Fractured Characters · Short Stories

Schrödinger’s Gnome

Doug wanted her as soon as he saw her. She was gripping her cup and saucer in careful, plump hands as she shuffled between tables. From his favourite corner of the café he noted the pea green coat, its buttons straining over a matronly chest, and the chunky little legs sticking out underneath – sporting (no doubt) elasticated-waist trousers. Hunched, don’t-look-at-me shoulders and sturdy black shoes. A garden gnome of a woman. And no wedding ring. Had she ever been married? Probably not. Clumsy highlights in Harpic Beige blotched her mousey hair.

He scribbled in his reporter’s notebook: “‘Bertha’: Middle-aged, fat spinster. Probably several cats.”

“Bertha” settled into a chair, knocking her table and slopping coffee. Blood rushed to her cheeks and she glanced up through bifocals to see who had noticed. Doug looked away. He didn’t like people knowing he was watching them; it might affect their behaviour. After mopping up with a napkin (“Bertha probably calls it a serviette“, he noted), the woman stared out at the rain with doleful eyes.

Doug flipped over the page of his notepad and wrote, “Waiting for a date who stood her up? No, can’t be a date. Just a friend.”

He studied her face. She had a look of accumulated disappointment. The lines of dejection had become permanent, running deeply from nose to compressed lips. Her eyes, a shade of dirty dishwater, were now cast down, having given up looking for her friend. She rummaged in an over-stuffed bag, produced a phone and began pecking at it with a chubby finger. Probably pretending she had people to talk to online. Well, she’d make a passable minor character for his next book. He took a sly, silent photo of her, popped the last crumbs of panini into his mouth, and left.

I wrote on my phone app: “At café. Meg hasn’t turned up again. Guy opposite was staring at me and I think he took a photo. Can’t think why, unless to put himself off his food.”

The brief from my writing course was to describe a character who interested us. Instead, I made my character the writer and the subject myself. How do others see us? This is how I think others see me.


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