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Contemporary Funny Fiction

Tamara froze in the doorway of the kitchen. A boundary between realms.

She knew she could retreat to the comfort and solitude of her still-warm cocoon of duvets, blankets, cushions and the 20-odd soft toys she liked to surround herself with, despite being 20-odd herself. Or she could tumble into an unknown future, proceed to the communal cutlery draw, pulling the handle with similar apprehension to plucking the sword from the stone, discovering at last whether indeed the last teaspoon in the house was the one whose muddied oval eye was mocking her from the fawn-coloured countertop. As that was where the household’s resident dragon had deemed fit for a bed for such a rarely spotted instrument.

Tamara’s grey bunny slippers decided for her, as though trained to compel their owner towards the equipment necessary for administering caffeine. Or perhaps they’d spotted the curls of carrot clean eater Sienna had decorated the linoleum with. Tamara had often seen notes pinned to the fridge if ‘someone’ (i.e. Tamara) had stored her Cornish pasty (in its protective wrapping) too close to her tofu (also in an airtight container) in the shared fridge, yet she had never written about her distaste for vegetable parts becoming stuck to the soles of her feet if she went down to get a glass of water in the middle of the night. She’d simply bought a decent pair of slippers and learned to live with it.

As she approached it, Tamara saw the cutlery draw had been left open, along with the window, meaning any number of bugs could’ve flown in to deposit their secretions and possibly potential offspring all over the knives, forks and spoons. Which were not, of course, in the designated hollows, but all mixed up together in an orgy of steel. The spectacle even featured some scissoring.

The rage welling up in the usually meek Tamara was about to come to the boil. Most of the cutlery strewn higgledy-piggledy had been a present from Tamara’s grandmother (a matriarch so old-fashioned she refused even to get a television set) in the assumption Tamara would be using the set in a home of her own, or better yet, a husband’s. “Twenty-five and still not married off – may this year be your year, my dear darling granddaughter” – that had been the minimally changed refrain in her birthday cards ever since Tamara could remember. She’d never given in the urge to write “I spend so many hours working to cover the rent and expenses of my current accommodation I have no money or energy left over to even go on a date” in her dutiful thank you notes, however.

The teaspoon, with the brown wet mulch of a teabag half on its face, half staining the countertop, to Tamara in that moment represented a mountain of cock-block. She could never bring a man back to a place with no clean spoons.

Which is how Tamara ended up writing her first note in three years of living with Sienna and Monique. She normally scuttled like a cockroach in and out of the kitchen, grabbing supplies as quickly as possible in order to avoid dreaded interaction. Yet now, harnessing the rage, our cockroach felt swollen in size to something more akin to a gorilla. A gorilla who would’ve happily snapped a finger joint off in that moment to write a message in blood on the kitchen table, but as a wannabe author she of course carried a pen on her person at all times. That included her dressing gown. Pencils and coloured pens in the left pocket, black biros on the right. Just in case she was struck with inspiration during one of her calming lavender scented baths. Timed baths (Monique’s idea), to be fair to other members of the household who “might have parties and other events to go to” (meaning Monique).

She took a TV license letter from the stack of about a dozen identical letters from the pile on one of the shelves. She pulled out a black biro and started to write. She was surprised sparks didn’t fly from where her fingertips pinched the pen.

“PLEASE WASH,” she began to scrawl. Before deciding no, not ‘please’. Fuck ‘please’. She needed something truly cutting, as wounding as ending an email with ‘regards’ instead of ‘kind regards’.

She scribbled out the first attempt and began again.

“WASH UP AFTER USE!”

She held the envelope at arm’s length to admire her handiwork. She placed the finished work next to the teabag carcass and for a finishing touch made an arrow between the two with some leek fronds Sienna had abandoned.

Tamara heard a key in the door and flew up to her room like a started sparrow caught in another bird’s nest. From there, she listened out for a reaction.

The dragon huffed and puffed. There was a sound of a spoon being thrown into a sink. The fridge door being slammed. The bin lid received a bashing.

Tamara smiled from where she had an ear pressed to her door, eying a red folder on her bookshelf, which was considerably thicker than the one next to it, marked “Short Stories, 2019”. Therein contained all the notes Monique had confettied the house with over the years during downswings of her obviously undiagnosed bipolar disorder – so, on average, three times a day.

“It’s time to learn about give and take, Monique,” Tamara whispered, fondling the head of a teddy bear as she did so.

The dragon finally stormed off to her lair. The next sound to disturb Tamara was of the dragon running the vacuum around at half seven in the morning. A Sunday morning.

The Chore War, as it came to be known in the legend of No. 33, was clearly on.

Over the proceeding weeks, a battle of one-upmanship took over. Tamara got her own back on the lie-in busting vacuuming by ordering Monique and her latest beau out of the kitchen where they were enjoying post-coital pancakes, the assembly of which had almost been as noisy as the rutting on the squeaky bed of the dragon’s lair the night before. It was a floor-mopping emergency, Tamara insisted with her newfound Big Voice. A voice she realised was remarkably similar to her grandmothers when she’d been ordering young Tamara down from the tree in the back garden, as tree-climbing was only for naughty little boys. It felt good to have inherited something alongside silverware.

Monica retaliated by rearranging the toiletries in every cupboard, shelf, and bath side ledges of the bathroom. Tamara went to fish out her shampoo from her zone and was greeted by products arranged by colour rather than as she preferred (by size – larger bottles at the back, small tubs at the front, like a school photograph). She snuck a peak at Sienna’s, who’d become a ghost since the Chore War began, noting everything had been put back in the previous spots after surfaces received a scrubbing. Tamara briefly wondered whether Sienna was the real winner here. She hadn’t had to lift a finger in weeks in the now near-spotless house. But she willed herself to soldier on.

She waited for Monique’s laundry day. Monique would always decorate every available radiator with sodden clothes, oblivious to how this contributed to the ever present damp, and the mould that would outlast them all. Before they’d barely had the chance to touchdown, Tamara whipped every item off and dumped them in a pile outside the lair. And set about painting the radiators. “I saw the colour on someone’s Instagram and realised it would be the most fetching contrast for our walls! It’s meant to inspire harmony”, Tamara wrote on another note, adding a smiley face.

Perhaps it was the smiley face that did it. The dragon needed everyone to be as grumpy as her and had a low tolerance of anything she deemed gimmicky, be it feng shui colour schemes or cheese plants (poor Sienna had to hide all of hers in her bedroom after one next to the toilet had received a lick of the dragon’s flames (a note detailing how it was unhygienic as faeces particles clung to the leaves, and that the dragon had Googled it and found it to be true).

Whatever inspired the tipping point had also inspired Monique to pin a note to the fridge as long as the Bayeux tapestry. Every last fridge magnet had been used to stop it escaping through the (again) open window. The contents are too long to repeat here, but conveyed the most important part of the message in the final paragraph – that Tamara’s eyes flicked to out of habit from being in a crime fiction book club, all too often buying the book too late, but still wishing to know the ending so she could contribute in the meetings.

The dragon was flying off to conquer a new domain.

A great peace settled over No. 33 in the ensuant days following the dragon’s departure. And yes, things became messy again, but it was a tolerable mess. Tamara even got used to a new carpet in the kitchen every week after Sienna’s latest culinary creations (the cook had become far less wary of using that room of the house).

Tamara treated herself to a weekend getaway while the landlord arranged for a new tenant to move in. She felt she had certainly earned it. And had the urge that came after having done so much work linked to one place it was the right time to explore another.

When she returned to No. 33, rested and reset, out of habit she went straight to the fridge door to check for any updates. Not a sausage. Not even a vegan one. She sighed with relief, and her bladder nearly burst in envy. Next stop: toilet. She hadn’t wanted to use the ones on the train, out of hygiene suspicions, but also because she didn’t want any conductors thinking she was trying to get out of paying for her ticket. She’d slipped back in her old timid ways now she no longer had a dragon to fight.

She snapped on the light switch of the W.C. and recoiled in horror at the sight. Whoever had moved in had left the toilet seat up. Forgetting the urge to urinate, Tamara patted her pocket and felt the comforting outline of a biro. She knew what she had to do next. 

January 14, 2022 17:51

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4 comments

Craig Westmore
22:57 Feb 06, 2022

I hope it's not too late to comment. Right before I read your story, I had an issue with a neighbor regarding sharing. I completely related to Tamara! I had to read this sentence a couple times, "the curls of carrot clean eater Sienna had decorated the linoleum with..." Easy fix. Write as clean-eater Sienna. I was trying to figure out what carrot clean was. I felt Tamara's anger and loved several of the descriptions that showed this: "happily snapped a finger joint off," "write a message in blood," "surprised sparks didn’t fly." I love ...

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:46 Feb 18, 2022

Thank you for reading and commenting! And thank you for the useful tips. 'Carrot clean' probably *is* a thing out there on some shopping channel or other. Hope things are cleared up with that neighbour now or they've been replaced with a better one :)

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Francis Daisy
01:25 Feb 16, 2022

How did this story not win? WOW! This is hilarious! I loved every sentence! You are incredibly witty and so talented! Well done! LOVE this!

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:42 Feb 18, 2022

Aw, thank you so much for such lovely feedback! Always happy when I can make someone laugh :) ty for reading!

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