Beyond the Bucket List

Submitted into Contest #19 in response to: Write a short story about someone based on their shopping list.... view prompt




There was something about the interlinked lines of shopping trolleys that always reminded Lydia Lewis of the snake game on the old Nokia phones. She entertained bizarre notions of them weaving around the car park in some clanging conga dance after the supermarket had closed. That might make a good story. Actually, no, it wouldn’t.

But at the moment she wasn’t thinking about old phones or phantom trolley dances or her fledgling writing career (though she thought in her gloomier moments that, to borrow an uncomfortably expressive phrase she had picked up from her friend Mona, who kept chickens, it was more egg-bound than fledgling). She was thinking about getting her shopping done as quickly as possible and getting home to a coffee, or maybe a glass of wine, and a microwave lasagne.

At least the trolley was reasonably obliging, and its wheels didn’t stick or stall or have a mind of their own. Inside it, she saw, was someone else’s shopping list. Lydia was one of those people for whom the phrase about reading the ingredients on a cornflake packet may have been written. The printed word, whether hand or machine written, was like a siren calling to her. As she pushed her trolley round, wondering why on earth they had altered things round again she involuntarily scanned the list.


See solicitor

Bottle of decent wine


Digestive Biscuits


Book a Holiday

Was it her imagination, or did the writing get larger and more – well, excited as the list went on. It was both an ordinary and a very strange list! The thought suddenly struck her that this told her a poignant story. The poor woman (somehow she knew it was a woman) who wrote it, was ill. Seriously ill, as she had put her medication at the top of the list. And she needed to see her solicitor – oh dear, that sounded ominous! Nobody was going to begrudge her her bottle of decent wine, thought Lydia, picking up a wine that cost slightly more than her usual plonk, herself. Tangerines and digestive biscuits might be all she could face to eat, and tissues – oh dear! But the last item had a defiance about it that appealed to Lydia. Good on you, she thought, wondering what that (perhaps) bucket list holiday might be. A beach holiday? A city break? Lakes and mountains? And she seemed, like Lydia herself, to have a weakness for a good old fashioned travel agent. She was sure she wasn’t reminding herself to go online when she got home.

A bit of extra Vitamin C never did you any harm, thought Lydia, though she opted for seedless satsumas rather than tangerines, and she was quite partial to digestive biscuits herself (there was nothing on the list to say they weren’t the chocolate kind). Tissues always came in handy but – she sighed – she’d only recently got back off holiday, and it hadn’t been a resounding delight, character in a hotel was fine, but a shower that didn’t trickle lethargically one minute and spurt like the Niagara Falls the next had a lot to be said for it, too. She couldn’t really justify another one, just yet. Anyway, she reminded herself, she had plenty of time ahead for holidays and should be grateful for that.

She bought the other purchases that had been on her list (for once she had actually made one) and as she drove home, the contents of the list were whirring round in her mind.

There’s a story there, she thought. There’s definitely a story there, and a far better one than one about shopping trolleys gone rogue. Still – her conscience pricked her at the thought of using that poor woman’s misfortune for her story. She determined to make her a lovable and feisty heroine without being a tedious Pollyanna.

Words flowed. The tangerines reminded the Heroine of childhood Christmases, and the digestive biscuits of visits to her Gran, but she didn’t get maudlin about the memories. She had toyed with the idea of calling her Molly because it rhymed with trolley, but that really was silly, and somehow disrespectful. She compromised with Isla because she liked the name anyway, and perhaps it had echoes of “aisle”. The “medication”, in her story, was one that had recently been developed and with very encouraging results, and minimal side effects. I wish I could make art into life for you, Isla, or whatever your real name is, she thought. She was deliberately vague about the drug – in the first place out of altruism – she didn’t want anyone building up false hopes thinking she might have some insider knowledge. The second was because of that story she’d heard that might be apocryphal, but might not, about an author who had inadvertently “invented” a drug with only one letter different from an illegal hallucinogen. She’d had a very awkward interview with the narcotics squad, it said in the Internet. The trip to the solicitor had to be about Isla’s will, Lydia supposed, but though she didn’t make it simplistically upbeat, she decided that Isla would add a bequest to a long-lost childhood friend she had recently met again. And it would be more about the friend than the will. In a little twist that came to her unbidden, the tissues weren’t only for drying tears and wiping noses but “Isla” used them in the collages she made and her little nieces loved.

And the holiday? Lydia decided to send her heroine on a trip to Lake Maggiore, and let her enjoy sparkling waters and glorious mountains and meadows of wild flowers, in a hotel that had loads of character but where the showers worked properly.

She was so tempted to give it a happy ending, but, rather reluctantly but thinking it was probably the right thing to do, left Isla happily reading a book on her balcony looking out at the lake, and living for the moment.

Chastened by a previous experience when she realised a couple of seconds after she had submitted a story that she had changed from a first to a third person narrative halfway through (for once she had been relieved to receive just a form rejection letter!) she edited and checked the story carefully before sending it in. She was sorry that it wasn’t usual practice to include a dedication in a short story, or she may have written “To the Real Life Isla, with Love, Admiration, and Thanks”. She wasn’t naively optimistic about this story, but had good vibes. They were justified when, surprisingly quickly, she got an email from Woman Today saying that it was delightful and touching and they would be sending through payment at their usual rate.

Lydia always said she wasn’t much of a “joiner” and she wasn’t hugely into Internet chatrooms either, but she did like the site called Scribbling Rivalry. It seemed to have been made just for people like her who had had some tentative success but were waiting, in some cases had been waiting for a very long time, for the big breakthrough. Not that it was compulsory! They had members who were still waiting for the first acceptance letter, and members who were already much further up the literary ladder. It was a website that was moderated with a light touch, but with red lines, as it proclaimed. Banter was permitted and criticism positively encouraged, but neither was accepted as an alibi for rudeness and personal abuse, and it was generally seen as a friendly, supportive site. Officially it was over-16s only, but parents and guardians of precocious would-be authors whose offspring had slipped through the net had little cause for worry. Most of the members were known either by their real names or by usernames very close to them, though that wasn’t compulsory either. And in some instances it was a pseudonym, though Lydia, as she did in her writing, stuck to her own, which had a pleasing and rememberable alliteration. So far as they knew they had never been scrolled or “Botted”. But beyond vague indications members were discouraged from revealing too much about their geographical location. Talking about your personal life was fine, within reason, and the Scribbling Rivals often commiserated with each other over family crises or Significant Others who just didn’t “get” it, and shared in happy news of births and marriages and the like. But the focus was still principally on what they termed the Writing Life.

“Good day for me!” she wrote on the forum. “Had my latest short story accepted by Woman Today and very kind words about it!”

The congratulations and good wishes were very heartening. “Tell us what it’s about so we can look out for it!” one post said. “Don’t worry, we won’t plagiarise!” Plagiarism was a dirty word so far as most of the Scribbling Rivals were concerned. Oh, not one that would get a post removed (mild cursing was tolerated, but those old red lines came into play again!) but something that carried more weight and disgust than any unacceptable strong language to use the term in the email explaining why a post had been removed and in the site’s guidelines.

Confident in that, Lydia was about to give an idea of what Beyond the Bucket List was about, when she noticed that another post had appeared in the forum, from Sylvia Anders, one of the more “esteemed members” . She’d even had a novel published! In her case, Sylvia Anders was a pseudonym, or at any rate, it was her middle name and her mother’s maiden name.

“Well done, Lydia! Glad to get some good news. Been meaning to get this off my chest for a while – all of you, be careful you don’t lose your plot notes! I once scribbled some down on a page I ripped out of a notebook, and I think I ended up leaving it in a shopping trolley. Luckily it was only the bare bones, and I could remember most of it. It was accepted, anyway, and will be in Weekly Words this Thursday.”

Lydia read the posting again to make sure, but she didn’t need to.

She had said the “Bare Bones”! And there was nothing that bizarre or unusual about medication and a solicitor’s visit, and tangerines, and biscuits, and wine, and tissues, and booking a holiday. Not individually. But in combination? In the same sequence? In the right order?

Plagiarism was such a dirty word!

December 13, 2019 08:20

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