Tag Archives: writer

Getting an education and learning a lesson.

Me, at 17. Confirms your worst fears, doesn't it?

I promised myself that this year I would take some kind of course, and the first one that has come up is the “Write it forward” workshop. I’ve signed up for the “Building your Author Brand” class, because it applies to me as a playwright as much as it applies to those aspiring novelists out there. It’s run by Kristen Lamb, my Social Media guru and author of “We Are Not Alone”

It’s just the course I’ve been looking for: It’s relevant to the work I WANT to be doing, is available over the net, and doesn’t take more time than I can spare from Weasel wrangling, greeting shoppers and writing award-winning plays.

So that’s me getting an education. Learning the lesson was much more unpleasant. Part of my job at the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer is to make sure the people slipping out through the In door aren’t doing so with power tools hidden under their hats. Almost all of them aren’t. But on Saturday a couple came through my door and they made me suspicious. Once they had been and gone, I compared notes with a manager and we discovered how they had contrived to steal a modest amount of stuff under our very noses. I was angry, with the thieves and with myself for not acting sooner on my suspicion.

Imagine my amazement yesterday afternoon when the same guy came back. Not only came back, but smiled at me and announced “I’m back again!” He obviously believed that his theft had gone unnoticed and he was back again. Obviously I’m not going to go into details of his method, but he set things up to pull the same stunt again. This time I was prepared and did one simple thing that proved he was stealing something. He went nuts, barged me and my fellow associate aside and legged it. We’re not allowed to attempt to restrain anyone, so I simply followed him in case he was getting into a car. No such luck.

So he wasn’t led away in chains, cursing my intervention, but I don’t think he’ll be back anytime soon. Sadly, now I look at everyone who comes in with suspicion, and I have a knot in my stomach when anyone approaches the door with a full cart. It’s never been a joyous job, never been a laugh a minute, but I don’t like to think that this one greedy thief has soured it completely.

PS: The photo? Well, that was the last time I was in a proper full-time education course. My year at Portsmouth University doesn’t count because the course was rubbish.

Who I was twenty years ago.

Never got the hang of juggling ON a unicycle, but I'm one of very few people who juggled WITH a unicycle.

I was surprised and shocked yesterday morning: picking a t-shirt out of my drawer, I noticed it was from a juggling convention I once attended. In 1991. I was shocked because I realized that’s twenty years ago. You may find it shocking that I have a twenty year old t-shirt, but what got to me was the thought of how long ago that section of my life was.

I got into juggling as the result of some unlikely coincidences. I was watching a TV show (The Paul Daniels Magic Show, I think) and there was a guest star on it, who was dressed in a green felt suit and juggling Snooker balls. He’d catch these balls in special pockets he had sewn to his shoulders and hips. I was impressed, and determined to learn to juggle. (I was around thirteen or fourteen, still at an age where these impulsive decisions can be made. Now I would sit back, shake my head and imagine how many times the juggler had injured himself to perfect his act.) One of the unlikely coincidences I mentioned was us having a snooker table in the room where I was watching television. Another was that I picked up some of the snooker balls and figured out the basics of three ball juggling in an evening WITHOUT BREAKING ANY HOUSEHOLD ORNAMENTS.

I had to wait a couple of years for the next coincidence. My college were putting on a big show for the end of the term, and they needed everyone in it to juggle for a big street scene. To achieve this, they asked an ex-student who was now a street performer to come and give lessons. When he discovered I could already juggle three balls, he leant me a set of juggling clubs, and, worse, the catalogue of a juggling supplies shop. By the end of that year I was running a juggling course at the college, and by the end of the next I was running an Adult Education course in juggling.

Paul teaches Toyah Wilcox some tricky juggling moves in our TV appearance

For around ten years, juggling was a big part of my personal identity. I tried quite hard to make it my profession, forming a troupe called “The Juggling Fiends” and performing at parties, festivals, running workshops. We even had a spot on a tv programme. But it’s hard to make a living from juggling, harder than it is to make a living from writing. The troupe drifted apart as life intervened, and though we all stay in touch, we’ve never had a full Fiends reunion. We all still juggle though, it’s not a habit you have to kick when you grow up. I brought a trunk full of juggling stuff over to Canada with me, and the clubs will come out over the summer. The Weasels like playing with the stuff, but none of them have been bitten by it the same way I was.

But looking at that t-shirt yesterday made me see how our view of ourselves can change over time. For about ten years I was a juggler who had to do other jobs to earn a living. For the last decade I’ve been a writer who sometimes takes a day job while minding the weasels. For a glorious year here, I was just a Playwright, before the falling exchange rate sent me off to The World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer. Maybe the next ten years will bring another change.

Excellent tool for writers – Dropbox

My favourite new icon - so handy and unobtrusive!

I had prepared a huge rambling monologue about the joys of collaborative writing, thanks to the last two weeks spent working with my writing partners (who came all the way to Canada for a writing work out – thanks, Steve and David!). But it occurred to me that short and sweet is better for blogs and David introduced a minor, FREE, piece of software that made our entire fortnight a lot easier to manage, writing wise.

DROPBOX is a downloadable piece of software that sits on your desktop. You can save files to it, or drag and drop them as usual, and they’re there, in the folder. But they’re also in a 2Gig folder out there in Internet Land, so if you’re out and about and drop into an Internet cafe, you can open up a file you’re working on, change it, save it and Dropbox will update that same file the next time you go online at home. No more dragging around a file on pen drive, worrying about which version you’re saving, or where you last worked on it. Listen, I don’t know about you guys, but I have a desktop, a laptop, and now a netbook. I have four pen drives and two portable hard drives. I have trouble keeping track of where the records database is most recent, or which unfinished play file is the most up to date. Now I keep all those files in Dropbox and they’re all the same file on every computer!

If this sounds like a gushing advert for Dropbox, then I make no apologies. We all installed Dropbox on our various machines during our writing fortnight, and added a shared folder, meaning if one of us completed a sketch or scene, we didn’t have to e-mail it around, we just dumped it in the shared folder and the other guys’ folders updated automatically. As long as we were careful to work on files one at a time, there was no instance of multiple versions appearing and having to be collated. We wrote a complete panto (60 pages of material), nearly a dozen sketches, two lots of corporate work and outlines of many, many other ideas, and they all got speeded along using Dropbox. It’s still inplace and working though David and Steve are back in the UK.

So, if you’re using multiple machines, or working cooperatively with another writer, try Dropbox. They’re not paying me to tell you this, so it’s a genuine tip from one writer to others – this thing can actually make your writing life easier and less frustrating!

TLC go wild in Canada! Steve, David and me (L-R)

Sexism – Opening the can of worms

Some time ago, I was asked to be in a magazine article about men taking on the role of Mum (Mom, to you North Americans). Because Mrs Dim had a proper job, no, a CAREER, and I was just playing at being a writer, I was labelled a Househusband and asked my opinions on all sorts of things. Oh, and they wanted some photographs: Would I mind just putting on this apron and holding a duster…?

The picture was really nice. It was of Eldest Weasel sitting next to me at the piano, neither of us in an apron. I heard the photographer sulked for three whole days, but really, I wasn’t going to put up with that. So I have strong views on sexism and equality.

Obviously, not the picture I was talking about....

I used to get irked, as a neophyte writer, when I saw competitions that were restricted to female writers, like the Orange Prize for fiction. There are none, that I know of, that are restricted to men. The reason for this is the perception that men dominate the writing industry, and they don’t need any help to succeed. Since I found my niche writing plays, got published and began to earn some money, my bitterness has faded somewhat (In the early days I even considered entering competitions disguised as Damina, my most common typing error, but it hasn’t happened…yet.) But this week my good friend and Star Script Reader Lucy V Hay posted notice of a women only Screenwriting competition: http://networkedblogs.com/79hge and I dropped a snide little note on her Facebook page, demanding the end to sexist writing competitions. That’s lead to a fairly long string of comment and counter-comment and I wondered if the blogosphere has anything to add. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • There is no doubt that men are the majority in screenwriting success. More films written by men get made, more succeed at the box office, and women screenwriters seem limited to cuddly rom coms like Norah Ephron writes (Which aren’t bad in themselves: I’m a big fan of “Sleepless in Seattle” and am irrationally attached to ‘Music and Lyrics”, but this is not the be-all and end-all of female writing.)

 

  • Faced with a dearth of decent scripts by female writers, the incomparable Zahra has asked for women to submit scripts. Only women. Plot lead, not character lead. This is not going to be “Eat, Pray, Love” on a shoestring, folks.

 

  • Lucy encourages her friends on Facebook to stretch themselves and come up with something suitable. If your window onto the world of screenwriting was Lucy’s Facebook page, you’d believe that it’s a fifty-fifty split between men and women. Lucy herself is no slouch behind the keyboard, having written and produced “Slash” which is NOT a Romcom.

 

  • I point out that excluding men just because they’re men is sexist.

 

  • Lucy asks if it would be considered racist to hold a competition for black screenwriters (who are also under-represented). I have to say “yes.” Isn’t it? Excluding white writers because they’re white isn’t “better” than excluding black writers. You’re discriminating on grounds of skin colour, and that’s racism.

The problem comes when you say “Ok, we won’t use positive discrimination, smartarse, so how ARE we going to get more women screenwriters?” I don’t know the answer to that one. I’m tempted to say “It doesn’t matter”, partly because I know that’ll wind people up, but also partly because I think then you get the really passionate ones rising to the top DESPITE the prejudice. Yes, they have to be 100% BETTER than the male opposition, but that leads to better films and the men having to raise their game. In an industry accused of dumbing down and looking for the lowest common denominator (Michael Bay, I’m looking at YOU), I’m all for raising the bar. Kathryn Bigelow made ‘The Hurt Locker” and that was pretty good. A lot of people started saying “Hey women can direct, can’t they? Why aren’t there more women Directors?” I don’t think anyone held the door open for Kathryn, she didn’t make “The Hurt Locker” (Or her previous films, let’s not forget those) on a “Give her a leg up, she’s only a woman” programme. Oh boy, I’m going to be in SOOOO much trouble for that one.

I’m a regular reader of Scriptshadow where I learn a lot about writing scripts and reading them, and one of the things I have learned from there is that GOOD scripts are hard to find, even from established writers. It shouldn’t matter the sex, height, hair colour or favourite muppet of any writer, as long as their scripts are good. I can’t believe that the first thing readers in studios check is the gender of the writer. What’s more likely the problem (and this is something that Zahra mentions) is that the execswho greenlight the various projects are looking at returns and betting on a particular demographic, which determines which types of movies get made, and those are, for whatever reason, not the ones usually written by women.

These days we’re told a lot that the internet is a great leveller. It can raise public awareness and the wrath of the many against what used to be impregnable corporations. It allows the little guy to produce his own web series and distribute it, bypassing the big studios and riding the word of mouth wave to financial success (or at least, infamy). Can the internet beat the masculo-centric viewpoint of the movie studios, or are they right in their assessment of the movie markets? Sure, I like films where things blow up, but I haven’t been to see ‘The Expendables” yet, and I won’t go until I’ve seen ‘Toy Story 3″. Probably not even then. The two screenplays I’ve written that I’m happiest with are character pieces where nothing blows up. I grew up with “Star Wars” and have a deep abiding passion for Sci-Fi but I have NEVER written anything with spaceships in. In eighty-odd plays, only three could be considered to have any Sci-Fi connection. One is a Star Trek spoof sketch (“Strange New Worlds”). One is a time-travel comedy (“Fight the future”) , and the other is a deep thought play about a 1950’s “Flash Gordon”-style film cast, stuck when their leading man is injured in a car wreck (“Waiting for Twist Stiffly”). I don’t believe I write like a man, or like a woman, or like a small, furry creature from Alpha Centuri. I write like me, and if I entered a competition for screenwriting, I’d enter it as me, not as a man.

I believe that good female writers should have as much success as good male writers. If women only screenwriting competitions will get us there, then ok, I’ll back off and cheer ’em on. But if you have a better idea, I’d love to hear about it.

The anti-social life of a writer

 

Sometime during this last week (look, I’m sorry, but things have been busy, and it’s the Summer Holidays. Don’t expect me to remember which day is which…) I went along to the latest PWAC social evening. PWAC, as you regular readers will know, is the Professional Writers Association of Canada , and I’m a member of the Vancouver Chapter, which makes us sound more like Hell’s Angels. Anyway, we meet in the salubrious surroundings of the False Creek Yacht club:

A nice way to network with other writers

With the weather the way it is, and the view being so good…:

Sunset over False Creek

……it’s hard to be maudlin about the struggles of life as a writer. Especially with the company on hand.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m in an interesting position at PWAC – I’m the only playwright (or at least, the only playwright who’s attended the meetings I’ve been to) and the others have different skills and niches in the writing world. Two meetings ago I sat with a group who were mostly Technical Writers, something I’d heard about but never investigated. Technical writing is hard work, by the sound of things, but it could be just the thing to suit you if you are good at immersing yourself in new subjects, enjoy interviewing people and are dedicated enough to produce top quality copy to a deadline. What baffled me, as a butterfly writer (I do some of this, drift about a bit and do some of that…projects get finished and started in no particular order…) was the notion of diving into an entirely new subject, learning and absorbing huge quantities of information which is then repackaged for an instruction manual, a policy document, that sort of thing, and then moving on to an entirely different job. One lady spoke of her exciting time writing policy for a casino group, despite having previously had no interest in gambling, and then moving on to a firm that built helicopters. In that situation, I thought, you have to love the process, have to get all your satisfaction from the way you work. I also spoke extensively with Steve Bain, who’s written eleven books (and had them published) but was less enthusiastic about the process than you might think: “It can take years for the books to begin to make money..” he said, ‘and the production process is months of hard work and deadlines.” He wasn’t complaining, just explaining, but it again highlighted a point I hadn’t thought about before – even writing a non-fiction book can be a slog, and it doesn’t guarantee an instant return.

Last week I arrived a little late, missing a big portion of the social side, but I did get to speak to the brilliant and brave Jackie Wong who’s recently gone freelance. There’s no doubting her talent and enthusiasm, so I’m hoping she can find the writing jobs she deserves.

So what’s the point of this socialising? Is it to get away from the lonely life of the writer, plugging away behind the desk, staring out the window and only communicating with real people via email and phone? Well, partly, yes. Claire Sowerbutt said that she’d been working all through the week up till 11.30pm every night, and this was the one evening she allowed herself a break. Freelancing, whatever your field, means you have to work hard on finding work even when you’re already working. Every day I wake up and thank God I’m a playwright. So we get together, sit in the sun and talk about jobs we’ve had, cheques we’ve chased, stories we’ll write one day when a: someone will pay us for them or b: the people involved are dead or unable to litigate. For me, every social evening is a kick in the butt, a reminder of how hard these REAL writers are working to find work, to publicise themselves, to get paid for doing the thing they love. It shows me that despite my decade of writing success, I’m still a dilettante, still only playing at writing for a living. I can’t say for sure what it is the others get from it, but there’s certainly a feeling that it’s a relief to find others in the same situation – to spend time with people who understand how frustrating it is to have to chase payment for work already done, people that understand love of writing doesn’t mean accepting ten cents a word but holding out for serious recompense. That even though you are building castles in the air at your lonely desk, it’s a job. And sometimes, it’s a vocation.

Book, book, book…..

It's the book what I wrote...So, only….er….five months after the initial idea, and I now have a published e-book to add to my credits. Actually, that’s not strictly true, as this is a document in pdf format, rather than an actual e-book, but you get the point.

Back in January, as I may have mentioned, I went along to a Writer’s symposium, hosted by the Travel Writer’s Association of Canada (TWAC. I was there as part of PWAC. Acronyms are silly things.) One of the speakers talked about the need to build up your webpresence and your own brand for your writing, which lead me to rediscover this blog, for one thing, and to begin writing the book. She’d said that everyone is an expert in something, expert enough to write a book. And while your book might not be compelling enough to attract a major publisher in the paper and ink industry, the glory of the internet is that you can publish without the stunning overheads and publicise your product yourself.

I realised that for over a decade I have been writing plays for the amateur stage – what the North Americans seem to call “Community Theatre” which sounds less patronising – and therefore I could legitimately say something about doing that. Plus, of course, I’ve spent the last few years as a script reader for Lazy Bee Scripts, reviewing new plays and handing out advice and judgements and assembling my own set of “What everybody gets wrong, or right” rules.

The speaker at the symposium made a lot of sense, saying that the book itself is not the major feature, but you can build on the sale of the book with lectures and classes. I didn’t want to get too overexcited about that, and decided to see if I could write a convincing book first. It’s taken longer than I thought, thanks mainly to the hard work of my friends and co-writers, ensuring I didn’t settle for the first draft, going that extra mile to produce a document that’s not only worth reading but enjoyable to look at. I’m painfully aware of the number of projects that languish at the “half-completed” stage, not because I’ve run out of enthusiasm for them, but because I’m scared I’ll wreck what I’ve got by pushing on. Two plays are stuck in that limbo right now. I was determined that the book would not go the same way, and this week the final draft (number three, I think…certainly the third version to make it to the pdf stage, anyway) has arrived and been hosted, both on the Lazy Bee Website (www.lazybeescripts.co.uk ) and on the TLC website (www.tlc-creative.co.uk) . We’re advertising the book on various websites, pushing out news of it through Facebook, and later this week I’ll be attending another PWAC event where I’ll finally get to tell the other members that I have acheived something they can actually see.

So, what’s the book about? It’s NOT a “How To” guide. I don’t lay out the best way to write your epic play, there aren’t any simple five-step programmes included that take you from your idea through to staging your masterwork. The book talks about the aspects of community theatre that make it ideal for first-time playwrights, the things that you should be aware of before you begin writing. It discusses the limitations of the local stages, and how you can get around them or work with them. It talks about the different types of writing you can do for the stage, it highlights common mistakes and other issues to avoid. Best of all, it has funny pictures with hilarious captions scattered throughout.

I’ve read it about half a dozen times now, and each time I feel it’s necessary to point out that I only supplied some of the words. The organisation, proofreading, graphical work, factchecking (and occasional buttkicking) have been done by my writing partners Steve and David at TLC and by Stuart at Lazy Bee. I hope other writers will find it useful. I really hope some people who might not have considered play writing will give it a go as a result, because I hadn’t thought of plays until I was asked to write one, and they really have changed my life for the better.

And if anyone’s interested, I am available for lecture tours…..

Smoke – a short story…

So, it seems unfair, somehow, to write about life out here with the In-Laws staying while they’re actually still here. Instead, I thought I’d raid my archives for my favourite short story. By that I mean one that I wrote and actually like. It’s been a long time since I wrote any short stories, but it’s something I like to think I’ll go back to when the right idea arrives. This one came out exactly as I wanted, and I think it was published somewhere in some format. One day I may try to find out what happened before or after.

Smoke

            And then he woke up and found it had all been a dream. The sunlight yellowed the aging curtains and flung arms of shadow across the cluttered floor. Lying unmoving, he struggled to retain the fractured, fleeing images. A bad way to begin the day, losing memories of joy.

            By the time the back door thudded shut behind him the sunlight had already slunk away. Grey skies stretched overhead now, promising rain. Nice to have a promise kept, he thought. His pace lengthened, though he had no real destination in mind. Since she’d gone his days had become time to be filled, an unwelcome interruption in his sleep pattern. The rain fell and he let it come down, wishing someone would see how it fell on him in particular, soaking into his clothes, washing down his face. But what’s the point of suffering in silence? Lights beckoned in the grey distance and he hastened on.

            It was a café. Plastic seats, badly written menus scrawled on painted blackboards advertising unremarkable specials. He bought a cup of coffee for the heat it offered, which was just as well since it seemed to have lost all flavour on the short walk to a seat. He watched the steam rise from the orange brown liquid and felt a similar steam lifting from his sodden trousers. The steam rose like the cigarette smoke from the next table and he felt a sudden unreasoning desire to smoke. He couldn’t remember when he’d last had a cigarette, couldn’t remember why he’d quit or even if he’d liked smoking, but he wanted one now. Wanted the occupation of unwrapping the pack, the anticipation of sliding out that smooth cylinder from nineteen identical brothers. A wonder of design, the brown filter actually a patchwork of tans, ochres, stone, taupe. He stared at the stream of smoke, licking his lips and remembering the lightheadedness that accompanied his first drag in days. What would that be like now? A year or more, surely, since his last one. His heart quickened with a junkie’s desire and he felt a rush of heat at the knowledge that he was going to give in to this need, whatever else he did that day, he was going to buy the cigarettes and smoke the whole damn pack. Maybe he would do just that, buy a pack in the shop round the corner, come back here for another coffee and smoke all twenty, one after another. So what if the buzz is gone after the first, hell, what else did he have to do today?

            “You look like a man who’s given up.”

The voice was low, amused. It took him a second to come out of his fugue and locate it. The woman who was smoking regarded him with dark eyes. He felt them on his face, felt their passage, heard the vibrant cry of her carmine lipstick, lost himself in the maze of lazy looping black hair that tumbled out of sight behind her shoulders.

            “Huh?”

She waved the lit cigarette and he was entranced by her smooth wrist, the tension of the tendons in her hand. The glow of the cigarette’s tip shone in her eyes.

            “It’s a hard habit to break – you’re never a non-smoker, you’re a smoker who isn’t smoking. Right?”

            “It’s been a while.”

They traded stares, his open and unguarded, beguiled and frank. Hers was curious, suspicious and a touch defiant. She nodded, as if agreeing with something he hadn’t said. Her cuticles were a translucent white, the nails uncoloured, and he followed their path as she raised the cigarette to her lips. Her eyes, those fabulous eyes, squinted half shut against the smoke curling up and he was so distracted he didn’t see what she was doing until she held the new, untouched cigarette out to him. He looked at it, the effort of refocusing causing him to lean back a little. She laughed at him, the cigarette shaking in her outstretched fingers and he suddenly snatched at it. Fearful, lest it should fall, angry that she found him laughable. He examined the gift, hoping he had not creased the perfect tube in his haste. Some tobacco was protruding from the end and he pushed at it with his fingertip. It loosened further and he left it, not wanting to lose any. Looking up, he found the eyes of his donor.

            “It has been a while, hasn’t it, Quitter?”

            “Can I have a light?”

She pulled her chair round to join him at his table, reaching back for a bag and coffee cup, then one more time for a silver lighter. The bag went on the floor. The coffee cup, already half empty, was pushed to the edge of the table. She slid the lighter across to him and it arrived spinning. He watched the lights glinting on it, catching in the design etched on the surface. A skull and crossbones? No, some other thing, a skull with a dagger through it, a military emblem of some sort. He flicked his eyes up, tapping the design.

            “Should I salute? Or run for cover?”

She shrugged.

            “Stole it off an old boyfriend. Only thing he had I wanted.”

A million replies sprang to mind, funny quips, sharp questions, worldly wise throwaways, but he left them ashes in the pit of his mind. He’d used them all once, when he was someone else, with someone else. He picked up the lighter, opening the cover and thumbing the wheel. The flame was orange and flushed the scent of paraffin before it.

            “Do you want me to hold that for you?”

She was sounding amused again. He raised the cigarette to his lips, felt the heat from the lighter as he brought it close. The cigarette was fresh, he heard no crackle as the flame kissed the tip. A deep breath, his eyes on hers as the smoke rushed down. A second’s hesitation, heighten the anticipation, wait, wait. Now breathing out, through the nose, an old friend’s wisdom recalled in the moment

            “You pass the smoke out through your nose, the nicotine reaches your brain quicker.”

And there it was, like a punch to the back of his head. The room retreats a pace, the vision of dark-haired beauty before him wavers slightly and his eyes water.

            “Oh yeah.”

He can smell the smoke on his breath as he speaks. He’s taking another drag, adding another layer to the fog he’s in and she’s reaching for his hand, her fingers cool on his wrist.

            “Steady, Quitter, they’re strong enough.”

Was it the touch making him giddy now? He couldn’t move the wrist she held and he watched the cigarette burning down. The waste, after all this time, the drug he suddenly wanted being released into the uncaring air!

            “You didn’t come out today looking for cigarettes.”

            “But I found them.”

            “Maybe I found you.”

            “Was I what you were looking for?”

He was answering by rote, watching the dissolution of the cigarette he held, feeling the electricity of her fingertips. One finger slowly moved, tracing a circle on his wrist bone. In a sudden movement he swept his left hand over the table. He let the cigarette drop from his right, scooping it out of the air and into his mouth. Her grip tightened and her mouth dropped open. He heard her gasp, surprise rushing out of her, carrying the tang of smoke to him. Gently now he took the cigarette from his mouth with his left hand, moved his captive right to her chin and drew her forward across the table to him. Their lips met and he filled her mouth with his smoke. She pressed her lips to his, never releasing his wrist but pressing with her fingers too. He felt a circuit being completed, the flow from her fingertips down his arm, through his mouth and back into her, the smoke his returning of her gift.

            They broke apart and she smiled, exhaling smoke through her nose and sliding her fingers  up his hand to his fingertips. He caught her hand before she could withdraw it completely. She muttered something he didn’t catch.

            “What?”

            “My heart will be the bridge that you walk over.”

            “What does that mean?”

            “You’ll use me to get over her, whoever she was.”

            “Maybe I just did.”

She pulled her hand free and reached into the bag. Dropping the pack of cigarettes, two remaining, onto the table, she met his gaze.

            “I have another pack at home.”

Thanks to Natalie Imbruglia for supplying a vital line in this narrative.