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, Timbone. I certainly have no desire to stomp on anyone else’s creativity. However, it is my failing that I did neglected to mention that I also thought it was quite good. Frank explained that he’s going to flesh out the character’s homicidal tendencies in chapters to come, so my observation turns out to be irrelevant anyway. Forgive me. It wasn’t my intent to seem discouraging.

  9. Frank Davis says:

    Thanks for all your (surprisingly positive) comments. Chapter 2 will follow in due course. No promises when. I’ll probably put a separate link in the right margin to link to all the chapters.
    Chapter 1 actually got endlessly re-written until I decided to go back to the original concept I had for it about 3 months back. It’s more or less exactly what I started out with. Except maybe now I know a lot more about this bunch of characters than I did then.
    I haven’t written the whole thing yet. I intend to write it as I go along. Once I’ve got a clear idea what’s going to happen, I think it’s quite easy to write. A bit like all the other posts on my blog. An idea swims into mind, firms up, and then it’s somehow easy to write. If not, it’s impossible.
    And yes, this is a fantasy. It’s going to be deeply unrealistic in lots of ways. There’s a danger (or an interesting possibility) that it might turn into a rather black comedy. We’ll see.
    Frank

  10. leg_iron says:

    In another incarnation, I’m a moderator on a critique site (which means I have experience, not that I know how to use it) and I liked it. Vin’s blase attitude is understandable in that he, as a smoker, has reached the ‘nothing more to lose’ point under the fantasy regime of the story. Marta is just beginning to realise it, and Steve isn’t there yet. Just my opinion on reading. So when Vin shoots the warden he’s not shooting a man. He’s shooting a drone of authority. Not a real person, in his mind.
    This can play out into a very dark fantasy that might not turn out to be so fantastical after all. Smokers are already non-persons in many eyes. How long before Vin’s attitude is fully developed in the real world?

  11. Frank Davis says:

    I’m glad you liked it so far. It’s my first shot (so to speak!) at this sort of thing.
    And yes, they’ve all been driven to the limit. Treated as non-persons, they’ll treat others as non-persons in return. And you’re right about where each of them are on that dark track. But all of these characters have hidden depths.
    How long before Vin’s attitude is fully developed in the real world? Well, it could happen, and maybe quite easily. As I see it, I’m exploring in fiction what might just actually happen.
    Frank

  12. leg_iron says:

    You’d better write it quick. It’s already begun.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1252956/Carpenter-shoved-woman-railway-track-row-smoking-nearby.html
    Naturally, the smoker is the only one deemed to be at fault.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Lit crit
    What you’re doing is neat and keep on doing it. But. Unsolicited comment on the writing itself. First: too much attribution. It’s unnecessary and intrusive. Ruins the immediacy of the scene bec. it pulls the reader OUT of the conversation and into the narrative. Also it’s stiff. That applies from the opening on, but just look how much stronger and more in tone with the character (the understatement of the character and of the moment) if your last line above were just “You frightened the ducks,: Marta said… We don;t need “to Vin” and we don’t need “reproachfully.” The line speaks wonderfully and flatly for itself. Don’t step on it.
    Second, never ever do a reverse in the attribution, eg. “said Marta.” You don’t talk that way so don’t write that way. Not only is it stiff but it went out in the 19th century. Finally, and throughout, set your physical scenes. Don’t parade people onto your stage out of nowhere. At the very opening, when Steve too wants a place to smoke, have him say something like :”well we can always ask” and have him look through the room (whose crowd as well as the setting you quickly and deftly describe) to see if he can spot the hostess. Then he does. Describe her through his eyes more than by her dress as she announces the PC menu while Marta rolls her eyes. IOW, Mrs Whatsis doesn’t just come out of nowhere and plunk onto the page; she arrives in a natural context.
    To repeat: FWIW, I really think you’re on to something fine in what you’re doing but suggest you re-read a couple of novels you admire to see how the writing and the scene-setting’s done as well as transitions. When you blog in your own voice, you’re a natural. Hold onto that voice. Put it into your narrative; make your narrative alive. Let me offer you two polar opposite novels to study. James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” as a model of evocative brevity and Richard Condon’s “The Manchurian Candidate” as a model of explosive acidic narrative.
    Best wishes, a fan.

  14. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Lit crit
    Thanks. You make some interesting points.
    When you blog in your own voice, you’re a natural.
    For many years I wrote a diary. Usually about things that were on my mind rather than things I’d done that day. I was always trying to describe quite complicated things. I got to be quite fluent. I’d find that just writing about something helped me put it in perspective. In many ways, I’m doing exactly the same with my blog – picking up the same problem (smoking bans) and chewing it over. So I’ve had many years of practice. And perhaps that helps.
    Writing a piece of fiction is different, and I’ve hardly done that at all. And no doubt that shows. But I’m finding it easy to write dialogue and set scenes. Easy, that is, in the sense that the words come easily. So I think that I am actually being natural, and un-selfconscious.
    Second, never ever do a reverse in the attribution, eg. “said Marta.” You don’t talk that way so don’t write that way.
    That one is something I’ve thought about a lot. When I started writing dialogue, I noticed that I was doing that quite naturally.
    Now, I’m not a great reader of fiction. I tend to get bored with it these days. But not always. A few years ago I started reading Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series, and was totally captivated by it. Or, more exactly, I was captivated by his quite magical English. Anyway, I pulled out one of the books, and took a look at how he handled dialogue. And there were all the reverse attributions again. Of course, his books are set in the 19th century, so he’s perhaps using a 19th century device. But just now I opened something by Ian Rankin, who writes the Rebus books, and found a reverse attribution fairly rapidly in that. But found none in Jack Higgins. But I’ve yet to be stunned by the English of either of these two.
    I think that I’m not going to try to get too selfconscious about this, so I’ll probably stick to reverse attribution if that’s what comes naturally. I’m not trying to match Richard O’Brian (or anybody else) for elegance of English.
    This an adventure for me. And as an adventure, it’s going to be fraught with dangers. I may well end up quite shipwrecked. And if I use a few rather disapproved nautical practices to get out of trouble, I’m not going to be too bothered.
    Frank

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