In this short story, a woman, Allison, feels uncomfortable at a party. She find herself surrounded by people who are more successful, lucky and happy than she is but what does that really say about her?
Like many of the Blips, this was written from a GPS location, used as a writing prompt. Depending on where you are, the GPS software provides a three word code that Jack used to inspire a story. The aim is to create a finished story in an hour, using the three words provided. Some are better than others!
This story explores some of Jack’s favourite themes, mental illness, isolation and identity. For those that are interested, the three words that inspired this story are –
Centrally - Social - Snipped
It was a small flat, not depressingly small so that the walls crowded in on anyone who lived there but it wasn’t large enough to let the occupant spread out carelessly. Filled, as it now was, with people, it was even more cloying and oppressive. As well as being uncompromising in size, it was basic, and basic in a way that crushed any sense of it being welcoming or homely.
What furniture there was, was old, tattered and threadbare. The few pieces there was of it was there purely for expediency, not a penny had been spent on anything beyond what was needed for survival. It had the look of a place a young person might live, someone just starting out in life, a student perhaps who was learning to find their way.
But this home, and this party didn’t belong to anyone of the sort.
“Welcome, Allison,” her voice cried out above the low rumble of muted conversations, carrying on a wave of tinny music, wafting from some ancient, tired old piece of electronics. Her smile was warm and genuine and she looked essentially happy. “I’m glad you came.”
She smiled back awkwardly. “I came,” she said, only just loud enough to be heard. “I didn’t have much choice really, did I, Sue?” Nobody could resist her confidence, least of all someone with none of their own.
Allison was dressed almost neutrally, wearing a long skirt that draped down below her knees and a top that wouldn’t have looked out of place in any office. Her hair was the way it always was, just loosely hanging down and her face held the expression of someone slightly lost and perpetually out of their depth.
Sue, the host, had made considerably more of an effort and looked like she was stretching the most of everything she had. Her party dress was black and tight and revealed a set of impressive curves with its plunging low-cut neckline. Her face was alive with a smile that shone out of her perfect blue eyes. Her hair, long and dark was hanging loosely over her shoulders and she exuded confidence. A glass in her hand finished off her look, that of a person in control, in command of the world around her and someone who would apologise for nothing.
Allison smiled thinly and looked away. Compared to her, what was she? “This isn’t your flat?” she said, since it certainly didn’t appear to fit.
“We’re just borrowing this,” she agreed with a nod. “This is a terrible, dingy place. I hope we can learn to do better next time.”
“I hope so,” Allison agreed with an attempt at a smile.
Sue flashed her a welcoming smile. “Come on,” she said, “Let’s get you meeting everyone.”
Allison tried to stop her, to tell her she was fine just hanging out at the side. She had planned to lurk just long enough and then vanish unseen when nobody was noticing, after doing no more than her polite duty.
It was clear this simply wasn’t going to be allowed to happen. Sue’s flattened palm in her back pushed her forwards with surprising force as she was ushered into a seething crowd of people. Her decisions, it seemed, were being made for her.
“This is carol,” Sue said to Allison. “Carol is a successful businesswoman and a self-made millionaire.”
Carol, who was dressed in a grey suit and had rather severely pulled back dark brown, curly hair said, “All true.” She grinned to herself and took a sip of something that looked expensive. “I invested into something dreadfully boring and became even more dreadfully rich. Luck never factored into it. I worked hard for everything I have.”
“I’m Allison,” she said, smiling apologetically.
Carol looked her up and down and then cast a look at Sue that Allison took to be a lack of interest on her part. Finally she took another, longer sip and said with a sigh, “Have you met the others yet? There are a lot of interesting people here. There seem to be too many to count.”
Allison sighed to herself and looked away. That first meeting had actually gone better than she expected, she thought to herself as she found herself moving forwards, ushered on by the force of Sue’s boundless enthusiasm.
“Jane?” Sue cried out. “Jane, you have to meet Allison.”
Jane, a tall and slender woman looked up from a plate of finger-food. She was dressed in brown earth-toned clothing and was wearing a clutch of bracelets made by hand, probably from natural things that killed nothing in their production.
Jane said, “I like your top.”
Allison smiled thinly and said simply, “Thanks. I like your…” She struggled for a moment as her mind filled with the fact that she looked like a hippy and how she hated everything she was wearing. Almost desperately she finally added, “…necklace.”
Jane smiled knowingly and chuckled to herself. “It’s from Tibet,” she said. “I travelled there alone three years ago, meditated with the monks before hiking through the mountains alone. It was quite an experience.” She reached up and touched a green polished stone on the end of a black lace cord as if the act connected her to the memories of where it came from.
Allison sighed to herself. She said without enthusiasm, “I’ve never done anything like that.”
Jane smiled condescendingly and said simply, “I know.” She turned her attention instantly back to her plate of vegan food and turned her back.
Allison looked away and wished she’d never come here.
Sue pushed her off in another direction, before she could gather her thoughts. “Don’t worry, there are other people here too,” she told her. “There’s someone else you simply have to meet.”
“I don’t really…” Allison tried to protest but it was too late. She found herself pushed up in front of a beautiful, middle-aged woman. She was sipping on a glass of red wine, had an imperfect body but had dressed accordingly. She had a face that wore the kind of smile that lit up a room.
She looked a little confused at first and said, “Hello. I’m Dina.”
Allison was urged on by a severe little push in the back. “Allison,” she said. “I’m a friend of Sue’s.”
“OK,” Dina said with a shrug.
Sue pushed herself into the forced conversation and said, “Dina used to study politics but got married and had children.”
Dina smiled at her, chuckled a little and said, “Yes, and now I’m blissfully happy with a beautiful boy and girl of my own. My husband supports us and I work on the board of school governors and the local council. Not a moment is wasted.”
“Nice,” Allison said, feeling inwardly slightly crushed.
“And you?” Dina said without accusation.
“I…” she stammered before Sue cut in to rescue her.
“Where are your kids tonight?” Sue said. “I thought I saw them earlier.”
“They’re around here somewhere,” she said. “Their dad is looking after them for a bit.”
“Lovely,” Sue told her, slapping her on the shoulder in a friendly but slightly too exuberant gesture. “He’s such a good man.”
“He’s a great man,” Dina agreed.
Sue turned to Allison and said, “Oh, there’s someone else just over there.” She point to the kitchen and made her way over, grabbing Allison by the arm and dragging her along behind her like a rag doll.
Allison knew she didn’t have much choice.
A startled woman looked up at her as Sue pushed Allison forwards. She was younger, dressed more casually but was still striking, far prettier and more confident than Allison was.
Sue said proudly, “This is Kelly. Kelly is a literature student.”
“I’m Kelly,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m a literature student.”
“One day she’ll be writing best-sellers,” Sue said to Allison. “How many people can say that?”
Allison winced to herself but forced a smile to the much younger, far more impressive woman. “Not many people can say that,” she agreed. With a huge dose of self-pity she added, “I certainly can’t.”
“Oh, it’s easy,” the annoyingly gifted young lady said. “Anyone can do it really. It’s just about expressing what’s inside of you.”
Allison smiled sadly. “What if what’s inside of you is just a cluttered jumble of shattered dreams?”
Dina blinked and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Then I guess your story is a tragedy,” she said with a chuckle.
“Or you just drink more to compensate!” Sue said with her usual unbridled enthusiasm.
“That works too,” Dina agreed, holding up a bottle of exotic, interesting beer.
Allison turned away from the happy, accomplished party-goers. She just wanted to be somewhere, perhaps anywhere else. In the corner of the room was a little girl, maybe around ten years of age.
“Hello,” the little girl said.
She was a pretty little thing, with long brown hair, big, curious eyes and something just a little bit naughty about her.
“Hello,” Allison said with a supportive smile.
“Your clothes are boring,” the little girl said, turned and walked away, presumably to find someone else to insult.
“Good point,” Allison grumbled to herself. “Well made.”
“She’s so cute!” Sue told Allison, playfully slapping her on the back.
“I think I’m going to leave,” Allison said. “I’m not feeling very well.”
“Oh, what a shame,” Sue said, her smile vanishing as a slightly concerned expression came onto her face. “Allison, you know you can’t leave.”
“I can’t?” she said, feeling worried.
“This is your party, Allison. This is all you.”
“Me?” she said, looking around the horrible, cramped apartment.
“Allison, don’t you remember?” Sue asked, looking concerned. “You’re lost in here, aren’t you?”
“I am,” she admitted. “You keep introducing me to all these happy, accomplished, successful people, and I’m just…”
“But, Allison,” she said. “We’re all you. Everyone here is just you.”
“What?” she cried out, looking around at the others, who were now staring back at her with angry, hostile expressions.
Sue told her, putting her hand supportively on her shoulder, “This is all just what you could have been.”
Allison gazed at the proud mother, married with a family she loved who was staring back through narrowed eyes, tapping her feet impatiently on the floor. The gifted student who shook her head sadly and looked away in disgust.
At the corner the businesswoman turned away in disgust while the traveller put down her plate, sighed and simply shut her eyes.
Allison’s mouth lolled open as she gazed at Sue. “We’re all the things you could have been.” she said. “All the people you never were because of the choices you made.”
“But… no…” she stammered. Allison noticed that Sue looked strangely familiar. She was stood a little taller, she was dressed a little better, her eyes were lit a little brighter and her shoulders were held a little more squarely. But, there was no denying that it was, after all, the same face staring back at her.
“This is your flat,” Sue told her sadly. “This is you. We’re just the ghosts of all the version of you that you killed by not trying hard enough to be anything worth being.”
Allison hung her head and whimpered, “No!”
When she looked up she was entirely alone. She was always entirely alone.
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