Jan/Feb 2006  •   Fiction

Rules Rules Rules

by Walter Smith

"'I said don't open with dialogue!' Mr. Jones said," said Kimberley. "And then he chucked his fucking whiteboard pen at me."

"What color was it?" interjected Steve.

"And another thing. He went on about a fictive dream. Wet dream more like. 'Keep off the adverbs,' he said. 'Make the verbs do the work.'"

"The pen," said Steve, crossing one leg over the other and jiggling his ankle annoyingly. "What colour was the pen?"

"I can't remember. What does it matter?" She clenched her fists and let out a kind of growl. "It was all rules rules rules. No passive voice, no redundant passages, everything has to play a part. Stop wriggling your ankle, it's annoying me."

Steve's ankle stopped.

Kimberley continued. "Oh, it was a nightmare. Apparently my characters didn't behave like real people. Listen to me will you? Fancy going on about fucking pen colours. Red, green, I don't know."

"It's just you've got some on your face."

"Oh." She touched her face.

"Let me," said Steve, reaching forward, licking his fingers.

"Get the fuck off my face, perv." She flapped him away, licked her own fingers and wiped her cheek.

"Other side," said Steve.

He sat quietly while she rubbed at her face, without effect. She reminded him of Lady Macbeth, trying to rid herself of the spots of blood that would betray her guilt. Then he thought perhaps that was an inappropriate analogy, or maybe it was foreshadowing something awful. She was just upset, that was all. She often got upset.

"So what did he think of the rest of the story, this teacher of yours, Mr. Jones?"

"Oh, he said the dialogue was 'info-dumpy,' whatever that means. And there was too much of it. And the characters were sexual stereotypes and..." She sighed. Her face was red, and her jaw was clenched the way it always went when she was trying not to cry. She said, "He said, 'We don't even have a setting until half way through.'"

"Oh Kim," said Steve, then paused for a while. "Don't take this the wrong way. But do you think perhaps he's got a point? How are you going to learn if..."

"Yes yes yes of course he's got a point. You would say that, you're a man and all men want is logic logic logic."

"I know. And what you need is support." He went to touch her again but pulled back.

"Rules. The only rule is that I'm shit."

"I don't think you're shit, you know that."

"I am. I am. I am shit."

They sat in silence for a while, until Steve got down from his donkey. "Look, let's get off this beach and get some fish and chips, eh?" He took her by the hand. She seemed to respond this time. She slid off her donkey and Steve paid the man. It was getting chilly. For a brief moment he wondered if this relationship was the right thing for him. And then he saw in the face of the donkey a distant kind of patience, and he remembered his mother bathing him and his five sisters just before she died horribly of cancer, and he looked at Kim anew, with a stronger kind of love in his heart.

"I like your stories, you know that. They're full of warm, human moments."

She looked at him and cocked her head to one side. "Oh, babe." She gave him a hug. They hugged for some time, as the sun slowly slipped down to the sea, and silver waves lapped and licked, sheepishly, at the shingle.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she said.

"Yes," he said. "You certainly can write. You know everyone likes your stories."

"You like my stories don't you?"

"You know I do. Your characters are so real, so human. Although sometimes—"

"Sometimes what?"

Steve paused, looked at his foot, tracing an arc in the sand.

"I was just going to say, sometimes your endings seem a bit—"

"A bit what?"

"A bit... tagged on."

She stabbed him in the chest.