Short story: Making My Moves

A story I wrote a very long time ago (before Microsoft Word was thought of!). I forget what inspired it, but am sharing it here as part of my daily blogging project.


Mama, tell me that story again, the one where you first started to walk.

Did you put one foot in front of the other, or did you stand on one spot, willing yourself to move forward?

I always loved your hair, the way you pulled it back from your face, inky black, with a scent of chives and garlic. The lipstick which bled in the dimpled smile you kept for best.

Does anyone remember how they learned to walk?

“Shirley, stop daydreaming!”

A voice snaps me back again and away from the contemplation of whether you walked like the rest of us, or waited to glide to your destination.

Daydreaming is my major job, when my copywriting for the ad agency is over. I spend lots of time meetings doodling on a notepad, playing scenes in my head, surprising myself with what I could be.

“OK, I’m there in a sec!”

My dad, a bulldog of a man, likes the women in his life to wear furs and put on lipstick (that bleeds in the dimpled smiles they keep for best). Wears glasses but would rather squint out at the world in confused vanity.

Something I wanted to hear about, that story about Mama starting to walk.

I daydream about gliding and dancing.

There are flowers at every other pace, in front of my feet, there is jasmine in the air as I spin with my dress covered in sequins.

I walk into my dad’s room, fix the coffee, break open the shades. Light floods.

“What’re you doin’, Shirley?”

One, two.

“Opening up the world, dad.”

Did Mama skate? I remember the ice rink where the white hours blinded us as we kept things moving, the music pulsating in its quick beat, we had such fun.

When my brother and I sped round the ice, was Mama watching?


She brought me into these crazy times, my Mama.

Left me here, kept me counting days until something happened. There were some days when I really didn’t want to be there. I stepped outside of my life and into daydreams.

My dad is a realist.

“Shirley, close the god damn window shades.”

I leave him in the dark, sipping the coffee. Black, three sugars, cinnamon stick.

Where are the nutcrackers we used to swap at childhood parties?

My brother is fun, a mad backgammon player who takes bikes to pieces and then abandons them for something else.

The three years before he came along were incomplete.

Take another daydream, in confused vanity thinking something could be made of me. I started to fill book after book with words, just words, none making sense, but at last it turned around when I got the ad agency job.

I could sell …

 Eggs (because eggs is eggs)
 Cars (with or without reference to sex, chocolate or disco whores)
 Cereal bars for the ultra healthy (scanties and panties)
 Toy boats for children (and little plastic ducks)
 Shower gel (with or without water and oil)

I could not sell …

 Charity cases or requests for donations (vomit-inducing)
 Badly knitted garments (the ‘bobbled’ look)
 Celebrity perfume ranges (unspeakable)
 Middle-class morality (undefined)
 Paint (the possibilities …)

Our garden, Mama. Look how it thrives in cornflower blue, crushed berry red, oregano green.

Tell me the story of how you started to walk.


One foot first, Shirley, one foot first. You feel the ground under you, close to you. The weight shifts from one leg to another. Something makes you keep moving, at a steady speed, keeping a steady stride.

Then, you realise that you are beginning to run, you are racing with the moon, you are letting the stars trace each movement.

I’m talking to you, and I’m telling you why it was different for me.

I had the most superb legs in those days, fabulous pins.

My shoe heels a cool three inches and knitting needle thin.

My daughter, I was a walker, a strider, a dancer.

I was something else, a span of life, an incredible piece of lightning.

You won’t remember but I was a wonder on two feet, a web of sadness, silence, suspense.

Shirley, there were notices about my movement that would make you wild with jealousy. You and your dreams of fame, and your office job giving the words that make people buy.

I was more than you could ever imagine.


In the office, I look at the account manager’s notes. She wants me to work with our art director on a poster campaign.

Flowers. That’s the first thing I think about. When women go to shop, they want fruit and flowers to be visible, to put colour in, so even if they’re buying a tin of soup or a bunch of bananas, they’ve had that brightness. So we need bright words, words of joy, hope, colour.

There is nothing in this office that I would take off home.

Home is my dad in his dark room with the shades pulled tight. Home is my brother visiting with oil on his hands. Home is pictures of Mama, the garden flower. Home is the smell of my old cat, as she purrs into a seventh hour of daytime sleep.


The woman in my daydreams doing wonderful things is Mama, young, alive, vital again. Someone dead who once existed. Someone doing everything I could never do.

Daydreams come to me on the bus, when the muted clicks of personal stereos mingle with weekend gossip. Daydreams come to me in making love when I want to be someone else. Daydreams come to me in the morning tea and toast. Daydreams irk me and torment me.

I am an icicle.

She has told me the story of how she started to walk.

I thrive in my inferiority.

I never need to open or close the shades in my dad’s room again.

My last jingle has faded from the radio.

Is this something that is news to you?

Can you guess what I have to tell you, yet?


Seven days, Shirley, seven days to count.

I dress in white satin and brush my hair back, the way she did, inky black, with a tortoiseshell comb in electric blue. My clothes fit well and flatter me. I wear lipstick, bleeding into the smile I keep for rainy days.

It starts to rain.

I know all the traffic, every bend and bump in the road.

I’ve decided how to walk.

This will be the best day of all the best days of my life.

(c) Louise Penn

NaBloPoMo November 2013

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