Short Story. Fiction.
I thoroughly enjoyed this! Your writing style is economical, but it never feels clipped or unexplained; i’s very crisp. It reminds me of Imagism at its best. Do you write poetry, by any chance? The line breaks are very well-placed (“Her drink burns my throat” and “Someone vomits on an embankment,” the latter at which I laughed out loud). There’s so much feeling here without floridity; you have a knack for grasping the sensory aspects of the environment, which makes for a sensual and immersive reader experience.
There’s a few places during the initial flirtation where I found myself confused, just in terms of proprioception and mice-en-scene; this could be just me, so take it with a grain of salt. I don’t have a good sense of the location the two men are in. It took me a bit to realize it was a tent, but with only the “zip, zip” noises, it makes it quite cryptic. I know they are sitting with their “knees huddled to chests” but where are they sitting? The groundsheet isn’t mentioned until later. (Aside: this reminded me of the Morrissey lyrics in the song “Alsatian Cousin,” by the way, nice!) What are the physical characteristics of the enclosed space? How do they interact with the environment during the flirtation and the beginning of what I assume will be a tryst? I just imagined them sort of floating in mid-air, which is cool, but probably not your intent. ;-)
The final line about “feel[ing] like a dog” made me smile; it’s very unique, though I’m not quite sure what it means, though it could be because I’m more of a cat person. ;-) Is it the way the main character’s face is being held? Or more like an internal feeling of submissiveness? Maybe a slight tweak of the hand/face positioning here would help it to end with more ambiguity instead of puzzlement. But the “dog” mention also reminded me of line from another song - the Paul Simon song “Duncan” where he sings, “…just like a dog, I was befriended.” So, I clearly find your writing quite lyrical. Looking forward to reading “Fear of Fur” next.
I don’t know if this piece documents an actual, experienced situation (or perhaps a combination of several), but it certainly feels like it. The language is extraordinarily vivid, hyperreal — both in sensory and emotional terms. There are so many fine, subtle details, the non-obviousness of which enhances the sense of realism. To just mention one: “Water is falling less heavily now, but the groundsheet billows beneath us. You can feel the swell under the tarp, under the sleeping bags. The damp makes fabric stick to my skin like sweat.” Beautifully done.
I also like the fact that the speaker’s relationship with “Jenny” is not defined. And I just have to quote my very favorite part: “I am drunk enough to know that I’m drunk. I’m drunk enough to admit it. I am drunk enough to know that speed is beyond me.” Awesome.
I do think it would be better to leave out the first sentence. I.e. cut “Friends gather, camping.” and just start with “The sun is setting. There’s a fire and drinks and it’s hot and humid and the air is full of flies. Nobody is dressed to impress and everyone is already too drunk.” There’s no need to define the situation up front; let the reader figure it out.
Maybe it’s just me, but I did find some of the “choreography” inside the tent a bit confusing, i.e. the relative positioning of bodies and limbs, what is visible and what isn’t. This threw me off in particular:
“His face is eyelash-close. Behind them, his eyes are almost entirely black. They’re so dark it’s like I can see the back of his skull.”
I assume the “them” refers to the persons’s eyelashes, but I stumbled over this at first and had to go back and re-read it.
Anyway, these are minor criticisms of a very compelling bit of fiction.
I know this feeling - we all do right? It took me back to being 17 and at WOMAD. You describe the festival goers experience so well!
Matt, I really enjoyed this. I think your writing (and I'm also thinking about 'Fear of Fur' here), is loaded with meaning in almost every sentence. It's a real joy to unpick and consider the finer implications. I also think it's really skilful to write in this way and it can take a lot of work, and yet, it reads so easily. The minutiae in the wider frame of the party is particularly nice - the skin feeling gritty beneath his fingers; untying a bracelet with one hand and his teeth; seeing the back of his skull. Again, the comic and witty moments - "pitching a tent' - that made me chuckle! And the end line was a joy - "it kind of makes me feel like a dog but still, I can't help but nod". That speaks volumes about character and situation and also completely makes the reader question that end moment and the issue of passivity and coercion - at least, that's what I got! Good one.
I felt the clamminess of the wet tent. Love the cold mist coming off the fabric. The oddness of touch having unexpected effects. Works very well as a quick dramatic read.
I’m whoooozy from reading that— my heart started to palpitate and I could feel my face grow hotter— well, done! That moment was preserved very well!!!
Great writing mate, felt like I was there.