Those of us who live a writing life tend to write vignettes willy-nilly. Each one is a glimpse, a slice of life, a part of something that- given a character, some goings on, and something bringing it to a close – would make a believable story.
Vignettes are what we see or hear about and then want to describe. One day we might use them, but to write about them is to remember them and every memory makes a writer all the more rich with experience.
What do you do with them? Store them of course. Use them. Many TV ads are vignettes. The longer adverts might be mini story scripts. How many people say the ads are often better than the programmes?
Here’s an example of a vignette ‘After the Accident’ I once submitted to an accident prevention charity. They ignored it. I knew it was a powerful piece and was determined to make good use of it. After a few months I turned it round from a sad horrifying image to a love story.
‘First Errand’ was another vignette, inspired by the sight of a child playing on the floor and hearing an argument that made him ask for his favourite pudding.
When you live with your writing, each piece – however small – will find its rightful place.
After the Accident – a vignette
Irena lay on the hard, high, hospital bed, unmoving. Her eyes remained closed or barely open, tears ran down her temples now and then. She’d wipe them away with a bandaged wrist. She couldn’t turn to bury her face in the pillow. Her mourning was stilted, like her hips and legs – restricted in a plaster cast.
“We’ve brought her to see you,” said the sister.
A trolley appeared and was lined up at her side. The porters lifted; the white cover was removed. The sister held Irena’s hand as she slowly moved her head to look.
There lay her daughter. White, perfect, pure and silent, beside her – and dead.
Her little hand was battered and bruised. The mortuary gown concealed a multitude of wounds on the child, just as the white cast mountain which pinned Irena to the bed hid the damage to her own bones.
Irena reached out to touch, but the bare hand was too far down. She painfully lifted her arm over the sleek, black hair; caressed the shoulder with three weak unbandaged fingers and settled for stroking her daughter’s little face. It was a concession to the warm embrace she yearned.
After the Accident. This version © Bernie Ross 2001
First Errand – a Vignette
Jonathan was piecing together the chimney of his Lego factory, when he heard his name mentioned. Mum and Dad were talking in the kitchen.
<p”>”But you don’t know what it’s like,” she was saying. “School holidays are too long. Specially in summer. When have you ever had to stay at home, day after day, week after week…”
“Chance would be a fine thing!”
As they talked, Mum’s voice was weaving between raised tones and whispers. The tap was being intermittently turned on, drowning the conversation but revealing a few odd words.
“Can’t go anywhere without money.”
“Has to be taken out sometimes.”
“You don’t know…” Mum’s voice was indignant.
“Haven’t any money?”
“For God’s sake woman.”
“When I was eight years old…”
“Can’t keep him tied to you for ever.”
Dad was angry.
The Lego chimney wouldn’t go together right, two pieces fell off. Deep in concentration Jonathan picked his nose and wiped it on the carpet. Then he tried the pieces again. More arguments drifted in to his hearing.
“Strangers… Not safe on his own.”
“Independence… get yourself a job… Grown up soon…”
“You never know who he might… ”
A lorry slowed outside the front window, its great walls juddering, exhaust pipe shaking.
“Have to go anyway.”
Giant wheels grinding – “You always leave it half discussed, we never…” – tyres slowly and clumsily squashing out of shape over the concrete kerb stones at the front of the house, their hot rubber smell catching in Jonathan’s breath.
Dad came into the living room, he had his boots on already. They were the boots he wore when he went away for a long time, driving a long, long long way and not coming home for days and nights.
“Off now then, Jon,” said Daddy. “Be good for Mummy.”
A prickly kiss. A whiff of corned beef sandwiches in plastic. Two more bricks needed to go on the chimney.
Two men, one of them Daddy, talking outside. The lorry pulled away. Mum was drying her hands and the kitchen was quiet.
“I wish I could go with Daddy.”
Mum switched the telly on and slumped into an armchair.
Later that day, Jonathan ran down the road in his sandals. Be careful down the hill with the big road at the bottom. Don’t drop the money, you won’t forget what to get will you? It wasn’t quite time to start flexing his muscles for braking to a slow trot. It felt funny not to have Mum there behind him, telling him to slow down, he was so used to her voice that it was as ordinary as his own thoughts. Not quite time yet for using his leg muscles as brakes to stop running at the bottom of the hill, where cars and lorries thundered past and cyclists increased their pedalling to build up speed for climbing the next hill.
He tried to remember the shopping list his mother had recited to him: 3 slices of ham, 2 pounds of carrots, and a packet of Instant Whip. Or was it 2 slices of ham and 3 pounds of carrots? He knew it was only one packet of Instant Whip though. Jonathan’s favourite. Just imagine 3 packets! I can’t believe anyone but the Queen could be rich enough to have 3! Why isn’t she fat? I bet she’s got a room full of Instant Whip packets at her palace!
It was a real treat to have a bowl of Instant Whip! Pink and creamy, the feel of the spoon sliding into it and sucking up a huge dollop. Jonathan felt his dry mouth moisten at the thought. He would drop the big spoonful back into the bowl because putting such an enormous helping into his mouth, in one go, meant it would be gone too soon.
No, he would slide the spoon across the top carefully, and eat each little bit slowly. Then he would scrape gently round the edge of the bowl, savouring every drop of the pudding, every creamy smear, every tasty morsel. He would slowly stroke the top again, and the sides, licking the spoon until eventually it was all gone.
Jonathan’s tongue was just about to lap the last traces of pink pudding from the imaginary bowl when he arrived at the bottom of the hill still running. The momentum carried him into the road… screech…clatter… thump… click click click click… Oh it’s only a bike ouhw my knees…
Jonathan landed on top of an old man, sandwiching him between the road and the bicycle. He scrambled back to his feet, one sandal loosely hanging by the strap round his ankle.
“Oh, ohoh… sorry,” he said, catching his breath between involuntary squeals. At first he couldn’t see a face. There was only a grey raincoat rising like a hump from the tarmac, then a wrinkly hand on the end of a long arm pulled at the frame of the bike. In a moment the figure and bike were disentangled. The white-haired man with brown scrunchy face, let out a heavy sigh.
“Yo’ all right lad?”
“Yeh. Sorry. You hurt?”
Bending to his feet, the sandal leather was stiff to adjust.
“Nothin’ that won’t heal. Yo’ need brakes on them legs o’ yours. Lucky I wasn’t a car, you’d have been dead.”
“Goin’ shopping, see.”
Jonathan remembered the money in his pocket and smacked it, urgently. The bowl of pudding flashed back in his mind, it still had traces to lick.
“Go along then. Do as y’ mum says and don’t run down the hill.”
How did he know Mum said that?
As he walked along toward the shop, Jonathan looked at the palms of his hands. Grazed and pitted with grit, they hurt badly now. The white-haired man cycled past and lifted his hand in reassurance.
Jonathan couldn’t remember what to buy. Instant Whip, he couldn’t go home with just Instant Whip. He turned and ran all the way back home, the money still jangling in his pocket.
At the top of the hill, where the lorry always parked outside his window, Mum was standing rubbing her arms, looking alarmed. Jonathan came to a halt and felt his knees sting as her skirt billowed out to meet him. He fell into her lonely arms. He was crying and shaking, and looking at his palms. He blurted over her anxious sounds, “I forgot what you wanted… and …an’ …there was a man.”
First Errand – Vignette © Bernie Ross 1994