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FREE • by Greta Igl

“I wonder what it would be like to be free,” she said.

He lowered his newspaper and looked across the room at her, how she lay with one bare, tan leg draped across the back of their ratty sofa, how her arm curled across the top of her head. A thick novel written by some dead philosopher lay tented on her chest, the spine rising and falling as she breathed.

He swallowed, waited for her to say more, but she only stared out the window, apparently lost in the clouds and the blue sky beyond and the tall buildings that framed them like art. Her hair spilled across the pillow, honey gold and sometimes pale as light, the surface of it smooth and hard with shine. And in that moment he spiraled, caught up in his love for her, in the yearning that made no sense and the fear that someday she’d want something more.

“We’re free enough,” he said, then swallowed again as if that could pull the words back.

She sighed. Then she picked up her book, and he felt her fly away, bound to him by only the thinnest line. He sat there in his flea-market chair, rooted and inadequate, wishing he offered more for her wandering soul. But he was what he was, the sum of his experience. He lived deliberately, thoughtfully, within the bounds of ordinary. She said he lived shackled to his stunted imagination.

He squashed the awful panic that burned like acid and raised his newspaper with trembling hands. Reality. That was good, something even he understood. He went back to reading his paper.


Greta Igl is happily married and has no desire to be free. For more about Greta’s writing, please visit her blog, For Write or Wrong.

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Posted on September 4, 2008 in Literary, Stories
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  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    That doesn’t really work. If he were all and only that, he wouldn’t be going through that – he couldn’t make the leap even if he would if he only knew. He probably wouldn’t anyway, even if he did have the depth and breadth to be able to (it’s a guy thing usually not to think like that in the first place, even if you do have rich enough memories).

  • http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/ Sarah Hilary

    Hi Greta, I think this works very well. The clue, for me, is this line: “He lived deliberately, thoughtfully, within the bounds of ordinary”. To me it spoke of the gulf in understanding between people, even people who love one another. In that sense it had a timeless feel. You packed a lot of thought and emotion into a very concise, precise moment in these people’s lives. Had the flash been longer, you may well have struggled without further action or ‘plot’. But for its length, this felt right. Good work.

  • Mark Dalligan

    I liked this.

    Relationships are never wholly equal and as communal beings most people fear to lose their partner because they make up part of them, make them what they are. For the same reason, if you lack in confidence you may want to cleave to your own core identity because relationships often end. Maybe a sort of protective ‘head in the sand’- or newspaper – syndrome.

    Cheers

    Mark

  • http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/ Sarah Hilary

    Exactly! What Mark said!

  • Gerard Demayne

    I’m with PM Lawrence.

    “He lived deliberately, thoughtfully, within the bounds of ordinary.”

    …but was prone to panic and over-whelming self-doubt. Either he lives gripped by constant fear or he’s mature and sensible, but not both.

  • http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/ Sarah Hilary

    Or he has more than one dimenson, is human, fallible and complex. I know how I prefer my fictional characters!

  • Gerard Demayne

    Actually if you take the “deliberately, thoughtfully” out of the piece and play up the veneer of calm hiding the internalised soaring highs and crashing lows of his feelings vs her outspoken desire for adventure while she sits on her ass, then you’ve got a story. Granted, it’d be a different story.

  • Gerard Demayne

    Sarah you’re being obtuse to defend your point. Shame on you.

  • http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/ Sarah Hilary

    “Sarah you’re being obtuse to defend your point. Shame on you”. Excuse me, Gerard, but that is patently not the case. The fact that I can see layers here that you are refusing to see does not make me obtuse. Perhaps you’d like to try another word?

  • K.C. Ball

    Oops! I’ll just say “Thank you very much,” and back out the door; before the knives come out. ;)

    Seriously, folks, I must admit that literary fiction confuses me; I’m not certain where the story is, exactly. Greta, I like your way with words, but I’ll twist the line from Jerry McGuire and say, “You lost me at ‘free’.”

  • sarah ann watts

    I like this – it’s complex and multi layered as relationships so often are.

    Love this line – “He lived deliberately, thoughtfully, within the bounds of ordinary” – he sets those bounds for himself so the panic doesn’t spill over into ‘real life’?

    Thanks for the read.

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    I like this one. It seems layered indeed, and the thought came to me we have an age difference here, he’s older, and she’s too young to settle. But that’s my take on it and it’s as valid as any other, until the author tells me not.

    And shame on you Gerard to attack a fellow reader. Pull yourself together man, and write something we all can read.

  • http://www.rumjhumbiswas.com rumjhum

    This is one of those stories that continues to speak to the reader long after it’s been read. It’s also very visual and poetic. Thanks Greta.

  • FrancesG

    Some relationships bestow their own kind of freedom, others constrict and shackle. Fear is always a terrible bind. I like this story very much – particularly the very sympathetic main character and his turmoil of emotions.

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/oonah/ Oonah V Joslin

    Smacks to me of two people who have been together for quite some time and developed into the habit of not sharing their thoughts beyond the superficial. That is a dangerous habit to get into because it allows for just this kind of imbalance to develop. She does not elaborate on what she means by free, though she has the chance, and he does not communicate his fears that she means him. It is therefore almost inevitable they will lose each other.

    I think that is what the story is trying to put over. It is not about comlexity of personality – but depth of communication.

  • Mark Dalligan

    I’m amazed at the range of comments on Greta’s story so far. For me, the complexity of her piece has highlighted different types of EDF reader. I wouldn’t say anyone’s a 100% clear match, we all have elements of each, but interesting nonetheless:

    1) Immersive: reads to become one with the action and leave the day job behind.

    2) Critical: realises all work has layers and fits into a literary, stylistic and wider societal context. Compares merits and demerits on a stand-alone and contextual basis.

    3) Insular: treats a work like an untried dish in a foreign country, looking for what is familiar and basing their opinion on that. May recognise something within limited experience, say tomatoes, but the doubtful looking meat means they miss out on complex spices and more subtle flavourings. Sort of 2D reading.

  • Angela

    Hello??? This is totally real…complex emotions and fears, just one beautiful, desperate moment lingering between two people…powerful!

  • http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/ Sarah Hilary

    Someone give Mark a medal for articulating – so reasonably and lucidly – what I’ve been thinking all afternoon. One man’s contradictory character is another’s complex anti-hero. The writer and the reader need to meet halfway or, if they can’t do that, at least to acknowledge that they both have a part to play in the end result.

  • http://www.ekentrada.com E.K. Entrada

    Greta,
    I loved this piece. My husband and I practically mirror your couple. I prefer the practical and the tangible, whereas he prefers the “gray areas” of life; I read works of literature, he reads about Asian philosophy. I often struggle to find him in the gray areas, and he struggles to find me in the black and white. Therefore this piece rang very true to me and I didn’t see any problems with conflicting character development … I have often teetered at the edge of the philosophical like your protagonist, only to step back to where it is safe. Great writing. Thanks!

    E.K.

  • http://msherlock.blogspot.com M.Sherlock

    Woah ill go with KC here…its quiet scary in this comment box.

    While confusing…i did certainly enjoy this piece.

    But please…peace in the comment box!

  • Rebecca (deadlakes)

    I’ve only been receiving the stories for a few days, and this has been my favorite so far. The description of the woman is masterful, and draws you into the scene. It inspires me to work on that part of my own work.

  • http://canyonsofgray.blogspot.com dj barber

    Oh, I liked this one and agree with Sarah, Mark, and Oonah. Most people live a quiet and confident life–she threw down a gaunlet and attacked his stunted imagination–little wonder he hid behind the paper!
    These are people obviously not burdened with debt–the ‘Freedom’ she desires is apparently from him.

  • White

    I am a reader not a writer.
    Love the story.
    If you have ever been on ether/any side of these feelings in a relationship, you GET the story right away.
    The End

  • jennifer walmsley

    GOOD STORY. I LIKED IT.

  • gay

    The line that pulled this piece together for me is:

    “We’re free enough,” he said, then swallowed again as if that could pull the words back.

    As a female, I see the first part, the statement the man makes, as quintessentially male: “Be satisfied with what you have, young lady.” And the second half–his regret–is what we HOPE men feel after making such a statement when we think they don’t understand us. (Do men have these thoughts? I hope so. They ARE human!)

    Therein lies the problems men and women as well as people in general have when communicating with each other. Not just the Mars and Venus thing, but the human to human thing.

    This piece is a kind of flash on one of the themes in Dubus’ House of Sand and Fog: people often fail to understand each other by the smallest of fractions.

    Gerard, one quick question, for the sake of context, do you write yourself?

  • http://msherlock.blogspot.com M.Sherlock

    he does write gay…he posts his story in the comments section now and then for some reason.

    In fact…cue gerard story in 3…2…1

  • http://www.taniahershman.com Tania Hershman

    I love this flash, it has real visceral feeling, a wonderful demonstration of the contradictions within all of us. I love the line “A thick novel written by some dead philosopher lay tented on her chest, the spine rising and falling as she breathed.”, which sums up how he feels – why is she reading work by a dead philosopher, when she is a living breathing person, as is he, sitting in front of her? This rang so true to me about the inherent difficulties of being in a relationship with someone who is by necessity not going to be your clone. Thanks for this, and the interesting discussion!

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Ah, M. Sherlock, these stories of his are not accepted by the EDF site proper, then is that right? Mmmmm interesting. I didn’t think I’d seen his name on the running order table of contents, but thought I might be wrong.

  • http://robertaquinodollesin.blogspot.com Robert Aquino Dollesin

    I thought this was a good read. The tempo and flow sang and it’s apparent the author chose her words carefully, allowing the surface story to create tension and image well, while leaving the whole picture submerged and subjective. Kind of had that ‘Cat in the Rain’ subtlety going for it. Nice work.

  • http://gretaigl.blogspot.com/ Greta

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. It’s great to hear each unique take on this story and whether or not you think it works and why. I just love a spirited discussion!

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    Sorry, I haven’t the faintest idea what this story is, or is trying to say. To me, it made no sense whatsoever. Apparently some people liked it, but I have no idea why.

  • http://www.erinmkinch.com Erin

    Very descriptive piece. I enjoyed reading it.

  • Richard

    This is emotive and powerful and captures the complexities and insecurities of a relatinship beautifully.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    Yes, there are layers here – but that’s the point, the protagonist is set up as unlayered. That’s why it doesn’t work. There is absolutely no reason why someone should be internally complicated and only appear outwardly two or one dimensional. Only, the omniscient narrator hasn’t left us that option. From my reading, he is aware that there is more, but he doesn’t have it himself.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    Sorry – I meant “shouldn’t be”.

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    P.M…. you don’t think that perhaps this man knows he can’t give her what she needs/wants, and is afraid his days with her are numbered?

    He is the sum of his experience, we are told. Experience implies layers to me, especially when you “sum” it. For me, he’s a hard emotional nut to crack and is afraid of life outside his “box”. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t got depth.

  • anon

    Beautiful, lavish prose. A pleasure to read.

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  • J.C. Towler

    Came to this one late, but certainly better late than never.

    One disadvantage of any flash fiction story is that it does not come neatly labeled with genre and dust cover so you don’t really know what you are getting into until you are well into or sometimes at the end of a story.

    The flip-side advantage is that once you’ve figured it out, you can either go back and read it again with the proper frame of mind or you can skip it, since you know its not something you are likely to enjoy.

    So, liked it the first time and “got it” the second time. Well done.

    –John

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