All Day Breakfast
Another one written in response to a prompt from my face-to-face creative writing group. The task was to write a story in which these three words occur: bingo, Sam, eggs. This was written at one sitting and not really looked at again. Comment and feedback very welcome.
Victoria Station was bigger than I could ever have imagined. When I got through the gates at the end of the platform I seemed to be in some kind of big shopping centre, bigger than any I had been in at home. I was adrift in a sea of people, some of them pushing past one another, some standing still talking on their phones or to the people they were with, or just staring at the big electronic screens where the platform numbers and times and destinations kept rolling down and repeating, over and over again.
Suddenly I wasn’t excited any more, I was scared. The need to get away, the steely determination to be independent and grown up – it had all melted away in the blink of an eye. What crazy impulse had made me come here? Without even a return ticket?
I didn’t have to look in my bag, I knew exactly how much money I had. I thought I could probably buy a ticket back, but if you don’t order them in advance they cost a lot. Maybe all I had. And then what? Crawl back, cap in hand? Face my dad and my sister again? Listen to all the scolding about what a fool I’d been?
I looked around as a woman with a pushchair brushed past me. I was standing right in front of the gate on to the platform. I moved to one side, pulling my wheeled suitcase with me, and leaned on a railing. No, that would be an even worse option than seeing it through. God knows what he would do to me. It was too awful to think about.
I fished around in my bag for the piece of paper with Laura’s address. I had no idea how to get to it. A taxi? No, that would be a waste of money. She said I could get to her on the Underground. So I needed to find that, wherever it was. I could ask someone. A woman, definitely. Not a man. Someone who didn’t look too busy or severe. But they all looked so involved in their own affairs, their own lives. Who was going to have time for me? Who had a kindly face?
I spotted a couple of girls of about my own age. They were just standing, they didn’t seem to be doing anything or talking to each other. I walked up to them and spoke: ‘Excuse me, can you tell me where the Underground is please?’
Oh lordy! They don’t speak English. I felt like I had just landed on Mars.
‘No, it’s okay. Sorry. I’ll ask somebody else.’
‘I can help you, Miss.’
The voice came from behind me. It was a young black man, mid twenties maybe. Quite dishy, I thought. I smiled without meaning to.
‘Oh. Thank you. I need to find the Underground Railway.’
‘That’s no problem. It’s just across there. Straight ahead of you. New to London, are you?’
‘Yes. I suppose that’s pretty obvious.’ I tried to place his accent. Foreign but I couldn’t say where.
‘Not long since I was new here myself. It’s a big place. Seriously big. What bit are you trying to get to?’
The piece of paper with Laura’s address was still in my hand so I gave it to him. He drew in his breath sharply when he read it. ‘That’s hardly London at all. I hope you aren’t in a hurry.’
‘You mean it’ll take a long time?’
‘It’s hard to estimate. A bit over an hour I should think.’
‘Really? That long?’
‘You just got off that slow train down from Newcastle, right?’ I nodded. ‘Have you eaten?’
I shook my head. ‘You must be starving. How about a burger or something before you get going again?’
It sounded like a wonderful idea. I could see a McDonald’s and a Kentucky Fried Chicken not far from where we were standing. ‘Over there?’ I suggested.
‘No, you don’t want to go to those. The places in the station all charge inflated prices. Tourist prices. There’s an ordinary little cafe just alongside the station that’ll give you a bigger portion for half the money. Come on, I’ll show you. Let me pull that for you.’ He took my suitcase and trundled it along as I walked briskly beside him.
‘It’s very nice of you but…’
‘No trouble at all. I know the owner. Good bloke. I was going there myself anyway.’
It seemed pointless to argue, and he was right, I was extremely hungry – and thirsty. We strode on together without talking, through a sort of exit tunnel and across a big open bus station, then left and down a little side street with clothes shops and small businesses. I could see where we were heading for now, and felt a bit more comfortable. Inside it smelled of hot chip fat, and instead of tables there was a long Formica surface connected to one wall, and bar stools. We were the only customers.
‘People call me Obi,’ he announced brightly as I sat down, ‘like in Star Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi. You know? And this is on me, by the way.’
‘Oh no, please, I don’t want to…’ But he had turned to the little grey-haired man behind the counter. ‘Usual for me, Sam. That’s the full English. Same for you sweetheart?’
It was hard to refuse. ‘It’s not exactly breakfast time.’ I just said it to give myself a moment to think.
‘It is for some people. Depends on the business you’re in. Don’t it, Sam?’
‘Oh all right. But I want to pay.’
‘No. I insist. This one’s on me. And you’ve got to try Sam’s special herbal tea. I don’t know what he puts into it but it’s the most fantastic brew you ever tasted.’ He sat on the bar stool next to me and smiled. ‘So. I didn’t catch your name.’
‘I haven’t told you. It’s Denise.’
‘No kidding? I knew a Denise once. Knew her very well. Now she used to have her breakfast at pretty odd hours, didn’t she Sam?’ Sam had started to cook our meals just out of sight behind a low partition.
‘That she did, Obi,’ he shouted through.
There was a pause as we simply looked at each other. I couldn’t make up my mind about him. He seemed okay, I thought, but why all this attention? What did he want from me? I wouldn’t mind getting to know him later maybe, but this was too fast. I had too much else to worry about. I wasn’t ready. I decided to give him my number but nothing more. After all, this was the first day of my whole new life. I needed a place to live and a job. All kinds of things that came before boyfriends.
He seemed to read my mind. ‘Got a job yet, Denise?’ he asked casually. I felt a little shot of panic. My hesitation made it obvious what the answer was. ‘You see, a friend of mine needs a pretty girl like you to look after the one-armed bandits in one of his arcades, give out change, call the bingo, that kind of thing. You would be just right. Good money too. And I could put in a word for you.’
I didn’t know what to say. I had assumed it would take weeks to find a job in London. And it didn’t sound all that bad. A public place, with lots of people around. It couldn’t be too dangerous surely. I could give it a try, couldn’t I? See what it was like. What could be the harm in that?
‘How do you like your eggs?’ Sam shouted from behind his partition. It gave me another moment to think. Maybe I should have taken a little bit longer.
And that was how I ended up following Obi through a network of back streets, he dragging my case, me following a couple of paces behind, the sun sinking behind the high rise blocks in the distance and the cranes that stood beside them, ready to build more, my phone battery flat after a series of unsuccessful attempts to call Laura, and my will to resist Obi’s increasingly crude advances fading away with the daylight. It wasn’t such a bad feeling. Mellow would perhaps be the best word to describe it. And all I seemed to be thinking about was the fantastic taste of Sam’s herbal tea…
I could be mistaken but I seem to remember (from my previous incarnation) that you favour writing in the first person. I think this piece might have had the edge if approached from the third person viewpoint. Starker and darker. As is, it’s a signature closure.
Nevertheless, a good story and the events have probably happened in one way or another to a lot of wide-eyed hopefuls.
Thanks for the feedback Steve. I don’t think I have any strong preference for writing in the first person, although I’m not sure. I think it has the advantage of creating a high degree of involvement. The closer you can get to your central character the better your chance of getting the reader to care about him/her. To be honest I don’t see why it would make this one ‘starker and darker’ to do it in the third person/external perspective. And (once again to be honest), I don’t know what you mean by a ‘signature closure’. I think for this… Read more »
Hi, David, Speaking more as a reader rather than a critter, I thought the ending was perhaps ‘soft’ in the context of the story. It’s probably just me but I felt there wasn’t the gradual build-up of tension or foreboding that the third-person perspective might have added. As is, I’m not seeing the danger slowly surrounding Denise that would have had me willing her to be careful. Re the ‘signature closure’, most of us writers have trademarks of varying shades and if memory serves, your first-person stories often have a style in conclusion. I’ve forgotten the title but the one… Read more »
Thanks again Steve. That’s much clearer now. You’re definitely right about that, I do like the ‘softer’ endings. I always try to leave room for reader interpretation. This MIGHT be the beginning of a perfectly okay relationship – I don’t want to proscribe that possibility – but if I’ve done my job the reader should be very dubious of that outcome. Hopefully the clues are all there. Regarding the one about the criminal running away from justice and boarding the Titanic, I’m afraid that wasn’t one of mine, I don’t recognise it at all, but it sounds like quite a… Read more »
Aw heck, I just knew the poor girl was ripe and ready for exploitation. I think this is a familiar situation in big city railway stations. Your first couple of chapters actually reminded me of when I escaped from rural Cumbria and ended up in big city Brum in 1967. I didn’t actually know how to use a pedestrian crossing safely. I was a naïve just-turned-sixteen. I had a very narrow escape from a big bad pervert within the first couple of hours of arriving. I enjoyed your story. It’s certainly stirred up emotions and memories. Regards, Mick.
Thanks Mick, I’m glad it meant something to you.
Opening – we don’t know you got OFF the train and it stops the reader at ‘gate at the end of the platform.’ Suggestion, ‘When I got off the train at Victoria Station, it seemed etc.’ We don’t know who you are or what your age is. Are you in short or long pants? Didn’t even know YOU was a girl!!! This is necessary as I read on. Who is Laura? You tend to over write in a torrent of words. You have heard the phrase ‘Less is more’ and it applies most strictly to writing. I have taking the… Read more »
A bit confusing for me Whale. You complain that I’m saying too much and also not enough. I don’t think it’s necessary that we know straight away who the narrator is, her age or gender or anything about her. These facts emerge naturally as she tells her story. To put them all in at the beginning would be in my opinion over-writing and engaging in too much ‘tell’. The same applies to who Laura is. It’s obvious I think that she’s a friend in London that Denise intends to stay with until she finds a place of her own. In… Read more »
As I have said, you have the prerogative to reject my suggestions as the writing has to be yours. However, one can, indeed, say too little and too much at the same time.
P.S. Wise advice I received for short story writers and should be an axiom. Never mention the name of a character who does not appear in your story.
Exactly where Beckett went wrong in ‘Waiting for Godot’.
To be honest, I think this was probably too easy for you to write. At heart, there’s very little substance and as Steve points out, little build up or tension. It follows a typical pattern for your stories. I suspect if you had worked on this it would be a much deeper and better piece, but I understand perhaps it should be viewed as flash fiction rather than a seriously developed piece.
I don’t suppose this is any surprise to you 🙂
I would refer you to the answer I gave to my honourable friend previously.
The feedback I’ve had on this one, both here and now in my face-to-face creative writing group has been very useful to me. Of the seven other people present at our last group meeting only one picked up on the subtext, and I’m not sure very many people did here, so I think I may need to add something. I wondered about this as a final paragraph: Well, it’s been nice and it was sweet of you to ask me about myself. I’ve changed the names of course. I’ve got to go now, but if you want me to stay… Read more »