Broken Toys

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Julie Duffy is the host of the creative writing challenge for short story writers, held annually in May. She first came across the term ‘defenestration’ in a high school history class and blames it for her subsequent degree in History. A transplanted Scot, she lives and writes in Pennsylvania and blogs at



See John.
See John laugh.
See John laugh and smile.
See John laugh and smile and touch his wife Jane on the elbow.
Look, John, look into Jane’s eyes.
See Jane smile.

See John walk.
See John walk around the party.
Mingle John, mingle.
There is Alice.
Alice is watching John.
See Alice frown.
Here comes Mary.
Mary walks to the bedroom.
See John watch Mary.
John and Alice look at Jane.
See Jane talk.
See Jane laugh.
Jane does not see John or Alice or Mary.
See John walk to the bedroom.
Walk John, walk.
See Alice refill her glass.
Drink Alice, drink.
Where is John?
Where is Mary?
Drink Alice, drink.

Alice sees Jane.
Alice walks to Jane.
See Alice speak.
Jane frowns.
See Jane shake her head.
See Alice lean too close.
See Jane push Alice.
Alice grabs Jane’s arm.
Jane and Alice walk to the bedroom.
Jane runs out of the house.
Run Jane, run.

See John run out of the house.
(Good luck, John.)

Alice is in the kitchen.
See Alice’s mascara run.
Listen! A car door slams.
A man says a bad word.
Hear the engine roar.

Mary walks to the back porch.
See Mary light a cigarette.
Smoke Mary, smoke.



Fluttering. Yes, that was the right word. Not a word she used much anymore, but there it was, still in her brain, patiently waiting to be needed, appreciated. And here was its moment. The patterned cotton—all manly grays and blues—fluttered as it fell: air flooding in through the ridiculous flapping leg-holes, ballooning until it escaped through the ‘comfort waistband’; tumbling down from the bedroom window to the neatly-mown grass below. (She did the mowing.)

She clapped a hand to her mouth to catch the giggle that had erupted from nowhere. Ridiculous. No-one really does this—his voice drawling in her head—no-one does this in real life, Jane. Grow  up. But she had grown up and look where it had got her. She turned to the tall-boy dresser and plunged, both hands now, deep into the top drawer, coming up with handfuls of boxers (his ‘smalls’, he called them without a trace of irony). In a long-forgotten move, she pirouetted—right leg relevee—back to the window once more and flung her arms wide. Fireworks, she thought, as the bundle of clothing flowered open: stunning for a moment, then fizzling to the ground.

Biting air from the open window reddened her cheeks—close the windows, Jane, you’re letting all the heat out—and she gulped in its freshness, filling her lungs with tiny daggers of ice. Sharp cold abraded her from the inside out, scraping away the dull layers that had formed through all the years—all the endless hours—inside these walls. There was fear, yes, that it might cut too deep, but the fear brought along its friend: thrill. Jane stood, unmoving, by the open window and simply waited. Life or death. Which would it be?

Through the window frame she could see her neat square of grass, her neat garden path, her garden wall with its neat wooden gate. Beyond that, a neat street of red-brick houses all with their own neat squares of grass, brick garden walls, and painted wooden gates, some with little carved decorations or bundles of dried flowers tacked on to them, some without. She could see Poppy and Oliver Mason across the street, unnecessarily bundled in snowsuits, playing with something in the flowerbeds of their front garden—safe behind the garden gate. Jennifer would be out any moment to put a stop to that. Couldn’t have her perfect children, perfect life, marred by mud. And here came Mrs McIver rolling slowly down the street in her gold Daihatsu, doing her 21st century curtain-twitching from behind the wheel of her little bubble car; looking askance at Jane’s open window blighting the sleek row of wintering houses. Jane spun again, grabbed another pair of boxers and flung them out of the window while Mrs McIver’s rearview mirror was still in range. She laughed out loud this time. Perhaps she would go mad. Perhaps she had been mad all along and now she would suddenly go sane. It wasn’t fashionable, but maybe she would start a new trend.

Another pirouette. To the wardrobe this time. The muscle memory was there, but it had been too long and her relevee was disappointingly delevee. So many things she had once known and practiced, now flaccid and underused—like that word, ‘fluttering’. She had never, not once, had cause to use that word since she allowed herself to grow up. What kind of a way was that to live? But there was still so much inside her waiting to be found again.

The big question now was: what word would spring free from her brain to describe the way a knock-off “Harris” tweed sports jacket made its heavy downward way through the cold morning air?



“Bloody women!”

“I know, mate.”

“Bloody, bloody women.”


“The thing is, they’re the ones that don’t follow the rules, but they make it like you’re the bastard.”

“Mmm-hmm…Good eggs.”

“That’s it, my son. That’s it, exactly! It’s all about their eggs! Used to be about getting a snog behind the bike sheds, having the best-looking bloke pick them for the slowdance. You could have a good time then: take them for picnics, pints in a country pub, feel them up round the back of stately home on a Saturday afternoon. But all of a sudden you’re sitting outside the changing rooms while she’s squeezing herself into jeggings, or you’re pretending you care about curtains and every Sunday afternoon you’re in her mum’s front room trying to watch the game while her Great-Aunt Lil goes on and on about how it was different in her day. Until finally it’s all about her eggs: when are we going to have a baby? Everyone else has a baby. Guess what? Tricia’s just told me she’s gonna have a baby. And then you get her up the duff and that’s the end of that. Eat, work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, with two weeks at some resort in the sun where you sit staring at her pudgy white thighs and waiting for death to take you away from it all. Jesus, is it any wonder we need a bit on the side!”

“I meant here. ‘Good eggs’, here.”

“What? Oh, yeah, well. It’s new, isn’t it? I found it after she kicked me out. And I tell you, it’s a bloody marvel, being able to eat breakfast like a proper grown up again. No rushing about, no whining, no bloody Cheerios under my feet. No, a man should be able to sit down, read the newspaper, talk to another human being over his breakfast. It’s no wonder I started inventing those business trips. It wasn’t just the sex — though I have to say the sex was bloody fantastic—it was getting up in the morning and having a bit more sex and then having a cup of coffee and a smoke and maybe a bacon roll in peace and bloody quiet. Don’t underestimate that, old son.”

“You going to eat that sausage?”

“Are you listening to me at all? Here I am, spilling my guts, looking for a bit of comradely support, and all you can…Yes, you greedy, unsympathetic bastard, I am going to eat my sausage.”

“Fair enough.”

“I mean, what did she expect? It was all about the kids, the kids, her mum, the kids, the school, and how are we going to afford university for the kids, the bloody kids? And they never get off their arses to lift a finger for themselves. Is it any wonder…”

“…you went slumming with Mary, yeah, I know.”

“Slum…wha..? Heh, well, I mean she’s not exactly hard to get, but she was far from the only, one you know.”

“Susanne from Gregg’s, Tracy up the shops, Linda from Accounts, that mental Alice, Judy from next door. You might have mentioned them once or twice, yeah.”

“Judy? I don’t think there was a…Oh, you mean Jennifer Mason from across the street—now she was a tiger! You would never have guessed, to look at her, but it’s true what they say…it’s the quiet ones you have to watch. Speaking of which, that Alice. She really is mental. Do you know, I caught her following me around the supermarket yesterday? And I keep seeing green Renaults like that little piece of crap she drive, everywhere I go. I think she’s got a thing for me. Real stalker material.”

“…such an idiot.”



“I’m an idiot?”

“Forget it, OK? Eat your sausage.”

“Forg…Oh. No. I get it. I’m an idiot because I’m the one who’s been getting it away all these years while you’ve been going home to your own version of jail?”

“Keep your voice down.”

“I’m not the idiot, my old son. If anyone’s the idiot it’s you and you know it. You wish you were me.”


“That’s it, isn’t it? You wish you were me: getting it where ever I want.”

“Yeah. Yeah, John, that’s it. I wish I was you. I wish my wife and kids hated me and everyone else thought I was a complete arsehead, and I was living in flatshare with some students from the technical college.”


“Whatever. But you’re right, I wish I was eating breakfast every morning in a greasy spoon, going on and on about my conquests like it makes me a big man. And nobody, John—man, woman or child—reads a newspaper anymore, over breakfast or otherwise. Jesus, John, you’re like someone off the telly from the 70s…Here. Here’s a twenty. Make sure you leave a tip, and try to avoid sexually harassing the waitress before you leave, would you? I’ll see you at the office. Just…just don’t talk to me unless you have to, OK?”

“I’m too late then? Your wife’s already turned you into one of the girls, has she?…And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I had to get out. That, walking out the door there folks, is a prime example of a man who lets his WIFE keep his BALLS in a BOX BY THE BED! Well, nobody’s going to keep my balls in box, you hear me?!

“Alright, alright, I’m going. Money’s on the table. I was just leaving, anyway.

“Before I go, my darling, what time do you knock off? I could stop by, take you out, show you a good time, maybe we could end up back at your place…Oi, watch the coat! This is genuine Harris Tweed, this is. I tell you, you don’t know what you are missing.

“Bloody women.”



Across the street from that little shop that sells shiny knickknacks no-one wants but everyone get as last-minute gifts, and around the corner from the new cafe, the driver of a green Renault Clio eased the car with practiced confidence from its space between a Hyundai Sonata and one of those new mega-Minis. Traffic was heavy but the driver edged into the stream with little difficulty. If she timed it right, hers would be the first car at the lights when the man in the tweed jacket stepped into the pedestrian crossing.

And if she she didn’t time it properly, that was all right, too. There was always tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next.


copyright by author, 2013

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