Push reality to the side for a second and embrace some Friday fiction. Presenting the first of our runners-up from the 2014 Yen Short Story Competition, here is Sophie Lambert with her story ‘Fran’.
Story by Sophie Lambert
We called Fran our aunt even though we knew she wasn’t. She came for dinner every Sunday, never on time, but that doesn’t mean she was always late. Sometimes she would show up three hours early with a bunch of silverbeet under her arm or with a jar of cinnamon quills. I couldn’t resist, she’d say, waving the quill underneath our noses. Smell that. Imagine being the first person to discover that. Other times she would arrive so late that we would have already changed into our pyjamas and would watch her eat a reheated plate of spaghetti.
People asked so who is she then and I didn’t know how to respond except to just say she’s Fran, as though that could explain everything. I could never remember her as a whole person; she would only come to mind in snatches of colour and feelings. Orange, purple, green and black, the texture of her thick cardigan swimming around us as we hugged, her hot cheek pressed against ours, wooden earrings grazing our skin.
During the week I would sometimes catch my parents complaining about her. She’ll be our undoing, are you sure we should keep doing this, this isn’t sustainable. We tried to ask them questions about Fran but they answered in hmms and maybe laters and it doesn’t matter, darlings, their eyes sliding around. But as soon as Fran arrived they became different; people rather than parents, people who were warm and gushy and loose, who laughed at our jokes and listened to our stories and asked us questions and looked at us with this little glow in their eyes. I don’t think I loved my parents more than when Fran was there. The house felt different, too. Smaller, like invisible string had been tied around us and was pulling us together. I felt it most on the mornings after she had left, when the grey light of Monday seemed to leak through the house and make it wide and empty.
At one dinner Fran turned to me and said heard you’ve been having a bit of trouble with kids at school. I mumbled yeah, whatever, mum says they’re just insecure or something, and Fran leaned forward and looked me in the eyes and said fuck ’em. My brother and I looked at each other in shock and then at our parents to see how we should react (swearing isn’t allowed, my brother once said damn and it cost him 50 cents and no dessert for a week). But my parents were laughing and looking at Fran with crinkly eyes and rose blushed cheeks and said you’re right Fran, you’re absolutely bloody right!
My brother and I never forgot that, how Fran had said fuck and my parents just laughed, hadn’t even looked upset or said that’s a grown up word that Fran can say because she’s a grown up. I curled Fran’s words around my tongue that night as I went to sleep: Fuck ’em. Fuckem. Fuckemfuckemfuckem. It felt good. A rolling lullaby.
Another Sunday I showed Fran the dream catcher I made. She sat on my bed, looking at it closely as she traced its threads. Good idea, kiddo. You hold on tight to those dreams. They’ll try to stamp them out of you but you just hold on tight. Fran said those sorts of things a lot. I didn’t really understand them but they made me feel happy and sad at the same time. It was different to when mum or dad would tell me things; what Fran said always felt like the truth even if I didn’t know what it meant. Sometimes Fran would leave something behind for us on our pillows, a pod of vanilla beans, a spool of bright red cotton, a plastic packet filled with purple sequins. My brother and I kept them in a Clark’s shoebox under my bed, the Fran Box.
Then one Sunday came and Fran didn’t. When we sat down at the table, Mum looked at the spoon laid out where Fran usually sat and said I don’t think we will be needing that tonight. Dad looked surprised but didn’t say anything, and of course we asked did you have a fight? Did you say something to Fran? Did Fran say something to you? Does Fran not like us anymore? Mum kept looking at the spoon as she said no, it’s complicated, it’s nothing like that, she loves you, eat your pumpkin soup please it’s homemade. Two drops of soup spilled onto my jumper and formed a pale orange stain, and the spoon stayed pressed against Fran’s empty place all night.
Things went on and Sundays passed by and gradually we stopped asking if Fran would be coming that week. I packed the dream catcher into the Fran Box and left it under the bed. But sometimes I still place an extra spoon at the table, leaving it there just long enough to feel like she might be here, like she might come back. And sometimes I whisper to myself, fuckem, fuckem, fuckem.
About the author
Sophie Lambert lives in Sydney and writes around the edges of her day job. This is her first published story, although an incident with fake tan as a 10-year old made her a finalist in the Gotham Writers 91-Word Memoir Contest. She enjoys coffee, carbohydrates and books (preferably all at the same time).
About the story
When I read that the theme was ‘spoon’, the image that I kept coming back to was a place setting at a table, and how that could represent the presence (or absence) of someone. I played around with that idea for a while until the character of Fran came to mind while walking back from grabbing coffee one day. And once I had Fran, the story sort of wrote itself.