Author: wordsofrablack

RA Black was born in Southampton and wrote her first story when she was five. She wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up but ended up working in IT after graduating university. While her career didn’t exactly go to plan, she never stopped writing. She now lives in Bath with her long-term partner and more plushie animals than will comfortably fit on the couch.

#RevMyBio

A little bit about me (shamelessly stolen from my #Pitchwars bio). I’m a new mum with a six month baby, who is known online as #littlemonster.

I live in the beautiful city of Bath, in the UK. Being British means I was able to queue about the time I learned to walk and was fluent in sarcasm by the time I went to school. Yes, I do drink tea, especially while writing, but it’s usual green tea. I have about two dozen types in the house at any one time. I’m dyslexic, which in writing means I tend to leave words out, or spell them in a mixed up manner. I love spellcheck with all my heart.

I met my partner at university. He’s my first boyfriend, my only love (beyond cheese), and we’re still together fifteen years later. I believe in the power of love.

I changed my name by deed poll, mostly because everyone kept spelling my original name wrong.

By day, I work in IT. Be aware, printers are powered by demons and will do everything in their power to mess with you. Never tell one you have a deadline. I’m still one of two women in the office, and I’m the one making the “that’s what she said” jokes. (I think I was fluent in innuendo by the time I hit secondary school). I can speak a bit of Japanese, less French and say take the first road on the left in German. I can sign the alphabet in BSL and sign the suspicious banana is on the table. I have yet to find a use for this talent.

A man once offered my mother two camels and half a bar for me in Cyprus. She said no. True story.

I like cheese more than chocolate, and being a west country girl my favourite drink is cider. (I’m missing it terribly at the moment!)  I’m partial to rum as well; Kraken is my preference.

I collect plushie animals. My latest addition is a whaleshark. My amazing partner finally found a plushie pangolin, my favourite animal for me. This is my collection (as of last year. I’ll try and update the photo):

IMG_20150807_233037_1

I’ve been writing since I was five. I’ve been writing well for the last five or six years. Apparently I’m good at torturing my characters.  I write fantasy and horror, usually featuring m/m romance. While I love a decent scary story in any medium, I’m a terrible coward and suck at any kind of horror computer game. I write because I love my characters (even the ones I hurt) and I want others to love them too. Getting fan-art would make my life complete.

My #RevPit entry is an adult fantasy novel, triggered by my partner saying he wanted to read Guy Richie-esque mockey adventures, set in a high fantasy world. It didn’t end up quite being that, but it gives you a feel for the flavour of it. It features a sarcastic, self-depreciating bi protagonist, his were-kitten best friend, an unlicenced wizard with a weak constitution, and Finn, his dashingly handsome romantic interest, who turned up rather suddenly and very naked.

Here’s a small snippet:

I allowed Darius to pull me back against the wall. Lights danced behind my eyes as if someone had lit chandeliers in my skull. The floor swayed beneath my feet and the air felt hot and stagnant. I leant heavily on Darius’s shoulder, trying to force myself to breathe normally.

“Are you all right? Don’t you faint on me.”

“I don’t faint,” I said, going for indignant but only managing to pull off slurred.

“What happened? Is he hurt?”

I looked up sharply at the sound of Finn’s voice, which set of an explosion of colours in my head, each one accompanied by a spike of pain. I’d never been assaulted by the colour orange before.

“Byran?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and his peacock-blue jacket filled my vision. I tried to say something witty, lowered my aim to something coherent, then gave up and focused on not throwing up on his shoes. He put my arm round his shoulders.

“We’re leaving,” Finn said.

All the colour was running out of the world like ink running off a page. Finn’s jacket turned a dull grey, the edges fuzzy and indistinct. Buzzing that might have been words or angry wasps mugged my ears and I gave up trying to hold on, letting unconsciousness and strong arms carry me away.

Find more lovely #Revpit writers here:
http://blog.halon-chronicles.com/revpit-2016-revmybio/

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Half-Finished Mummy

This post is a bit different to my usual ones. This is mostly for me, to help me come to terms with recent events.

By the third trimester, I couldn’t wait to meet my son. Partly, it was the lack of sleep, constant aches, needing to pee every time I stood up. Mostly, it was wanting to finally hold the life that had been wiggling inside me for what felt like a lifetime already. He was always kicking (unless someone else put their hands on me to feel him, little troll), and I longed for the point where he’d be big enough to show when he kicked on my belly. That felt like the magical precursor; the sign he was almost ready.

I wasn’t very big when pregnant. Each time I’d get measured, they’d tell me I was too small and send me for a growth scan, and each time I was told ‘the baby is fine, don’t worry about it.’ My blood pressure had gone up, but that was being controlled by drugs, and my feet were so swollen even my partner’s socks didn’t fit, but I wasn’t worried. I went to the antenatal classes and kept checking my bump for a chance to see his fists or feet through my skin.

I never did get to see it. Instead, I ended up in A&E, a month before my due date, hooked to a ECG, suffering terrible tight pain across my chest. It scared me, because I’d never felt anything like that before, but at least it didn’t seem to be anything connected to my pregnancy. At around 4am, after various tests showed nothing amiss, they sent me down to the birthing suit to get that side checked out. The midwife told my partner it was likely nothing serious and to get some sleep, they’d call him with an update. They put the foetal monitor on me, and that’s when I knew something was wrong.

It was written all over the midwife’s face. She called in her colleagues and within minutes I heard the phrase ‘We need to get the baby out, now.’ It terrified me, because he wasn’t ready yet. He was only thirty-six weeks. But I didn’t have time to panic as they rushed me into theatre and stuck a needle in my spine.

A caesarean feels like this – someone doing washing up in your abdominal cavity. .it’s the single most uncomfortable experience I have ever had. There’s no pain, but you can feel everything else. And you can’t see anything, because there’s a screen in the way. When they wheeled the baby round, I didn’t have any real way to be sure he was mine. I couldn’t  hold him, couldn’t even see him very well without glasses. Then they took him away.

I sleepwalked through the first few days. I didn’t realise it at the time, but reading my notes I was in pretty bad shape – at one point, my kidneys weren’t working well, I had two out of three red flags for liver failure and my platelet count dropped from over 150 to 30. Physically, I recovered quite quickly. Mentally, it was a much harder trek.

I was caught in limbo. On the one hand, I knew I had a baby, even if I could only see him briefly each day. On the other, I still looked pregnant, I still felt pregnant. There were times I’d swear I’d feel the baby kick. I’d built up childbirth so much that not going through it meant I couldn’t feel like a mummy yet. Like my son, I wasn’t done yet. I was mum and I wasn’t. I was an unfinished mummy.

It didn’t help listening to other babies nearby, or hearing other mummies make jokes about poopy nappies when I’d only held my baby twice, let alone changed him. and then there was the guilt, every time I looked at my son in the incubator, knowing it was my failing body that put him there.

It’s been a month, but I can’t shift that guilt. My son is so small. He’s beautiful, but so small. He should have spent the moments after his birth in his parents’ arms, not being rushed into an incubator. He should have been born, not ripped out of me. And I know there was nothing I could have done, but it doesn’t make the guilt fade any.

Things are getting better now he’s home, though. I feel like I thought I would – a little stressed, tired, filled with wonder, showered by more bodily fluids than I should be comfortable with. I hold my son and he’s perfect, even when he’s screaming at me for having the audacity to change his nappy or give him a bath. I don’t feel complete yet, but I do know that slowly, he’ll fill in the missing pieces.

 

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#Pitchwars 2.0

I’m doing #Pitchwars again time right now, and let me tell you, it’s so much easier the second time round. Not the actually getting selected, given the numbers and the tweets about quality, plus what I’ve seen when critiquing others, it’s tough this year. I don’t envy the mentors having to select their one. But from a mentee point of view, it’s much easier to stay calm the second time. Last year, I desperately wanted to be selected. I haunted the feed, stalked the teasers, eventually got despondent and wrote myself off. I didn’t get in; I was incredibly disappointed.

But I also grew immeasurably as a writer. I learned a hell of a lot. I read every blog post by mentors,  followed links to articles. I bought books on writing and recommended fiction. I absorbed all I could and then I processed it. And finally, I applied it like a scalpel to my work.

Crutch words were annihilated, plot was tightened, voice was amplified. I think my last year’s manuscript was the first where I learned to hear every character’s voice in my head and to use this to make them come across in my word choice. I also met some amazing CPs, and joined some facebook groups. They didn’t just help my writing, but helped me as a writer, from having someone to rant to when things weren’t working, to sharing their experience and individual knowledge.

As a writer, I was more connected than I’d ever been before.

And it didn’t matter that I wasn’t chosen. Maybe, with the right mentor, I’d have improved faster and got an agent by now, and maybe I would be in the same place I am now. Nothing’s certain, so why dwell on what might have been? For me, this year, getting a mentor is a small part of the importance of #pitchwars. Of course, I want to be chosen. It would be foolish to enter something and risk taking a place from someone who did if I wasn’t interested. But it’s not the main thing. If I’m not selected, it changes very little of my plans. I still get to learn from interacting and reading; I still get the company and the camaraderie; I’ll still get CPs to help me polish if I don’t get a mentor.

What trying to say is don’t panic. That’s easier said than done, I know. I was there. But whatever happens, it’s only the end of the road if you let it. Maybe being pregnant helps the perspective – having a living creature growing and wiggling inside you changes your outlook. But it’s not a solution for everyone 🙂

My advice:

If you haven’t had requests, don’t write yourself off. Still plenty of time. Even if you don’t get any, don’t try and second guess. You don’t know if your voice sucks or your first chapter is too slow. Chances are they’re fine, better than fine, really good actually, but it’s all a matter of numbers. If a mentor gets 100 entries and requests 20 per cent, that still leaves 80 writers who sadly they won’t get the time to read more from. That’s not a reflection on you, or them, simply the cruel nature of the passage of time. And mentors are human. None of them want to hurt feeling or leave people crushed with disappointment. They want to support and celebrate.

If your mentor can give you feedback after, then hopefully you’ll get a better idea, but be prepared for it to simply be “I just didn’t connect with it as much as others.” Be happy with that – someone else will connect. If it’s something more definite, sit on it first before you go making any big changes, no matter how tempting it is.

Have a plan. Know what your next step is, whether finding CPs or betas, moving to querying, taking a break and learning how to windsurf. As long as you have a plan, you’ll be okay. It’s when you’re floundering that the doubts get loudest.

Most importantly: enjoy the experience. The feed is fun. Chat with people about non-writing things. Interact with mentors you haven’t subbed to. Play the games and post lines from your work. Don’t be shy about celebrating it. You have to love your book first, before anyone else can, so love it as loud as you can.

2016 #Pitchwars Mentee Bio

A little bit about me. If you took past last year, you’ll recognise most of this as I haven’t changed much over the last year, apart from one thing: I’m pregnant with my first child, nicknamed the little monster, who is due in October!

I live in the beautiful city of Bath, in the UK. Being British means I was able to queue about the time I learned to walk and was fluent in sarcasm by the time I went to school. Yes, I do drink tea, especially while writing, but it’s usual green tea. I have about two dozen types in the house at any one time. I’m dyslexic, which in writing means I tend to leave words out, or spell them in a mixed up manner. I love spellcheck with all my heart.

I met my partner at university. He’s my first boyfriend, my only love (beyond cheese), and we’re still together fourteen years later. I believe in the power of love.

I changed my name by deed poll, mostly because everyone kept spelling my original name wrong.

By day, I work in IT. Be aware, printers are powered by demons and will do everything in their power to mess with you. Never tell one you have a deadline. I’m still one of two women in the office, and I’m the one making the “that’s what she said” jokes. (I think I was fluent in innuendo by the time I hit secondary school). I can speak a bit of Japanese, less French and say take the first road on the left in German. I can sign the alphabet in BSL and sign the suspicious banana is on the table. I have yet to find a use for this talent.

A man once offered my mother two camels and half a bar for me in Cyprus. She said no. True story.

I like cheese more than chocolate, and being a west country girl my favourite drink is cider. (I’m missing it terribly at the moment!)  I’m partial to rum as well; Kraken is my preference.

I collect plushie animals. My latest addition is a whaleshark. My amazing partner finally found a plushie pangolin, my favourite animal for me. This is my collection (as of last year. I’ll try and update the photo):

IMG_20150807_233037_1

I’ve been writing since I was five. I’ve been writing well for the last five or six years. Apparently I’m good at torturing my characters.  I write fantasy and horror, usually featuring m/m romance. While I love a decent scary story in any medium, I’m a terrible coward and suck at any kind of horror computer game. I write because I love my characters (even the ones I hurt) and I want others to love them too. Getting fan-art would make my life complete.

My pitchwars entry is an adult fantasy novel, triggered by my partner saying he wanted to read Guy Richie-esque mockey adventures, set in a high fantasy world. It didn’t end up quite being that, but it gives you a feel for the flavour of it. It features a sarcastic, self-depreciating bi protagonist, his were-kitten best friend, an unlicenced wizard with a weak constitution, and Finn, his dashingly handsome romantic interest, who turned up rather suddenly and very naked.

Here’s a small snippet:

I allowed Darius to pull me back against the wall. Lights danced behind my eyes as if someone had lit chandeliers in my skull. The floor swayed beneath my feet and the air felt hot and stagnant. I leant heavily on Darius’s shoulder, trying to force myself to breathe normally.

“Are you all right? Don’t you faint on me.”

“I don’t faint,” I said, going for indignant but only managing to pull off slurred.

“What happened? Is he hurt?”

I looked up sharply at the sound of Finn’s voice, which set of an explosion of colours in my head, each one accompanied by a spike of pain. I’d never been assaulted by the colour orange before.

“Byran?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and his peacock-blue jacket filled my vision. I tried to say something witty, lowered my aim to something coherent, then gave up and focused on not throwing up on his shoes. He put my arm round his shoulders.

“We’re leaving,” Finn said.

All the colour was running out of the world like ink running off a page. Finn’s jacket turned a dull grey, the edges fuzzy and indistinct. Buzzing that might have been words or angry wasps mugged my ears and I gave up trying to hold on, letting unconsciousness and strong arms carry me away.

Find more lovely #Pitchwars writers here:
http://www.lanapattinson.com/pitchwars-2016-pimpmybio/

Query Free-for-all

So, I’m still bad at updating this, and editing my manuscript is a slow process that needs regular breaks. Plus #Pitchwars is coming up soon. So, here’s my solution: Let’s have a query feedback session. If you want feedback, post your query in the comments below.

Only rule is if you post, you’ve got to leave feedback on two others (keep checking back if you’re one of the early ones.) Be concise, be helpful, give what you’d like to receive in return. I’ll try and get to as many as I can, but more eyes are always better. It doesn’t have to be a #pitchwars manuscript, but it’s a good opportunity to meet people if you are planning on entering. There’s a strong fellowship amongst last year’s entrants.

Happy Valentines Day

My partner and I don’t do anything for Valentines Day, so I forced a couple of my characters into a room to write to their significant other. Harry was not allowed to take part in this exercise. It would have only descended into dick pics…

Finn,

I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t see what this will achieve. I’m no good at letters. This must be fifteenth version and the others are all crumpled up at my feet, a pile paper and frustration. It’s probably best Belle’s not here or she’d be playing with them.

I’m only any good at stealing things. And that’s no good if I can’t find them. I…I miss you. I hope wherever you are that they’re treating you well. I hope you miss me, too.

Or maybe it would be better if you didn’t. I’m trouble, we all know it. I’m a scruffy little thief with a lax sense of personal morality. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to run far away.

But…

I hope you don’t. I really hope you don’t. When I go to sleep at night I see your eyes, they way they glow like flaming brandy. I remember the line of the muscles on your arms, and that time we fell in the fishpond. I really miss your laugh. It sounds strange but I felt safe when you laughed.

I’ll get you back. I’m going to steal you one more time. And then we can go dancing as long as you like. Promise.

Byran

 

Dear Harry,

I feel that I am forever saying sorry to you. Sorry you were hurt because of me; sorry I did not have time for you; sorry I cannot stand on the top of the tower and shout to the kingdom about how much I love you.

I’m not even certain that I’ve told you that. I hope you know, even if I do not speak the words. I think I struggle because those three words are so very small. I worry that they cannot possibly carry all the meaning they need. How can they express the way my skin tingles at your touch? Or the way my heart beats when you so much as look at me? How you make me feel safe, and yet at the same time so alive.

I love you seems too shallow to express my feelings for the man who changed my life. Who has done so much and asked so little. I would give you everything in my kingdom, but it would not be adequate. So instead, I give you my heart and these three, tiny words.

I love you.

For all eternity,
Brendan.

#JanuaryWIPjoy

I did this on twitter for my current project. Now that’s over, I thought I’d collate responses to the same questions for Happily Ever After. The event was created by the lovely@simmeringmind CX4bzZRUMAEfSWC

1 – Hmm, I don’t have a good answer for this.

2- Why do I love Lavie? She’s a broken hero, and I adore that archetype. She’s spent the last three years of her life fighting for what she believes is right. And now the fight has stopped, she gets to find out just how the experience has damaged her. She’s also a wonderfully, viscerally angry young woman, which was great fun to write.

3- Harry. Everyone loves Harry. He’s a born optimist, whose ideal evening would involve good food, plenty of drink, and then going home and snuggling with the man he loves. He’s also very fond of innuendo, which I noticed affecting me when I was writing. Not that I haven’t always found the word knob funny…

4- The Usurper has the best dialogue, I think. He’s cruel and manipulative, but he only ever speaks the truth, something that makes his jibes even harder for Lavie to deal with.

5- That it made them laugh and cry and if I ever meet the author I’m going to hug and punch her. (If you’re going to provoke emotions in people, you might as well go the whole hog!)

6-I’d definitely be friends with Harry. Everyone needs that friend who always knows how to pick them up when they’re down.

7-The first idea or inspiration came from watching the film, Mama. I was left at the end of it wondering how on earth the characters were ever going to go back to their lives. And then I got to thinking you never find out what happens in fantasy epics after the big bad has been defeated.

8-“Harry would wear a title like I wear a dress,” I tell him with a grin. “Grudgingly, and with the intention of spoiling it at the first possible opportunity.

9- The short, scrubby vegetation around us clings for life while occasional larger rocks push through like breaching whales.

10-I enjoy most of the interchanges between Lavie and Harry, but this one is probably one of my favourites:

A blush spreads across his cheek like sunrise. “I am sweet, aren’t I?”

“You’re a hopeless romantic, Harry. You’re also still half-drunk and smell like a midden heap.”

 

11-Bit more than I line, but this speech always gets me when I read it:

“Of course I love him. Do you have any idea what this is like for me, Lavinia? Do you have an idea what I am going through? I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. It feels like there is a hand around my heart, slowly crushing it. I must hurt the person I care for most in the world and I must pretend I don’t feel a thing.”

12-I love this scene, but it didn’t really fit in anywhere. Deleting was done with great sadness:

“Your Highness? Harry?” I call as I approach and there comes a sharp ‘shh’ in response. As I walk round, I can see Harry sat at the head of the chair, while Brendan is stretched out. The prince’s head rests on Harry’s shoulder and his hand clutches Harry’s shirt. His eyes are closed and his chest rises and falls in the steady rhythm of sleep.

“Pass my drink,” Harry says, gesturing to a tankard on the table. “I’m stuck.”

I grin and hand it to him. “Have you been trapped for long?”

“No, I can still feel my fingers. This is the first time he’s been able to stop all day.”  He drinks deeply and then gives it back to me. “It’s been like this all week, and it’s not going to stop, is it?”

“I expect so. There’s a lot to be done before and after the coronation.”

He sighs. “As long as the days end like this.”

“What, with a dead arm and drool on your shirt?”

He glares at me, but cannot move to retaliate without waking Brendan and there’s nothing in reach to throw.

I think about the conversation with Lord Vayne, all his talk of marriage and duty. But how can I bring up with Harry the suggestion of my marrying the man he loves? Besides, this is not the right moment. Better to let them have their peace while it lasts. Deep down, Harry knows things won’t always be like this.

And a wedding won’t be needed immediately. Things like that take time, and negotiations. And who knows, maybe Brendan and whoever is chosen will end up like Stefan and I, putting on a face for court and then ignoring each other.

Brendan mutters something in his sleep, his lip twitching in a grimace. Harry runs his hand over the prince’s hair gently and kisses the top of his head.

“Long live the king,” he murmurs.

13-The feedback that makes me smile most is that addressed to the characters – “You tell him, Lavie,” or “I don’t think that’s the important thing, Harry.” I did laugh when I got a comment saying is this a sexual reference to a Harry saying he’s plenty good at bending the knee to the king (spoiler, yes, yes it is!)

14-I want them to bond with the characters. I want them to laugh, to cry, to ache, and to heal with them.

15- Has to be Buttercup, the only creature Lavie is scared of:

Harry’s horse is a monster, over seventeen hands with a coat of pale gold. It has the temperament of a hung-over dragon and I swear when it looks at me, it’s sizing me up. Harry, of course, dotes on it.

16-The main sight is Tallman’s Keep, the imposing castle situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.

17-If you follow Lavie around, you’ll hear insults (at Harry), cursing (at the Usurper), and frustrated outbursts (usually directed at Prince Brendan)

18-Down in the kitchens the smell of fresh bread, roasting meat. Brendan wears orange oil in his hair, and Lavie can never quite get the smell of blood out of her clothes.

19-Cinnamon, honey, apple, and walnut are popular ingredients used in the kitchen products.

20-The rough granite stone of the keep contrasts with the smooth silk of the ceremonial uniforms of the king’s personal guard.

21-I’d love it be a movie, and get to see how actors would interpret my characters.

22-Most epic thing was the size of it. It’s the longest thing I’ve written by a long way, even after editing cut it down by 20k.

23- Cut the filter words, draw back the introspection, change the start point to later, show more of the emotions

24- Start earlier and show the war. This isn’t what the story is about, so I didn’t want to draw out the events before the war is won.

25- Shout out to @Ianbarnes, @Leighstanfield, @MichaelMammay, @KamerheLane, and ml_keller for the CP support. There are lots of others who have been very supportive as well with beta reading and encouraging comments.

26- Fantasy is a way of exploring ideas and themes without being caught up in the how and why of the real world. It’s a way of testing with what if and applying it to the human aspect.

27- I don’t know where this image came from, but it definitely reminds me of Lavie.

d2f550d43ec4fd62727ec3865dc30573

28- Lavie and Harry. They have a completely platonic relationship, but each of them can read the other perfectly. They constantly insult each other, but know the other always has their back.

29- I want people to get to know the characters. When you’ve spent that long in people’s heads, they become real and you want people to meet them. I also think it’s important to have more representation in fantasy of other sexualities and also mental illness.

30- Lavie shares a lot of my frustrations and flaws. Her feeling of trying to turn back tides of pettiness, and trying to protect people she cares about against snowballing situations are ones I understand. Also having suffered depression myself, having characters who experience the same symptoms is important to me.

31-I’ve learned about the effectiveness of armor against projectile weapons, about palfreys, and a number of techniques for improving my writing.

Meet the Cast of Happily Ever After

I can’t draw. I’m trying to teach myself, but frankly I suck. I’d love to be able to draw my characters, but that’s a long way off happening. Some people cast their words from real life, but I often struggle to find the right person to fit the image in my head. So, I’ve come to the next best thing. An RPG character creator. I’ve tried a few from playing various games over the years, but Black Desert creator is the best I’ve found so far. And even better, you can download the creator for free and not have to worry about the game itself! (It is seven gig, though, just be aware.) You can get it from here:

https://www.blackdesertonline.com/events/ccm/

So, below are the six major players from Happily Ever After. Of them, I think Lavie looks least like she does in my head, and Harry and Squeak probably look most like themselves. They’re only head shots because the clothing options weren’t great.

Lavie:

 

Harry:

 

Squeak:

 

Brendan:

 

Titania:

 

Thomas, the Usurper:

 

Red Velvet

For Laura Heffernan. Hope you’re feeling better!

RED VELVET

 

6.00: I awaken. New. Fresh. Warm. Steaming slightly as the baker busies herself at the sink. Her name is Janice, I know instructively. Six others of my kind sit in a line beside me, and there are more on another counter: sponge, fruit, coffee and walnut, and one quite ugly lemon drizzle.

7:00: Janice smothers my surfaces with a mixture of cream-cheese and icing sugar. Pride spreads through me as I catch a glimpse of myself in her metal bowl. I’m perfect. She finishes off the others, doing what she can for the lemon drizzle, then packs us into boxes.

8:00: The door bell rings almost immediately, signalling the start of morning rush. It doesn’t take long for the cozy shop to fill with calls of ‘Morning and ‘How are you?’ punctuated by the sharp ding of the till. Janice sells two sponges, but most people are after bread. It’s not my time yet.

9:00: The rush dies away. Janice sweeps the floor, humming to herself. She’s flat, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be in tune when you’re happy; a smile carries the melody just fine. I’ll make someone happy today.

11:00: A trio of mothers come in and buy a selection of cakes for their coffee morning. One of them casts her eye over me, but her friend shakes her head.

“It’ll go straight to your thighs,” she warns. “The icing must be an inch thick.”

I can’t explain how little this matters and they walk out without me.

12:00: Lunchtime. I’m hopeful again. The queue stretches out the door for most of the hour. A policeman orders a ham sandwich with extra mayonnaise and looks at me hungrily, but holds up his hands when Janice offers me to him.

“I can’t. I need to watch my weight,” he says, patting his stomach with a grin.

15:00 Most of this morning’s batch are gone now. It’s just me, one of the coffee and walnuts, and the ugly lemon drizzle. Five minutes later, the coffee and walnut leaves, headed to cheer up an old man in hospital after a fall. What’s wrong with me? All I want is to bring happiness to someone. Why won’t anyone see that?

16:00 The bell rings. I try not to get my hopes up, but they soar when the diminutive old woman tells Janice she wants a celebration cake.

“Of course. Red velvet or lemon?” she asks.

“Oh, lemon please. I’m not fond of overly sweet things.” She goes on to tell Janice that she’s a great-grandmother now, and her whole family will be coming round. I imagine them, cooing at the new baby, reminiscing about when the older ones were young. Together. Smiling. Happy.

17:00: I’ve failed. Janice wipes down the counter and heads over to flip the sign. Perhaps she’ll take me home. Perhaps it’s Janice who I’ll make happy. Then I remember her talking to one of her customers about her husband’s diabetes and realise it’s unlikely.

The bell jangles as the door flies open, making Janice slide-step out the way. A woman stumbles in, breathing quickly.

“Are you closed? I…I need a-”

Her last word is cut off as the door opens again with a clang.

“I need a cake,” says a man. His words come out in a rush, mixed together like batter. He notices Janice and the woman for the first time and adds a muffled, “please.”

“I’m sorry,” the woman says. She’s short, a little dumpy, with curls of brown hair around her face. I’m sure I could make her happy. She doesn’t look the sort who worries about her thighs or dislikes overly sweet things.  “I was here first and I need that cake.”

I can barely believe what I hear. Overlooked all day, and now there are two people who want me.  The man frowns. “Seriously? There’s only one?”

“We’re closing,” Janice apologies. “If you would like to come back tomorrow, you can have your pick.”

“I’d prefer it today,” the woman says, wrapping her arms around herself. Despite the warm shop, she shivers. “Please.”

“Lady, it’s my birthday. It’s been a long day in a string of long, shitty days, and I want a birthday cake.” His voice rises as he speaks, like the high-pitched whine of something about to break. “I’m going to eat it, get drunk, and find a train to throw myself in front of.”

Her hand flies to her mouth and the man’s face turns red.

“I.. I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to… I… I’m sorry.”

They’re quiet. None of them moves; they don’t even look at each other. Then the woman looks at me.

“Perhaps,” she says. “Perhaps we could share it.”

“I’d like that,” the man replies.

Janice closes the lid on my box

 

17:30 The woman sets me down on a sideboard, over-looking a faded blue velveteen sofa. There’s a photograph of a young boy on a tricycle next to me. He smiles at the camera, the grin affecting every inch of his round face.

“I’m Kate,” the woman says, holding out her hand.

“Jacob.” He takes it cautiously, as afraid she might slap him, or he might hurt her.

“Take a seat.” Kate points to the couch. “Do you want tea or coffee?”

He doesn’t move. “Maybe I should go.”

“Nonsense. No one should be alone on their birthday.” She pauses in the doorway. “Did you mean that, about killing yourself?”

“I don’t know,” he says to his shoes. “I don’t think so. But sometimes I wonder what’s the point, you know? I’m thirty-seven. I have no friends, a job I hate, and my mother loves my ex-wife more than she ever loved me. So what’s the point?”

“I don’t think there is a point,” Kate says. Her voice is muffled by the sound of the kettle boiling. “Not to life. We just are, that’s all.”

“Maybe.” Jacob looks at the front door, then the kitchen door. He sighs and sits down on the sofa, his hands clasped together. A few moments later, Kate comes back with two cups of tea on a tray. She sets them down and sits on the other end of the couch.  Jacob picks up a cup and stares into it. There are no knives and plates, I notice with disappointment.

“I don’t know how it got to this,” he says suddenly. “Threatening suicide and drinking tea in a stranger’s house. I know I haven’t been happy since Rebecca, though.”

Kate takes a sip of tea.

“Rebecca was my wife,” Jacob continues. “I don’t think I ever loved her. Loved the idea of her, maybe. Lusted after her, definitely. She did her best to make me miserable, make me doubt myself. She was a cold-hearted manipulative bitch, but I didn’t see it until we were married.”

“How did you get out?”

He blushes, colour creeping up his neck and settling in his ears. “I fell in love with a man. For a while, it was great. Sneaking around was exciting. Then we got careless and we got caught. Turns out he was more in love with the thrill than he was with me. Rebecca dragged me through divorce court. Took me for everything I had. I never had many friends and those who were mutual all took her side. So did my mother.”  He sniffs and Kate hands him a pack of tissues from her handbag. “Mum’s the sort of person who thinks gay is something you catch from dirty public bathrooms, and I’ve never even bothered to try and explain bi to her. I might as well have leprosy.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate says.  It’s a small phrase, but Jacob sits up straight, as if a weight has been lifted.

“No, thank you. You never told me why you wanted that cake so badly,” he says, looking over at me.

“It’s my son’s birthday, too,” she says, and her voice trembles slightly.

Jacob blushes harder. “Oh, shit, sorry. I didn’t realise I was taking cake away from a kid.”

She smiles, but her eyes are wet. “It’s okay. He won’t be needing any. He died, when he was two. Every year, I buy a cake, light two candles, and go through my photographs.”

He reaches for her hand. “I’d like to see them.”

 

18:00 The photograph albums lie discarded on the table, by the now cold cups of tea. Kate has finished crying, those loud, painful, yet cathartic sobs. They’ve moved from opposite ends of the couch to the centre, and Jacob has his arms around her.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and blows her nose.

“Don’t be. I feel like I’ve done something good for the first time in years.”

She smiles and it reaches her eyes this time. “I’m glad you wanted to buy that cake. I’ve missed human contact so much. It’s funny, how you never notice something missing until you find it again.”

They continue talking, about unimportant things now. Things on TV, the weather, their favourite foods. They don’t go back to opposite ends of the couch.

 

21:00 I’ve been forgotten again, left on the sideboard by the photograph of the smiling toddler. But I don’t mind this time. Kate cooked dinner. Jacob did the washing up. Now they’re sitting in the middle of the couch together, not watching some nature documentary. Kate’s fingers entwine with Jacob’s, her head against his shoulder. Things might be different in another hour, another day, another year. But at this moment in time, thanks to me, they’re happy.