Short Story and Critical Essay

Bruce Beat the Washing Machine beyond Repair

Bruce paced among the weeds, fag ends and deflated footballs. The old washing machine sat in the corner by the crumbling brick wall, infected with ivy. The metal rusted from rain.

He hated that washing machine. It had never washed his clothes right. Whites came out grey, socks went missing and it flooded the kitchen twice. An earth-caked spade rested against it, the wooden handle splitting. Bruce picked it up, feeling the needles of wood pierce his palms, and swung it high above his head before whacking it down on top of the washing machine.

He did this over and over, denting the top and smashing the glass window. The valves snapped, the motor detached and the wash plates dented. Bruce’s hands were sore and his hair dripped with sweat. His trousers were ripped from catching the jagged corners of the spade. He raised it for one more hit but heard the incredible clang as the handle broke and the metal head launched into the garden wall.

He stared at the half-a-spade he had left in his hand. The backdoor slid open.

“You sure you’re okay, man?” Ryan asked.

 

*

 

Bruce stomped down the stairs from the office, loosening his skinny speckled tie. The revolving doors whizzed as he shoved through them. He walked from the Eagle Tower Offices along Montpellier Drive, down past the grey houses and turned left at Crossways Guest House.

“You have an attitude that we can no longer cater for in this team environment…”

Walking past the rows of badly parked cars in Imperial Square he listened to Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast. He was ambushed on the Promenade by chattering mums with Tetris-packed strollers, bustling with shopping bags and screaming school children who had just been released back into the wild.

“…There are no further progression opportunities for you in this company…”

Town was busy with workmen queuing outside the bakery. Students loitered outside the cafes smoking cigarettes with bedheads and big unpronounceable books in hand. Bruce stared at the floor and lit his own cigarette. Pigeons scuttled and dived out of his path. An elderly couple carrying lotto tickets raised their wiry eyebrows at him.

“You got fired? Again? You owe enough rent as it is. I can’t live like this. I’m done. I’ll be gone by the time you’re back. I’m sorry, Bruce.”

            The Brewery complex was under construction—the Tesco Express was boarded up and the right hand side of the road was fenced off. The hard-hatted builders created clouds of dust with their jack hammers, which roared through his headphones. Forced to walk under the scaffolding which loomed over the cake shop, he was stuck in a mass of people. The hot air stank of rotting rubbish. His face was red and damp with sweat.

            “You have to grow up one day, Bruce. You’re an adult now. I’ll always be your mother but you have to stand on your own two feet.

Past the tattoo parlour’s vibrating needles was the second hand book shops chaos. Then came crumbling terraced housing and its collection of bins. The pedestrian signal was red on the road ahead. Rush-hour traffic crawled along, exhaust smoke drifting in the breeze.

He glared at the Francis Close Hall campus; littered with his peers, scaffolding and signposts. Finally, he reached his front door next to the local Premier shop and slammed it behind him.

 

*

 

Bruce let the wooden handle drop to the floor. “No man, not really.” He wandered back inside and flicked on the kettle. The lid was forced shut by a chipped blue mug jimmied under the cupboard.

“Wanna’ talk about it?”

“I thought I was going to get a promotion today.” Bruce bit his lip.

“Oh yeah?”

“But instead, I got sacked.”

“Oh, dude. That blow—”

“And Patricia dumped me,”

“Well—” Ryan started.

“And my mother has cut me off.”

“Shit.” Ryan grabbed his wallet. “This calls for the pub.”

St Paul’s Tavern was deserted, the lightbulbs layered in dust, their dim light skimming the worn tables and chairs. The German Shepard that lived there slunk around in laps.

Old Valentine’s decorations were still strung up—plastic cupids, deflating heart shaped balloons and wilting roses tied with ribbons hung around the ceiling.

“What can I get ya’ today, lads?”

“Two pints of Strongbow. Cheers, Alex,” said Ryan.

The cider was like golden syrup sliding into the tall glasses. It frothed a half inch at the top before settling. The two sat on the leather sofa by the pool table.

“How did this all start?”

“Well, remember when our last loan came in? Before I got this job?”

“Uh-huh.” Ryan nodded.

“I forgot to pay my rent and blew the whole thing on nights out and games.”

“The whole thing?”

“Yeah.”

“You idiot.”

“Thanks,” Bruce said.

“Well, you did yourself over.”

“So far, I’ve paid half of what I owe but none of my assignments are ready for next week.” After Bruce slugged back a third pint, his shoulders sunk. “What am I going to do?”

Ryan rubbed his thumb around the frosted rim of the glass. “I don’t know.”

Bruce stared at him. The ketchup stain smeared on his upper lip stared back. He took a large gulp of his drink and slammed the glass down on the table.

“I’m fucked. There’s no chance in hell I’m going to pass this year or pay all the money back.”

The German Shepard padded over, rubbing its thick coat across his suit legs, leaving stray brown hairs everywhere.

“He likes you,” Alex said as he came over with two more drinks. The dog laid its head in his lap, its tongue half hanging from its drooling mouth. “His name’s Brady.”

“Brady, huh?”

“Couldn’t help but overhear about your circumstances.” He shifted on his feet. “We’ve been looking for a weekend bartender.”

Ryan looked at Bruce with raised eyebrows and nudged his leg under the table.

“What’s it involve?” Bruce asked.

“Opening up in the morning, cleaning and pulling a few pints. £7 an hour and an extra twenty quid a week if you can hand out leaflets. Maggie the manager didn’t want to put a sign in the window. Said any old scum would come along. But you seem alright.”

 

*

 

A month later, Bruce was preparing for the pub quiz night. He parked up in the black Tavern van outside the row of houses on St Pauls Road. The cardboard boxes full of junk—lightbulbs, photographs, throws and candles—were dragged out into the pub, before he struggled with a set of second hand chairs.

He spent two hours rearranging furniture, putting up pictures, replacing the dim lights and putting candles in the ceramic holders. After wiping the sweat dripping down his face, he walked to the town centre.

“Prizes to be won at the Tavern tonight! Win the pub quiz and get two rounds of free drinks. All pints £3, all shots £3, and 25% off for students. Get a free turn on the jukebox with a flyer.”

Outside the Regency Arcade Shopping Centre, Bruce flashed his teeth at every passer-by. Business man leant against the stone bank walls, talking on their phones and clutching briefcases. Afternoon shoppers rushed across the roads with clusters of bags ready to burst. Children ignored the red man and took their chance playing chicken with cars.

“Hey, you’re Bruce, right?” Behind him a tall red-headed girl smiled. “I’m Cathy. I do a joint lecture with you on Mondays.”

Bruce tried to speak but nothing came out. Cathy’s floral dress clutched at her cleavage and fell to her pale knees in frills. The dimples on her cheeks moved as she spoke.

“Can I have a flyer?”

He nodded and held one out. “Pub quiz, then?” he croaked.

Bruce noticed the four girls a few feet behind Cathy. They stood in a circle giggling and whispering with their mouths covered.

“Yeah, need a good night out. I hope to see you there, Bruce.” She sauntered away.

 

*

 

Bruce’s hands shook as he tapped the keys on the library computer. The results for his first set of assignments had been uploaded. The three modules he’d submitted to took nights of caffeine-motivated research. They stared back at him from the screen with three green ticks and a link to ‘grades and feedback’.

The webpage loaded slowly in sections…

GC100: Evolving History –     40/ Pass.
GC101: Thematics –               25/
Fail.

            GC105: Research –                25/ Fail.

            GC110: Ancient Language –   18/ Fail.

            He stormed out into the chilly late spring air and the silvery clouds barricaded the sun’s rays. As the houses slept, he walked with his hands in his pockets past the University. He met Cathy at the lake where they tossed clumps of bread to the brood of ducks.

“It’ll be okay. You can work and pay the money off. Maybe take up university again next year.” She nudged his arm.

They wandered around the misty lake hand in hand. She pushed her chapped lips against his forehead before she left for her lecture.

Bruce stuffed his hands in his coat and kept walked. An old lady with a scraggly Yorkshire terrier stood outside the post office, smoking a cigarette. Every few minutes a car chugged past, its headlights reflecting off window panes.

“I want you out. You owe me too much money now, boy. And if that health-hazard washing machine is still there, I’ll be keeping your deposit so I can have it removed.”

            Bath Road was almost deserted. A few stray workers in polo shirts bumbled along the path. Eagle Tower loomed on the right. He kept walking. Construction workers were putting up scaffolding on some flats ahead. The metal clanged against the brickwork when they dropped a pole. He circled around Montpellier and watched the world wake up on his way home. Smokers sat on their doorsteps wrapped in dressing gowns. Children rushed out of the doors in baggy school jumpers with book-bags in hand. Cop cars zipped past.

“I warned you this would happen Bruce. You’ll need to figure this out on your own, kid. I can’t bail you out again.”

When he’d circled back around, he dithered outside St Pauls Tavern. The delivery guy piled boxes of stock by the door and then Maggie, the owner, came out. Her grey hair curled to her shoulders and she covered her plump figure with a sack-like dress.

“Bruce, honey, are you alright?” She picked up two crates. “Come on in.”

He lumbered in after her. “I failed my course.”

“Oh dear, you did say you were having trouble. Maybe try a different subject, eh?”

“I would but the landlord got sick of my long term re-payment and kicked me out,” he mumbled.

“That is a situation. How much have you paid back?”

“Over half.”

“Huh. Well, I got a studio let up near London Road, it’s four hundred a month all included.”

“I don’t think my pay would cover that…”

“Ah, but that’s what I’ve been meaning to talk to you about! Alex is moving back up North and I need someone to man this place full time. I was hoping you’d take on his role. That’d triple your hours, and I can find someone else part time to fill in the hours.”

“Thanks, Maggie. It means a lot.” He stared at his scuffed shoes.

“We all get back luck sometimes.”

“I’m my own bad luck.”

 

*

 

At home, boxes of Bruce’s belongings were stacked in the hallway to greet him. His football shirts, the wooden tiki head, a beer bong Ryan had purchased for his birthday… Beside them were bags of bedsheets, towels and pillows.

He slid open the backdoor and eyed the pummelled washing machine. The shards of glass blanketed the patio. It took ten minutes to sweep up the parts of plastic and metal over the garden.

            Bruce wore oven gloves as he heaved the ragged appliance through the house, bringing in dirt and leaves with it. He rammed it through the front door and onto the street. The council would be by to pick it up. Bruce lit a cigarette and sat on the curb. Smoke dispersed from his lips and floated away.

            He flicked the butt into the middle of the tarmac. A matted tabby peered at him from under the neighbour’s car. Bruce jerked his arms at it and shouted. The cat disappeared.

Tears prickled in his eyes and he stood up with his hands balled into fists. He pushed the washing machine and it smashed against the road. The machine drum rolled down the street. Two residents peeked out of their windows and watched. Bruce’s blood ran down his arms as he punched the washing machine repeatedly. He cracked the plastic casing further as he kneed it. His whole body pulsed with rage and the colour was lost from his cheeks.

 

Word Count: 2152

 

RCU

My piece Bruce Beat the Washing Machine Beyond repair[1] was inspired by a memory and a video I found online[2]. I cut 150 words from the flashback as feedback advised it built the plot but slowed the pace too much and gave me room for detail in the ending. Instead, I began in medias res to grab attention before giving background.

Furthermore, I went against Bharti Kirchner’s advice ‘[d]on’t use flashback immediately after the opening, when the story hasn’t yet gotten off the ground’[3] and I chose the structure of integrated flash backs in dialogue between present descriptions for minimal exposition to explain the protagonists personal experience.

My ending changed through the drafts, as originally the protagonist had a cliché happy ending where he got the girl, a good job and passed his exams[4] which feedback suggested was an anti-climactic ending. Instead I tried to write ‘a satisfying twist [which] has its seed planted early on and its roots embedded during the story’[5] by foreshadowing the repetition of previous events and giving the protagonist a realistic ending. He is his own obstacle.

The washing machine was symbolic throughout for how the protagonist’s life has been going in circles and his objective is to break the cycle. My piece was influenced by The TV by Ben Loory[6] where his unnamed character watches himself on television. The television is symbolic for his life and multiple other selves. The mental health issues imply that ‘TV is driving us mad’[7] and the man does try to throw out the television, but another self only goes to retrieve it to continue the cycle. Similarly, in Hills Like White Elephants[8] the baron hills symbolise Jig’s decision towards the implied abortion compared to the fertility of the fields.

I included concrete detail throughout to set the tone and atmosphere[9], including the protagonist’s surroundings to reflect his inner mood and to foreshadow the negative events to come. This is similar to what Emily Brontë did in Wuthering Heights[10] by reflecting the protagonist’s feelings for Heathcliff through positive description of the setting ‘[o]ne end, indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks of immense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the very roof’[11]

I believe the piece worked with its previous chronological narrative but the stylistic changes provided more tension and excitement, encouraging readers to engage with the text.

 

Word Count: 547

 

 

Bibliography

 

Appleby, C. (2015) Bruce Beat The Washing Machine Beyond Repair, Uni of Glos.

Brontë, E. (1992) Wuthering heights, Wordsworth editions limited, paperback edition

Eggers, D. (2005) How We Are Hungry, After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned, Vintage Canada; 1st edition

Hartigan, C and James, M (2014) The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, CreativeWritingMatters. Pg124

 

Hemingway, E. (2014) Hills Like White Elephants, Scribner; 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed edition.

 

Hill, Beth. (2013) Tone, Mood, & Style—The Feel of Fiction http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/04/19/tone-mood-style-the-feel-of-fiction/ [Accessed 13/01/16]

 

July, M. (2005) The Shared Potio, Zoetrope All-Story Vol 9, number 4.

 

Keevil, T. (2015) Burrard Inlet, Sealskin, Parthian Books; Second edition

 

Kirchner, B. (2012) The do’s and don’ts of flashbacks. Writer (Kalmbach Publishing Co.). Feb2012, Vol. 125 Issue 2, p13-13. 1p.

 

Loory, B (2010) The TV, The New Yorker, available at:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/04/12/the-tv [Accessed 20/12/15]

 

The New Yorker (2010) This Week in Fiction: Ben Loory,, available at: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/this-week-in-fiction-ben-loory [Accessed 30/12/15]

 

The Angry Grandpa Show (2014) Angry Grandpa Destroys The Dryer, Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIsd_QCqEPM [Accessed 20/11/15]

 

VanNest, A. (2014) Clichés to avoid, Available at: http://thewritelife.com/cliches-avoid-4-story-endings-readers-will-hate/#.qmb39l8:Cbw [Accessed 10/12/15].

 

Watt, I. (2000) The Rise of the Novel, Pimlico; New Ed edition

 

 

[1] Appleby, C. (2015) Bruce Beat The Washing Machine Beyond Repair, Uni of Glos.

[2] The Angry Grandpa Show (2014) Angry Grandpa Destroys The Dryer, Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIsd_QCqEPM [Accessed 20/11/15]

[3] Kirchner, B. (2012) The do’s and don’ts of flashbacks. Writer (Kalmbach Publishing Co.). Feb2012, Vol. 125 Issue 2, p13-13. 1p.

[4] VanNest, A. (2014) Clichés to avoid, Available at: http://thewritelife.com/cliches-avoid-4-story-endings-readers-will-hate/#.qmb39l8:Cbw [Accessed 10/12/15].

[5] Hartigan, C and James, M (2014) The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, CreativeWritingMatters. Pg124

[6] Loory, B (2010) The TV, The New Yorker, available at:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/04/12/the-tv [Accessed 20/12/15]

[7] The New Yorker (2010) This Week in Fiction: Ben Loory,, available at: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/this-week-in-fiction-ben-loory [Accessed 30/12/15]

[8] Hemingway, E. (2014) Hills Like White Elephants, Scribner; 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed edition.

[9] Hill, Beth. (2013) Tone, Mood, & Style—The Feel of Fiction http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/04/19/tone-mood-style-the-feel-of-fiction/ [Accessed 13/01/16]

[10] Brontë, E. (1992) Wuthering heights, Wordsworth editions limited, paperback edition

[11] Ibid, page 2.

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