I’m getting my haircut. I see it all in the mirror.
Simon’s his usual self: brash, bold, bloody stupid, He lisps some errant remark.
Alec drops what he’s doing, reaches for the fly swatter and chases Simon down the street.
It’s like a well rehearsed routine.
A month later I go back.. Simon doesn’t look so good. His eyes are puffy, his face a little swollen, his hare lip is bleeding.
What happened? George says, one of the assistants. Your girl friend beat you up again?
Simon blubbers out an obscenity. Alec reaches for the fly swatter and the chase is on again.
Simon is a sad sack, the world’s punching bag but he does have one trick up his sleeve. His dad is Lord Mayor of Mars. No one else can claim that.
How he got there long before Elon Musk is not explained but Simon basks in his glory. On Mars International Day — yes, there is one —Simon comes in, wearing his red skivvy and breaks into the Mars National anthem till he is chased out by Alec’s furious flyswatter.
One day Simon slumps in. Dad is not well. Dad needs Simon to take over. How will he get there? Everyone knows by now that Simon has a rocket ship tucked in a corner of his bedroom at the ready. But Simon as Lord Mayor? Would those Martians treat him seriously?
Simon doesn’t appear the next month nor the one after that.
Many creative writing classes and manuals will stress the importance of the first sentence, that it must grab the reader’s attention. Even Hemingway espoused this fallacy. But the first sentence is never enough.
Yes, it must grab the reader’s attention, If it doesn’t the reader will go elsewhere. There are plenty of options — but if the second sentence is flaccid, all will be lost. The second sentence fulfills the promise of the first.
But it is the third sentence that seals the deal. The third sentence assures the reader that the writer is authentic, that they are worth listening to, that they have something to say and have the command of language to say it with flair and authority. They can be trusted.
After that the writer will be ‘in full swing’. The reader will be committed; will go along for the ride.
Every now and then you read a story which gives you a jolt. ‘Suicide Watch’ is one of these. In spite of its confronting title, the story is not depressing. It takes you into the teen world of social media, with its relentless pursuit of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ and what lengths teens will go to so they can elevate their quota. The tension and uncertainty are nicely calibrated so the narrative skips along.
It has one of the best openings I’ve read:
‘Jill took her head out of the oven mainly because it was hot and the gas did not work independently of the pilot light. Stupid new technology! And preferring her head whole and her new auburn sew-in weave unsinged, and having no chloroform in the house, she decided she would not go out like a poet’.
I love the humor and desperation in this. The ending though comes with a jolt. Partly expected, partly not. The writing is an exercise in style, masterfully balanced between the vernacular and the poetic.
AS Adam Ant says, “Do yourself a favor’ and read it. *
Have you read a story recently that has given you a jolt?