The ninth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Broken Circle. The idea for the story began with me thinking about the way our various selves overlap. If you’re not sure what I mean, just think about how it feels when you return to your childhood home or spend time with a sibling – don’t you feel your childhood self bubbling up beneath your adult shell?
I wanted to examine the way all these different, often contradictory, versions of our selves drift in and out of each other, and how these can conflict with the self we’re busily trying to portray to the world. As a diabetic I also wanted to look at how low blood sugar levels plays with perception, so that reality ebbs and flows in much the same way.
Presenting all this within the heady, surreal environment of a fairground visited by the main character Bex and her niece Kayleigh seemed utterly ideal for emphasising the transience of each of the states experienced by Bex, while introducing a note of peril.
The artwork is by Louise Boulter.
A short excerpt from Broken Circle
The playing fields throb with screams and laughter, growing louder as we near the blur of the chair-o-planes and glittering waltzers. I gaze at the teenagers kissing, running, cavorting all over the carnival, and feel a faint, deep-buried churn of envy. I used to have that exuberance, didn’t I? Before I got so old. I hear Mum’s tut in my ear: If you’re old what does that make me? But I’m roughly the age now that she was when she died, closer to my forties than my teens.
Kayleigh tugs on my hand, Mum’s old handbag hanging heavy from her shoulder. She looks very small suddenly with her stick-insect limbs and pale cap of blonde hair.
I kneel beside her on the yellowing grass. “If you don’t want to go on the rides we can just watch, Kayls. What do you reckon?”
She shrugs, faking nonchalance, and lets me lead her into the throng, past the swooping turns and spinning lights of the scarier rides to the relative calm of the Big Wheel. “How are you with heights?”
“Not scared if you’re not.” She grins at me and clambers into the seat. The metal bar swings across us, pinning me down but barely touching Kayleigh.
“Hold on tight,” I shriek as we begin to move and I envision Kayleigh sliding out into the popcorn-scented air. I remember being on a similar wheel twenty years or more ago, sitting beside my little sister Melinda and waving at Mum, tiny below us. It seems like yesterday. Part of me wishes I could go back to that time.
As we rise upwards, telltale lights spark at the corners of my eyes and the world turns concave, then convex against the lens of my eye; slippery as oil.
Kayleigh’s chattering about everything she sees, and I try to pay attention, but the air is big and fat around us, and I want to eat it, eat something. I’m eight years old with Melinda beside me, her blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight like spun caramel. That’s what I need – something sugary. My bag is at my feet, emergency jellybabies far out of reach. “Mel…” I say imploringly. “Mel, I need…”
“You called me Mel!” Kayleigh giggles.
“Did I?” I pant, pinching the skin on the back of my hand, trying to regain a sense of myself.