I decided to look back at the archives and dug up one of my old short stories. I hope you like it, let me know what you think:
It Can’t be Done by M J Dees
In a flat in South Wimbledon the lights flicker, go off for a second and then come back on. She looks up at the bulb, shakes her head and returns to applying makeup.
A quarter of a mile away, in a Victorian terraced house, bacon crackles in a pan.
“I haven’t time for breakfast,” David shouts down the stairs. He squints into the mirror, seeing a face succumbing to years of worry and restless nights. His features Have now given up the fight and have resigned themselves to a permanent frown. Bags cling beneath his eyes and jowls threaten to drop to Earth at the slightest breeze. The sun has not been kind either and has scarred his skin with freckles and moles which sit upon a saggy, ruddy canvas like the pattern on the damp wallpaper which curls from the bathroom wall above his head. He is his own absent landlord who has neglected his face for years. It’s too late to take care of himself now, he thinks, resigned to a future of continued neglect. Lighting a cigarette, he perches it on dry lips which he parts to expose nicotine stained teeth, cracked and missing, like the tiles on the wall by the mirror in front of him.
Downstairs an old woman shovels the bacon into her mouth. Each chew luxuriates in a bed of wrinkled skin, undulating like a creased but well-loved blanket covering pillows of flesh around her eyes, nose and mouth. This face has worked hard for many years and is enjoying retirement among wrinkles that have smiled through two world wars, the Spanish flu and austerity. The ears, which now seem too big for her head, have heard big bands, crooners, the blitz, rock and roll, disco, punk, new wave and hip hop but she still maintains that the young must enjoy themselves while they can, as long as they don’t bother her. Her eyes have seen sorrow, relief, joy, pain, death, life, love, hate, greed, selfishness and beauty but have not dwelled too long on any.
The smell of bacon drifts up the stairs past the stained floorboards, past threadbare rugs, nicotine stained wallpaper, stuffed animals, and scientific equipment.
A quarter of a mile away steam caresses the double glazing of a bathroom window. A disposable razor ploughs straight edges in fields of shaving foam, revealing delicate legs below.
David is not aware of the activities of the razor as he pops his head round the sitting room door. Mother is watching Richard and Judy.
“Are you sure you’re OK?” he waits for an answer, none arrives. “See you later Mother.”
David dons his hat he leaves the house, hearing the familiar sound of the brass knocker as the door shuts firmly behind him.
On the tube, he sniffs the newspaper. At least that’s what it looks like to onlookers. His visual impairment has left him only able to read if he holds the paper at an angle so close to his face that it appears as if he is reading with his nose.
She tries to direct her nose as far away as possible from the armpit of the man next to her. She appreciates that he needs to hold on. Heaven forbid that he should fall on her. She knows that the armpit is just something that has to be endured until either she or he leaves the cramped compartment.
‘The Northern Line is always like this in the summer’, she complains grumpily to herself. London Transport hadn’t even bothered to reply to her suggestion of installing heat exchangers to take the heat out of the tunnels and use it to heat offices, buildings and leisure centres along the route. Instead, they had installed those ridiculous fans which only succeeded in moving the hot air around.
The door opens, and the armpit gets off. She breathes a sigh of relief and adjusts her posture to one which is slightly less uncomfortable. All she needs now is the man who kept trying to push his groyne into her leg. If she sees him again she’ll cut it off, she tells herself and now even carries a pair of scissors in her bag for the purpose. They are crimping scissors, but she doesn’t care. He’ll just get crimped.
He knows she is sitting there in the corner of the meeting room. It is all he can do to concentrate on his presentation now that she is lodged in the back of his mind. The glimpses of her skin so smooth like a freshly laid picnic blanket, the sparkling water twinkle of her eyes, delicious red lips glimmering and beckoning like the sweetest of puddings. Even the curve of her nose looks as unblemished as the day it emerged from her mother’s womb which he thinks must have been very recent. The lush foliage of hair borders the face in which he imagines taking refuge. The smile with which she had greeted him evoked thoughts of secret gardens and the delights offered within but he knows that this is all fantasy and fantasy is how people usually describe his work. He recounts all the figures. He knows them inside out and back to front, but he is finding it hard to focus while she sits in his peripheral vision.
No-one seems to be getting excited about his research. Do they not grasp the significance of what he is showing them? A clean, cheap source of energy, generated at the point of use.
He sniffs his notes as they study his plans laid out before them. Occasionally the suits exchange glances and wry smiles with each other.
Well, that is that then. He’s said all he has to say.
He sits back and watches her while he waits for a reaction from his audience.
‘Would you excuse me for a moment,’ one of the suits breaks the silence. ‘I’d just like to show your plans to another colleague. I’ll be right back.’
The suit gathers up the papers and leaves the room followed by a line of sniggering fellow suits, leaving David alone in the room with her. He shifts in his seat, and they exchange polite smiles.
Laughter drifts through the partition walls and, after what seems like a very long time but is perhaps only a few moments, the suits return.
“Thank you, Mr Smith,” says the chief suit, handing back the plans. “Your work has been very interesting, but I’m afraid we already have researchers working on cold fusion. Thank you for your time. We won’t be taking it any further at this stage.’
“What?” David sits upright. “Do you not realise what I’ve just presented? Were you not listening?”
“Mr Smith,” the suit looks serious. “Your work is a work of fantasy, of science fiction. It cannot work. It ignores the fundamental laws of physics. It can’t be done. You’d need enormous amounts of energy to create a fusion reaction. You can’t do that in your bedroom.”
“But I’ve done it,” David protests.
“The technology doesn’t exist, Mr Smith,” the suit was beginning to lose his patience. “It won’t exist for the next 20 to 40 years. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got real research to do. Miss Persimmon? Please show Mr Smith the way out.”
David follows her back to the reception and smiles as she thanks him for his time and leaves him to be eyed by the security guards.
“Mother,” he calls out, closing the front door behind him.
“In here dear,” a voice echoes from the sitting room. “How did it go dear?”
He enters the sitting room. Mother is still staring at flicking images on the television.
“They said it wouldn’t work.”
“Never mind dear. They said I would be dead at 50, but I’m still here.”
‘You’ve got to pick yourself up and dust yourself down and…”
“Start all over again.”
“Exactly dear. When your father died, God rest his soul, the bastard, I had nothing, less than nothing. I had all your father’s debts, but I got off my backside, got a job and paid everything off.”
“I know you had to go without a few luxuries, but we got by didn’t we, dear?”
“We got by, and we made the most of the things. When I lost my leg, did I roll over and die?”
“No, I got on with it. When I got cancer did I give up?”
“No, I got on with it and proved them wrong. Don’t worry son. You’ll have your day.”
“Would you come in a minute please, Persimmon?”
The phone goes dead.
She knocks on the chief suit’s office door then immediately enters.
“Persimmon, we’re pleased with the work you’ve been doing here. We like your sort. You fit in. There’s an opening – Supervisor’s role. I’d like you to consider it.”
“Yes, sir. I mean, thank you, sir.”
“That’ll be all.”
She turns to leave.
“Send these papers to Jenkins in Argyll. Ask him to check them out and get back to me.”
She takes the papers and leaves. As she walks down the corridor, she glances at the top sheet and recognises it straight away. They’re his designs – the crazy man who came in this afternoon. The bastards are stealing his designs. But why? They wouldn’t work. It can’t be done. She only has a degree in nuclear physics, but even she knows you can’t change the fundamental laws of the universe – the first law of thermodynamics.
She slides the papers into an envelope, addresses the front then sits down, playing with the envelope in her hands.
“How did it go?” David is asked, almost before he’s closed the door of the pub behind him.
“Philistines,” he says, taking the pint that has been poured without him asking.
“Never mind David,” the barman reassures him. “One day someone will appreciate your genius.”
The barman has the terrible affliction of always sounding sarcastic no matter how genuine he attempts to be. David is used to this and focuses on his beer.
“Can’t be done, they said. Can’t be done. But I’ve done it.”
“Of course you have.”
“They want to give me a promotion,” she tells her mobile. “Yes but it’s more responsibility isn’t it … yes, but do I need that? With them?”
She sees the Trafalgar on the next street corner.
“Look, I’ll call you later, I’ve got to go.”
She’d walked past it so many times, every day in fact, but tonight she felt she needed a drink. It was all getting a bit much at work
Through the door she is greeted by a heavy red curtain which she pulls to one side to enter the bar, feeling as if she’s just emerged from a changing room.
She smiles at the barman who grins at her and asks what he can get her.
“What have you got?” She wonders aloud, looking at the row of handpumps on the bar.
“What you see is what we’ve got,” the barman sarcastically points to the pump clips bearing the names of the ales. He isn’t trying to be rude, only clever.
“I’ll have a pint of Hophead.” she asks.
“Ale drinker eh?” the barman inquires. He manages to resist the temptation to ask what a nice girl like her is doing in a dump like this.
“Yes, my father owned a pub, and I was chair of the real ale society at Uni.”
The barman raises his eyebrows, and the rest of the transaction is conducted in silence.
She takes her glass and wanders through to the lounge and there he is, sniffing a copy of the London Drinker.
“Excuse me,” she says as she approaches.
He squints at her and then drops his magazine in his pint.
“I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s ok.”
“I met you at the…”
“Yes, I remember.”
“May I?” she points to a stool.
“Yes. Yes, of course,” he half stands, then sits again as she occupies the stool.
“Look,” she says, after an awkward pause. “I’m sorry about the way they treated
“That’s ok, I’m used to people thinking I’m crazy,” he says, mopping up beer with
the magazine to avoid having to make eye contact.
“Yes, but even so, that’s no excuse.”
He squints at what remains of the beer in his glass.
“I just thought that they’d understand.”
“You really think it would work don’t you.”
For the first time, he has the courage to look her in the eye.
“I know it works.”
“I don’t want to sound rude but your plans. Well, they were right about one thing.
It can’t be done. It is science fiction.”
He leans towards her.
“Tell me,” he asked. “If you knew that this technology existed. I
mean, if you had this in your hands, what would you do with it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You could make a lot of money couldn’t you?”
“Well yes of course, but that’s not really the point is it?”
“Well. No. Not really. It’s about providing clean energy for everyone. It’s about
reducing greenhouse gases. It’s about equity for the developing world. Isn’t it?”
David sits back. Satisfied.
“Come with me.”
She follows him into the large Victorian house.
‘What am I doing?’ she thinks to herself. ‘I only met this man today. He’s crazy,
and now I’m following him into his house!’
“Shh. Mother will be sleeping,” David whispers. “Follow me.”
He leads her through the hallway which wouldn’t look out of place in the Natural
History Museum, pictures of animals and actual animals adorn the walls.
Against her better judgement, she follows him up the stairs.
“Where are we going?” she whispers.
It was dark. The landing was only illuminated by the light from the street. He
flicks a switch, and the landing is illuminated.
“That’s not it,” he says.
She looks around the landing. It looked better with the lights off.
“Here it is,” he says sniffing an object then turning to face her.
“What is it?” she asks.
“A cold fusion reactor.”
She laughs. She can’t help herself.
“Take it.” He waves it at her.
She takes the object and turns it in her hands. Rechargeable batteries?
Capacitor? She can’t see any obvious power source.
“No obvious power source right?”
“Come on what’s the deal?”
He holds out his hand and flicks a switch. Outside the street lights flicker and
dim, and the object in his palm begins to glow, bathing them both and the landing in a
brilliant light. She eyes the glow. He flicks the switch again and the lights outside return,
but the glow continues with the same brilliance.
She’s never seen anything so beautiful and, in an instant, all the doubts she had
about this crazy man were gone. This was what it was all about. The beer in the pub
hadn’t been that strong – but she felt emotional. She looked at this pathetic old man,
and she felt compassion. She offered the glow back to him.
“This technology is for everyone,” he takes the device. “Not just for the profit for
those who are already rich. This gives light to the poor, warmth to those who can’t afford
She reaches into her bag, pulling out the envelope.
“They obviously didn’t think you were as crazy as I did,” she says, handing him
the envelope. “They were going to steal your idea.”
He puts the reactor down and takes the envelope.
“Thank you,” he says. “Will you help me?”
“I’ll get the sack. They’ll do their best to stop you.”
“But as Mother would say: ‘Let them bring it on’.”
She looks at the glow, then the envelope.
“OK. I’ll do it.”