Colin Will

Short stories (sample)

The sample short story below arose from a prompt by the Scottish Book Trust. They asked for 'Confessions and Secrets', and my story The book was published on their website.
It didn't make it through to the final printed anthology, and I couldn't really submit it elsewhere because of the 'prior publication' condition. So I've rewritten and expanded it,
and here it is. The title comes from the title of a Tom Stoppard play in which I took the lead in a production at the Church Hill Theatre in Edinburgh. My abiding memory is of trying to act
with a raging temperature and a severe chest infection. Not my finest hour on stage, not by a long chalk. But I like the title.

Enter a Free Man

Most of the time I’m calm, respectable and perhaps boringly predictable. I have a routine. I rise, shower, breakfast, defecate, walk up to the shop for my morning paper, do the crossword over a second cup of coffee. I’m retired from my day job, so I don’t have the mixed blessing of having to go to work to earn my crust. Three mornings a week I cycle to the gym to keep fit, otherwise I potter about in the garden, and if asked I help with the housework or the shopping. And I shut myself away and write. All very dull really.

But sometimes I like to be different, to change my careful routine and keep my friends and family on their toes, to remind them that I’m still an individual, that there’s another side to me. I haven’t always been the model of middle-class suburban propriety and decency that most people assume. I’ve had my moments. Sometimes I let the inner anarchy out, and I feel good doing it. What am I going to do next? What do you expect me to do? In that case I’ll do the opposite, or something else entirely. Who knows?

For the past few months I’ve had an obsession with doing something so far out of my comfort zone it’s almost like it’s against my own nature. I mean I’ve spoken out in public and in private against people who do this to themselves, and now I’m thinking about doing it myself. No, I am actually determined to do it. I will do it. I just need the right moment, the right opportunity, and I’ll do it. And nobody will know, apart from me, maybe a few choice friends, and obviously the folk who see me in the gym.

I sounded out my son, after swearing him to secrecy. He thinks I’m crazy, and he’s dead set against it. He says it’s a job-stopper. I tell him I’m not looking for a job, not at my age. I didn’t tell my daughter. I wouldn’t trust her not to spill the beans to her mother, and I don’t want her to know. Not yet anyway. So what is it? Enough with the suspense already, I’m going to get a tattoo. I’ve thought a lot about the design – a small, simple, open book. It’s an aspirational thing. I like to think of myself as being a WYSIWYG person – What You See Is What You Get – but I suppose that’s as self-delusional as everything else. I’d like to be transparent now that I’ve retired, because I was a bit of a devious bastard when I was working. I wouldn’t exactly say that now sainthood beckons, but I’ve put all that nasty stuff behind me – and some of it was really nasty. I can almost hear you scoff, and you’d definitely be justified. I call myself a work in progress. I am honestly trying to be nicer to my friends and family as I get older, and open-ness is a part of that. And of course, since I’m a writer, what better than a book? An empty book – no shading. I’ve thought about where it should be too. Right arm, just below the shoulder.

I know where the obsession started. Over the years I’ve seen more and more people at the gym with tattoos; ordinary people, not sailors, truckers, bodybuilders, footballers, thugs. Ordinary men and women of all ages. It’s the norm now. If I could hazard a guess, I’d say that around fifty percent of people under fifty have tattoos. Not so many in the War Baby/ Post-war Baby Boomer generations, but still some. Of course I’ve got tat preferences. I still don’t like the guys who are completely covered in naff designs and bold colours. That’s like stamp collecting on your body. Have you read Ray Bradbury’s story about the Illustrated Man? That kind of thing. But a subtle design charms me instantly. I remember one time I was working out on the chest press machine when a slim young woman came in front of me doing walking lunges. I thought she was stunningly beautiful, with probably the finest bum I have ever seen, and she had a delicate rose tattooed on her upper arm. That was the moment I thought – I have to get a tattoo. But not just a colourful artwork; I wanted a symbol that had some real meaning to me. Hence the book.

My wife won’t see it unless I decide to show it to her. We don’t sleep together, so there’s no longer any reason for her to see me undressed. Not since the night she told me she no longer had any sexual feelings for me. It was one of the cruellest things anyone’s ever said to me, but I’m certain she didn’t think of it that way. I’m sure she thought she was just being frank and honest with her husband of forty years, but who wants honesty like that? Who needs it? Admittedly we’d drunk nearly two bottles of red wine between us, but that didn’t soften it for me. So I moved into what had been the guest bedroom as she suggested, and I’ve slept there ever since. In any case it’s better for the snoring – his and hers.

Did I feel the same way? Not really. The first overwhelming passion of young love had long since faded of course, but I still loved her, still wanted her. Maybe not as often as in the beginning, but the attraction was still there for me. And although her hormone system had shut down, mine hadn’t.

The way I dealt with the situation in the early days was just to avoid any physical contact with her. No touching, no hugs, definitely no kisses, nothing that could lead to an arousal which would surely be rebuffed. As time went on, I suppose I became a little more relaxed, but I wasn’t comfortable. I wrote some rather anguished poems.

I’ve always had strong friendships with other women, always enjoyed their company. Sometimes my wife has been jealous of these friendships, but they are just friendships – no hanky-panky. I’ve always been faithful, always will be. That’s just a part of who I am. But I don’t hold back from showing my affection for women. If I want to flirt, hug or touch, I will. And they can do the same to me. Rather pleasingly for me, some of them do.

Recently I went to a music and poetry evening in my home town. One of my lovely poet friends was doing a set, and she performed a piece about getting her first tattoo, which she naturally showed off. In the interval we hugged as I told her how much I’d enjoyed her set – which was true. Then I asked her if she thought it was socially acceptable for a seventy-year old man to get a tattoo. She flung her arms round me and screamed with laughter, ‘Of course, lovey.’ So what else could I do but ask her where she got hers? She recommended a tattoo parlour, and gave me the name of her artist.

So that’s why I’m waiting for my appointment, with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Will it be painful? Will I faint? I’m usually terrible with blood and needles and stuff in a medical context, but I’m hopeful this will be different. I step in the door and take a deep breath. I have no idea what to expect, except that, good or bad, this will be a new experience for me. And nobody, not even me, predicted it.

Copyright © Colin Will 2016




Short stories