A Short Story
Jimmy felt a bit sick. He stared out of the stained train window and willed himself to cheer up. But it was tough being an artist. Seven years old and still unpublished, he thought. What if it doesn’t get better?
He opened a bag of Smarties and the offensive primary colours stared back up at him.
Across the aisle, the exquisite Isabel sat perusing a Top of the Pops Annual from 2003. An absolute classic, Jimmy noted.
God, what didn’t that girl have? She was a genuinely talented artist. He’d never forget that rainbow she did in art class. She had an unparalleled ability to produce innovative material week-on-week. Jimmy still had a soft spot for her early work, but the new stuff was really growing on him. I should really ask if she’d like to examine my crayon collection or something.
I bet she’s brilliant with a crayon he thought.
Jimmy’s mind drifted back to Miss Rochelle’s placid face yesterday when she handed his paper back to him — and the feeling of nausea returned.
He’d been so convinced that “My Holiday” was going to go down well, that he was still reeling from the muted response it had received.
It had had it all. Jimmy had taken inspiration from a recent trip abroad (naturally) for the assignment. His parents had accompanied him to a beach house on the Dorset coastline and it had been marvellous. Sandcastles, paddling in the fine British water and of course, evenings sipping Five Alive in adorable local cafes.
So for his piece on the stay in Dorset, Jimmy had started with the basics. You know — standard description with some superficial analysis — i.e. ‘we went to the beach’ — ‘it was fun’ — ‘I built a sandcastle’ — ‘it was big’ etc. By this point, Jimmy already knew he was looking at a comfortable ‘tick tick, well done’ from Miss Rochelle. But it was a Tuesday night and Jimmy had just finished quaffing his second glass of Five Alive of the evening — so he thought he’d try and push the boundaries just a little. Essentially ‘My Holiday’ was supposed to provide a fundamentally factual account as to the sorts of activities he had engaged in, on said holiday. But wasn’t that missing the point of travelling entirely?
Jimmy had accepted his parents offer of the Dorset stay, partly for legal reasons regarding children being left alone for long periods, but mainly because he felt the journey might be genuinely mind-expanding. Who knew what the Dorsetians got up to in their spare time? What their opinions on the reason for our existence in this ever-expanding universe were? It was the kind of immersive cultural experience Jimmy had known he would love from the outset.
My Holiday — for those who have not read it — rapidly takes a turn for the surreal. Consider this brief extract: ‘We went for a walk and then an elephunt attacked us. The aliens which were big and green told the elephunt to attack us — they were horrible’. This provides but a glimpse into the mind-bending prose that Jimmy composed on that Friday evening. It was, he was absolutely certain, upon finishing, a genuine tour de force. He’d subverted the genre in such a way as to highlight the very cultural relativism required to genuinely appreciate any journey to anywhere — be it internal or external.
Maybe she hadn’t got it. Maybe it was just on a level that Miss Rochelle couldn’t perceive. But no. That’s no way for a writer to think. If she didn’t get it, then that was my failure to communicate, he thought.
Her comments had been brief. ‘Well done for writing so many words! But you should talk about what really happened! You didn’t really see an alien did you?!’
Ugh. God that was a lot of exclamation marks.
‘So many words’ was a barely veiled damning critique, wasn’t it. Jimmy knew he had an editing problem. He should really get mum and dad on that actually.
And then there was the rest of what she’d said.
Jimmy sighed. There was no point trying to revolutionise a genre that just so clearly worked already. That was the lesson to take from this. The elephant hadn’t added anything really. It had just convoluted an otherwise functional piece. Functional. That was it. That’s all art is today. He should ‘get with the times’ — or whatever hip phrase the kids were saying these days.
Maybe I’m just not as good as I like to think, considered Jimmy.
Tom can eat worms. Like, properly swallow them and everything. Now that’s a worthwhile skill.
And Peter can fit like 5 Pritt Sticks in his mouth. That’s marketable isn’t it, at least.
Miss Rochelle called out from the front of the train carriage ‘ten more minutes — then we’ll be at the castle! Are you excited?!’
You could hear the exclamation marks, even when she was speaking. God, it was grating.
Just then Jimmy noticed someone slip into the seat next to him.
“Can I have a Smartie?” she asked.
It was Isabel.
Jimmy offered her the bag.
“Do you think we’ll be there soon?” Jimmy asked her.
‘The castle,’ Jimmy replied. But he meant more than that of course. He meant: “Do any of us ever really get anywhere?” He meant: “Is there a purpose to this constant, mindless travelling that we humans seem to be obsessed with?”
“Maybe. Who cares?” answered Isabel.
Jimmy couldn’t conceal his smile.
Who cares indeed.