Tuesday 29 January 2019

Leave To Stand : a short story about lust ... and microwaves.

Hey you.

I wrote this piece to submit to a writing competition last year (no, it didn't win anything) where the theme was 'Cooking'. And it's always odd where even the vaguest of prompts can take your imagination. I mean ... until then I'd never really felt the need to write about the effect a microwave can have on a relationship. But that's exactly where the story led me.

Oh, and, forgive me but ... it's written in the second person point of view because I really wanted to make you complicit in this awkward little tale of illicit love, and vegetable soup.

Please enjoy. (And, remember to pierce the film lid before reading.)

Leave to Stand: 
a short story about lust ... and microwaves by Julie Kirk

      That microwave is so high up on the wall it’s all you can think about. Just so high, impractical, awkward.

     You should probably be focusing on him though. You didn’t shower and pick out matching underwear to come and fixate on a microwave inconveniently bracketed to the wall above eye-level. Well, above your eye-level at least. He seems to be managing just fine with it where it is. But you can’t help thinking, just one lapsed moment of concentration and that’s a scalding right there.

     You wouldn’t have your microwave that high up. You don’t, in fact, yours is at a far more reasonable counter-top height. You suppose his is where it is because that’s where his landlord put it. It just came with the house, and its tiny shared kitchen. Some things some people don’t get a choice in.

     He glances between your face to where your gaze is pinned on the lunch waltzing around at head height over there.

     “What’s so fascinating?” he asks, with the genuine interest that attracted you to him in the first place.

     You want to reply: It’s just not right, is it? Having a microwave all the way up there. Doesn’t it bother you, where they’ve put it? It’s courting an accident. Surely?

     But you don’t say that, you say “Oh, nothing.” and drop your head, hoping to look coy rather than irritated. By a kitchen appliance.

     “It’s just … I didn’t have breakfast this morning, and,” you nod toward the microwave, “I’m counting the seconds.”

     Your palm instinctively circles your grumbling stomach. The anticipation of being alone with him had shut down your appetite this morning, forcing you to leave your overnight oats in the fridge for an extra night. You’ve only had a glass of water and a travel sweet all day and you’re feeling it now. You really do want to eat even though you’re not thrilled about the menu.

     You return to staring at the bowl twirling on a down-lit stage to the background hum of a 750 Watt orchestra, trying to remember the last time you ate like this.

     Chunky soup. Tinned. Microwaved.

     Not that you’re a food snob, you’ve got a microwave too. One, like you say, at a normal height. Mostly for defrosting, but occasionally for heating up baked beans, or a milky hot chocolate when you don’t want to get a pan out. And you’d choose a slick and creamy squeezy cheese (preferably sucked directly from the tube, feeling the hard thread of the nozzle against the delicate skin of your inner lip) over a supposedly ‘good’ Camembert any day.

     But part of you is gratified to know that he’s not really eating like this from choice, but necessity, it’s a money thing. Not that you think people with more money automatically eat better than those on a budget. Although, of course, you’ve seen articles linking low income and poor nutrition. And food poverty is obviously terrible, and yes, you do always drop something into the food bank collections at your local supermarket. Well, not always, but you have done, once or twice, when you remembered.

     The steady slamming of his palm against the base of a second can diverts your eyes from the microwave in time to see the last chunk of potato, a perfect building-block cube of a thing, and an oddly olive-green-tinged pea, slop into the bowl beneath. You swallow. Then note that this bowl doesn’t match the one in the microwave.

    Your eyes meet, and you blush, caught in a judgmental act, although he’ll likely suspect you’re flushing at his cheeky can-spanking. And, now you come to think of it, you are. 

     You watch as he rinses out the can, dipping in his long slender fingers, gliding over its ridges. And this time the redness in your cheeks has nothing to do with being caught judging his mismatched crockery.

     Those hands, they’re on The List. The list you created last week, when he’d invited you here and you wanted all the reasons to say yes. The one you ran through last night when you came up with a lie about why you didn’t need to make a lunch for today; and again this morning when you’d turfed out your bedside drawer looking for your favourite perfume, which you then spritzed over your body. Including behind your knees. 

     Despite a longer list of reasons for you to be nowhere near here, him, or his hands, they’re two of the more tangible reasons you find yourself tracking them as they move around the kitchen preparing your lunch.

     You become transfixed by how, in contrast to the pale, smooth pale palms - freshly laundered hotel sheets that haven’t been lain on - the backs are sinewy and firm, with a drift of dark hairs emerging beyond the cuff line. And, like much of his skin (that you’ve seen, so far), the backs of his hands are ever so softly browned, like toast made in a hurry. The colour coming from his of love of outdoor pursuits; hiking, cycling and wild-swimming. (Whatever that actually entails, you just nodded when he told you, feeling you ought to know, and would appear out of touch if you asked.) And even just from his habit of sitting outside, with a book, on a wall in the car park during his lunch hour.

     The day you’d met it had been Thoreau’s Walden he was poring over, one hand guiding a sandwich to his mouth, the other firmly holding the page open so wide that the front and back covers were pressed against one another. You’d never spoken to him before but you had read Walden and, well, what better conversation starter is there?

      You’d thought it was such a unique choice for a twenty-something, not that you said that to him. Rather you’d chatted about Thoreau’s philosophy and the poetry he’d found in the simple life, until you’d both had to return to the office. Later, when you’d googled it to recap on the finer points, and to check you’d been saying the right things, (it’d been a while since you’d read it), you learned that, it’s recently become a bit of a bible for the minimalist, wild-garlic-foraging, organic-record-player type of hipster and you’d felt a sting of disappointment, embarrassment even. You’d been relieved the following week to see him with a different book, so there was no longer any danger you might be drawn into a conversation about sustainable micro-homes or digital-nomadism.

     Now, as he dips and darts around the tiny kitchen your eyes drift from his hands to his lean, denim-wrapped, legs. Legs so long that any two consecutive strides bring him to a halt against a worktop, where a third would see him stepping clear out of the back door on to the, well, ‘patio’ would be a kind word for it. 

     Or if he were facing your direction, then three strides would bump him right up against you.

     Toe to toe.

     Nose to chest.

     A steadying hand on a waist.

    And if he did? If he came close enough for you to draw in the scent of his laundry powder, what then? Would that be the moment you’ve been waiting for? The one you daren’t actively bring about but, if it just happened, almost accidentally like that … If he bumped against you in that cramped space, with that droning oven turning away overhead, wouldn’t he be stepping straight into something you’ve been rolling around your mind like a lucky marble all these months? 

     If those hands reached around to the nape of your neck, and slid up into your hair, and if he were to draw your face towards his and …


     You inhale a little too quickly, and instinctively straighten up.

     “I think that’s you done.” he says.

     “Mmmuh?” you murmur, hoping your thoughts aren’t playing publicly across your face. But he’s just talking about your vegetable soup.

     With his hands around the tea-towel he’d been casually wearing over his shoulder, he carefully places the hot bowl on to the work surface next to you warning:

    “You might want to let that cool off a bit first”.

     Which feels as much like pointed advice as it does a serving suggestion.

     While the soup cools he prepares the drinks. And he's so focused as he cracks the ice tray over your glass, so present, you almost think ‘childlike’ but then remind yourself that his is not a child’s age. He’s a grown man with a good job, a house (well, his own bedroom and a shelf of a fridge in a shared semi). He can drive, he can vote, a fact you’ve even discussed with him. He’s voted in a general election, and a referendum so not only can he vote, he does. He carries out his democratic duties, so, no, definitely not a child.

     Although, when he’d opened a craft beer for himself and offered you one, (which you passed on, preferring a nice crisp white that he doesn’t have), you’d flat-out refused the fizzy-something alternative he brought out from the back of the fridge. Because drinking pop, at a boy’s house, on a school day, would simply have been an anachronism too far; this is not, after all, 1991. He hands you an iced tap water, then gestures towards the living room (where you curse the speed with which you just calculated that out of the two of you, it was only you who was alive in 1991.)

    You sit at one end of the sofa, cautiously balancing the bowl on your knees. Meanwhile, at the other end, he curls effortlessly into the creased cushions. Tucking a leg beneath him he angles his body, his slate grey eyes, and his enviably easy manner towards you. 

     And as you watch him watching you, you think maybe this could work. Here, today ... tomorrow. You could have, well let’s not got so far as to say a ‘future’ together but, you could definitely have something. And, you do want something, otherwise, why are you here? It’s certainly not for his cooking.

     You finish the soup, even though it’s gone cold around the edges, an assault on your tongue’s expectations, and he leans across to take your bowl and put it on the floor. He’s now so close you can feel his increasingly quickening breaths dancing over your bare arms.

     “I had to have this,” he says, lightly grasping the neck of his empty beer bottle, before moving it further way, and himself closer.

     “So that I could do this …”.

     And this is it.

     The moment you’ll finally know.

     Even after months of incrementally increasing intimacy, the snatched lunchtime chats, the shared meal deals, the swapped snacks. (Like the time you finished off an apple he didn’t want. Carving through his teeth marks with your own. Your mouth over his.) The inching. The edging. The nearing towards inevitability, you’re still not all-in.

     But you’re sure that when your lips meet for the first time you’ll have no more doubts. That the answers to all your questions will appear before you, like the pictures in those water-reveal colouring books you used to get as a kid. Full colour, clear picture, magic-wand stuff.

     His lips graze yours.

     He pulls away slightly to check you’re OK with it, and you grab a handful of his t-shirt in assent. Your eyes sink shut, your shoulders drop and you let ‘something’ happen.

     You don’t feel any sparks just yet, but hey, what are sparks really? Just the stuff of romance novels. Or static. And, as you suspected, his hands do feel good in your hair and, oh, he’s eager, and yes, this could be nice. Is nice. 

     Just go with it, get out of your head, stay in your body. Touch his. Don’t be brain. Be lips, hair, hands, jaw, hard chest, washing powder.

     He moves his mouth down to your neck. You gasp and your eyes open wide in delight … and … then that’s when you see it.

     Over his head. Watching from the kitchen. Looking down on you with its single, stationary, glass eye.

     That bloody microwave.

     And, no two ways about it, it’s just so very high. Ridiculously high. Too high. Not like the one you have. At home.

     Not like the one sitting happily, on your oiled walnut counter-top, at waist height.

     The one your husband uses to make those ‘mug cakes’ that he considers more like witchcraft than dessert, but that he makes for you because he knows your need for cake can sometimes reach dangerously high levels.

     And the one he used last Thursday, at 3am, to heat the lavender scented wheat-bag, when you had cramps, and couldn’t sleep, and had an early meeting the following morning.

    So, no, this is not like the one you have at home.

    And … 


     I think that’s you done.

'Leave to Stand'  © 2018 Julie Kirk


Thank you for reading to the end of my odd little tale of lust amongst the white goods! 

Sharing my fiction is still new to me ... so any comments or observations you might like to share are truly welcome. Without it I'm sending out words without knowing how they land. 

I don't think they're lukewarm in the middle, like a lacklustre microwaved ready-meal, but other than that ... it's hard to judge my own work. 

So, if you have any comments, questions or encouragements, I'm here for them! 

(It doesn't need to be blog comment here, just catch up with me anyway / anywhere that's easiest for you across social media.)

And if you're inclined to share 'Leave to Stand' on your own social media, or with a friend in 'real' life, that would really mean a lot.  

Julie x

Sunday 13 January 2019

2018: A Year in Bad Portraits (Welcome to a year's worth of awkward photo-fails).

Hello you. 

If you've ever dropped by to visit me here in any given January over the last 5 years you'll be familiar with the concept of my bad portraits. But, if not ... let me explain:
  • they're my visual equivalent of a New Year detox; 
  • they're a means for me to balance out a year of sharing the best, most flattering photos of myself - (these days that happens over on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - where like clockwork, every 4th photo I share is one of me) -  with the ones that didn't quite make the cut. For reasons which will become obvious.
  • they're a flushing-out, a fresh start, an enema for the ego!
  • and they're a chance for me to laugh at myself ... and offer you the same opportunity.
They're my BAD portraits ...

As I say each year, you are free to laugh at the following content. In fact, please do, because otherwise what am I even doing sharing them?! 
  • This project is never about body-shaming or self-critique. At worst it's self-deprecating ... at best, it's a healthy self-assessment, and I share mine in the hope that it'll make you feel better about yours! 
  • And I never share photos that make me feel bad, or ones that  don’t make me laugh, so you're absolutely safe to laugh along.
  • So, let the guilt-free voyeurism commence ...

My Year in Bad Portraits: 
The 2018 Edition.

I'm going to start with a photo in which I look like an oil painting.

It's just a pity that the oil painting in question is one of Rembrandt's self portraits.

Granted, dude could paint ... but he was no looker was he?

Below I've put together my Top Modelling Tips so we can all learn from my mistakes. Because these kinds of selfies - where you accidentally take a photo while clutching your phone in a clammy hand, and then you end up looking like an old Baroque artist - are just the worst.  Right?

Modelling Tip No.1: Find your Angles. 

Please note:  this one is never your angle:

Unless you have an especially interesting under-the-chin tattoo, there's never a good reason for you to be taking a selfie from below.

Ever. (As these shots prove.)

From above my loves. Always from above.

Modelling Tip No.2: Always be aware of what your hands are doing.

Left: despite how it appears, I'm not actually trying to keep paparazzi at bay with a modest "No photos please" gesture. I'm just trying to get my phone's camera to take a selfie (where you hold up a hand to set the self-timer going). And then. ... I guess I got distracted. Which happens.

Right: At first this seems like a half-decent outfit shot (of a vintage jumper I found in a charity shop), the kind any fashion-oriented Instagrammer might share. But, then - as I did while deciding which shot to share - you might just notice where my it looks like my right hand is resting. Oh. Dear.

And you might think I'm an entirely different kind of Instagrammer ...

Modelling Tip No.3: Cultivate your 'Signature Pose'

And while yo're practicing it in front of your bedroom mirror,  just be glad that 'startled Scooby Doo' is the one that comes naturally to me, and not you:

Modelling Tip No.4: Be like an actor and think yourself into the character you're trying to project.  

Case in point: 
  • here on the left I'm channeling that look your mother gave you when you arrived home later than your curfew when you were 8 and where she claims she was just about to call the police to find you.

  • Meanwhile, on the right I'm bringing to mind all those times in life when you're in public, and you don't want to make a big fuss but your stomach has just sank because you've suddenly thought "Oh God, where did I leave my keys? I thought they were in my pocket, but they're not in my pocket."
(Honestly ... posing for outfit photos is a sure fire way to foster a greater respect for models!)

Modelling Tip No.5: Be a blank canvas so you can easily adopt other personas.

Here, I've managed to appear so blank ... I've accidentally allowed myself to be possessed by Neo from The Matrix:

(Seriously, all I was trying to get was a selfie with the sky while I was out walking! Why does this happen to me?)

Additionally ...

  • On the left my mother and I clearly tapping into our inner thugs with our 'We're out to hot-wire cars' looks:
  • While on the right I'm tapping into the 'Forthright nun' pose so, at least whenever I move on from modelling I'll have a future in Call the Midwife: 

Modelling Tip No.6: Leave behind your self-consciousness and really feel the moment.

Genuinely, neither of these photos were staged to look funny. But as to what I was really doing in them?

Buggered if I know.

Modelling Tip No.7: At the very least ... try not to look like the walking dead:

And, finally ...

 Modelling Tip No.8: Play with the camera by embracing your inner child. 

  • On the left I've somehow managed to access the look of a sly and crafty five year old drugged-up on too many sweets.
  • And on the right ... well ... I guess this is the face I make when eating crisps in a library whether I am aged 2 or 42!


Now, while not strictly part of my modelling tips ... no Bad Portraits round-up would be complete without a shot of me crying and eating!  (Generally in life, if I'm not doing one I'm doing the other!)

  • Left: don't worry, I'm crying for nice reasons, I was watching the  movie God's Own Country on Netflix for what must have been the 2nd or 3rd time. And yes. I still cry. Every time. 
  • And Right: If you've followed my Bad  Portraits in past years you'll already be aware that James often takes advantage of a moment where I'm standing still with my mouth full (no comment) to capture a shot of me where I can't complain at how long he takes to take a bloody photo! 


And so ... we've reached the end of another year of my bad portraits. If you'd like to share my selfie-struggles with a friend, or on social media, please do. In a photo-manipulated world, the more people embracing the fun to be had from photo-fails, the better! 

Now, if you don't mind, seeing as how I've carried out my penance ... I'm diving back into another 12 months of sharing only the well-lit, poised photos, shot from above (always from above).   

Right that's it ... you can leave now, before I give you that look. You know 'the look'. This one (OK, maybe it's more of a glare):

(Jeez. I was relaxed, happy, on holiday, reading when this was taken. I wasn't even trying to look annoyed in this photo. But I do. Clearly it's an innate skill.)

Julie x

Psssssst, before you go: if you've ever missed any of my awful faces - fear not - you can catch up with them all here: