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September 6, 2010 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Vicbooks’ Scrawl Short Story Competition

Over the Weather and Under the Moon

By Francesca Brooks

On the fifty-second day of her heart-stopping crush on a girl called Elizabeth, Nora woke up and begged the universe for a spontaneous medical condition that wouldn’t quite kill her, but would give her a justifiable excuse to stay in bed and wallow. At least for a couple more hours.

She closed her eyes and, as always, replayed everything she knew about Elizabeth. Nora remembered things about Elizabeth differently to how she remembered everything else. With Elizabeth, she could actually recall the sensations of things happening for the first time, in that way when you know something really happened, instead of just the second- or third-hand experience of remembering remembering it later. She thought about the day Elizabeth dropped her pen and picked it up using only her pinky and ring finger. She thought about Elizabeth’s emerald-coloured cardigan. She thought about the way Elizabeth asked questions in class, questions that would be exasperating from anyone else, but were somehow thought-provoking and even necessary when uttered by Elizabeth, with her brow furrowed adorably in uncertainty and her tinkling laugh of self-deprecation when her queries were resolved.

A knock sounded on her closed door. “Nora? Are you getting up?”

This was why she shouldn’t have lived with people of her major. She sighed. “I’m coming.” She pulled her blankets around her and promised herself that she’d climb out in twenty seconds. Thirty. And then she would get up. Four hundred seconds later, she emerged from her cocoon and went to brush her teeth. An annoyingly perky face appeared at the bathroom door.

“Oh, good, you’re coming. We have fifteen minutes. Did you want some toast?”

“That’s okay, thanks. I’m not really hungry.”

Her friend smiled sympathetically. “Are you a bit under the weather? You’ve been sleeping so much lately. Are you getting sick?”

“I’m fine. Great. Over the moon. Just give me a sec.” She closed the door.

Nora and Elizabeth had shared exactly thirty words over three exchanges. Once, early on, during the second week of her attendance-improving crush, Nora had purposely sat directly behind Elizabeth, so she could stare at her while pretending to concentrate. Elizabeth had turned around to pass Nora the stack of handouts for that day and Nora had tried her hardest to appear casual as she said “thank you,” her pulse flickering as the fingers of her left hand slid past those of the pretty girl’s right. Elizabeth had smiled at her and quickly turned around without a word.

Fifteen days later, Nora had temporarily zoned out while wondering how tall Elizabeth was, and missed her teacher’s homework instructions. She’d asked the boy next to her, “Wait, what did he say we had to do?” but it was Elizabeth who’d turned around from her seat in front of Nora. After realising that Nora hadn’t been talking to her, she’d smiled and still answered, “Just read all of chapter six and do the topic questions,” her voice sounding even sweeter in its whisper. Nora had prayed that she would remember the facts of importance later instead of just the layout of Elizabeth’s freckles like a constellation across her cheeks.

And finally, on the thirty-ninth day of Nora’s thought-ruling crush on Elizabeth, something remarkable had happened. Nora had arrived early and garnered what she considered to be an optimal seating situation for a three-hour class: in the back third the lecture hall, at the edge of the row, with a free seat on either side of her, giving her plenty of room to stretch her legs and arrange her books while still allowing for a swift departure. She’d stopped lingering after class in hopes of talking to Elizabeth. The self-loathing she always felt from being too overcome to say anything was destroying her, so she’d resigned herself to admiring from afar. Her flatmates usually sat together with their other nerdy friends. Nora preferred to sit alone, flitting between taking notes and daydreaming about Elizabeth’s eyelashes.

The class had just started when Elizabeth had rushed in, her messenger bag bouncing against her hip as she dashed up the stairs to the first available aisle seat she could find. Which was next to Nora.

Elizabeth sat down without hesitation or doubt. As if it was her automatic place. As if they were really friends, instead of just watcher and watchee. As she unpacked her books, she turned to Nora and asked, “Did I miss anything?”

A million responses ran through Nora’s head, from witty to serious to just plain creepy. She chose the most obvious. “No, he just started.” She knew she wouldn’t remember a thing from the next three hours except the moment when her elbow brushed against Elizabeth’s.
On the fifty-third day of her stomach-lurching crush on a girl called Elizabeth, Nora woke up with butterflies, slammed her alarm clock off, and tried desperately to get back to the dream she’d been snatched from. She’d been somewhere snowy, with a red jumper and frozen red hands to match. Elizabeth had been there, in a white jumper, grinning at Nora, her white teeth gleaming like the snowflakes that fell around her.

After twenty minutes of failure to fall back asleep, Nora got up and went to the kitchen, but she was too full of longing to have any appetite. So she went and had a shower instead, slipping on her way out and stubbing her toe. It hurt like heartache.

She left the house thinking that if her life were a movie, it would currently be raining. Hard. The kind of sudden downpour that only happens once a year in real life and every couple of days in fiction, and always at really dramatic moments in the characters’ lives, where it perfectly matches the epic swell of their anguish.

But instead, it was sunny, and the sunshine warmed her face and neck and forearms, and Nora couldn’t help but smile. Maybe this crush didn’t have to make her so sad all the time. She hadn’t intended for it to get like this. Originally, it had started as merely an observation, and then a reason to show up every day. She thought that if she kept it in check, not quite nursing it but not killing it off, it would be something nice to enjoy as part of her daily existence; just something to feel. She hadn’t counted on turning her back for a few seconds and having it grow exponentially and out of control, like a weed, taking over the entire garden of her mind until there was no soil left for other, wanted plants.

Elizabeth was already there when Nora arrived. She was wearing her emerald-coloured cardigan. Nora looked away and tried her hardest to think about something else.

They had slept together once. That is, they had napped briefly at the same time during an intensely dull early-morning statistics lecture, which isn’t quite the same thing. Though Elizabeth had smiled guiltily at her as they’d both stretched afterwards, and Nora had felt like her heart would explode.

After her classes had finished, Nora decided to walk home. She tried to think of the last time she’d felt like herself. Or, at least, the old version of herself, who could actually concentrate on things for more than a minute without her mind wandering to a girl. As she meandered through the city, her thoughts were entirely consumed with Elizabeth. Nora hated herself for being so superficial and ridiculous. Why did she even like her so much? They’d exchanged all of thirty words. She didn’t really know anything about Elizabeth beyond the fact that she had a tiny birthmark on her neck. She just liked her because she was gorgeous. And smart, and sweet. Fascinating and unguarded. Luminous like the sun. What other reasons were there?

Nora realised that she was sick of feeling so simultaneously empty and full all the time, bursting at the seams with emotion but having nothing real inside her.

As she approached an intersection to cross the road, deep in self-reflection, she came across a woman selling balloons. She had a zoo’s worth of balloon animals perched on her stand and a cluster of helium balloons tied around her wrist, shimmering in the late-afternoon sun. One of them was the same green as Elizabeth’s cardigan, and Nora’s eyes were instinctively drawn to it before she was even aware of her staring.

“Would you like one?” The woman’s voice startled Nora out of her trance.

“What? Oh. No, that’s okay.”

The balloon woman smiled widely, causing her pink inflatable hat to squeak. “Take one. For free. I think you need one. You look a little under the weather.”

Nora laughed self-consciously. “No, I’m fine. I’m over the moon, in fact.” She took the string of the balloon that the woman held out to her. It was the green balloon. “Thank you so much.” She slipped the balloon around her wrist, smiled gratefully at the woman, and crossed the street.
On the fifty-fourth day of her misery-inducing crush on a girl called Elizabeth, Nora woke at the same time as the sun, the navy blue sky blending into pink like tie-dye through her curtainless windows. The first thing Nora saw was the green balloon, a bulbous shadow hovering gently against her ceiling, not quite moving or staying still. She stared at it for a long time, watching it drift slowly across the back wall. It was nice having the green balloon in her room. She could pretend it was Elizabeth’s green cardigan. She could pretend she had a piece of her here.

Nora sat up and pushed her window open, feeling the cold, dewy air rush in and suck the balloon towards it. She grabbed its shiny synthetic string just in time, winding it taut around her index finger. Maybe she didn’t want the balloon here as a constant reminder. She thought about popping it. It wasn’t Elizabeth, after all, or Elizabeth’s cardigan. It was just buoyant gas trapped in latex, empty and full at the same time.

For reasons she would later not entirely be able to understand, she leaned over the side of her bed and fished a black marker pen out of her bag. Being careful not to burst the balloon, she wrote four short words on its squeaky surface.


Seeing those ten letters on the balloon stirred Nora in a way she hadn’t expected. They weren’t true, of course. But one day they would be. They marked a time somewhere in Nora’s future where she’d be able to think about other things, and when she’d care about someone who knew it, and when she’d finally feel like herself again. She took a deep, overwhelmed breath and knew what she had to do.

Nora knelt on her bed in front of the open window and pushed the balloon out the window, letting the string unravel. She clutched the last inch of it between two fingers, and then she let it go.

The balloon floated away, emerald green against the pink sky, carried high by the wind until Nora couldn’t see it anymore, and then it climbed higher still, up, until it hovered, carrying all of Nora’s aching with it, holding it safe and far away from her, trapped somewhere between the clouds and the heavens, over the weather and under the moon.


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Comments (5)

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  1. Aimee says:

    Very nice. It’s interesting how feelings designed to bring people closer together can, in a way, leave them in a state of isolation. It’s almost as if Nora’s walking around in a trance for several weeks, waiting for someone to click their fingers and say, “Wide awake!”

  2. Josh Wright says:

    What an awesome last sentence!

    Nice work.

  3. Kate says:

    Yep, agree with Josh. Could read sentences like that all day.

  4. bumbandit says:

    I write better stories than that in the brown smears on my bogroll every day.

  5. smackdown says:

    Quality satire from “bumbandit”

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