James Holden: The Marionette

Becs, who used to be an Asylum member, is part of a team setting  up a new website called Write-Track, a new app and website which will help writers set goals and carve out time to help their writing. At the moment the Write-Track team are currently coding the website and last week on Facebook referenced the four types of coding you can use for websites – django, moustache, backbone, marionette and python. Becs and I ended up challenging each other to write a story no longer than 1,000 words, using all four of coding names, in a week.

I find prompts useful as they help to spark off new ideas  and also trying to find new ways of using words can help take my writing in new directions. I also sometimes find having a tight deadline and word limit helps to get me write – you’ve really got to get your bum into gear.

My story, The Marionette is below and Becs is going to publish her response to the prompts here. I feel like I cheated a little with ‘django’, but it was ‘python’ that I struggled with. Anyway – I managed to get it in, and I don’t think it feels too contrived.


The Marionette

As he walked down Cairo Road, John wondered when he last been there, and decided it must have been eight years ago when his sister had hit 60. It wasn’t like he had lost touch with his sister since – they had still seen each other about once a year and only six months ago she had come to stay with him for a week. But since that party she had thrown he hadn’t made the trip from Yorkshire back to their childhood home in Walthamstow.

He knocked on the door and it was opened by a young man wearing an expensive looking suit, with a white shirt and a thin tie.

“Hello – I believe you were expecting me. I’m John Django.”

“I’m Matt – I’ve been handling your sister’s estate,” he said, proffering a hand to shake. John ruefully noted that not only were professionals getting younger, but they were shedding any sense of professional formality – doctors no longer wearing ties, teachers being friends with their pupils on social media, and now solicitors called Matt.

Matt stood to one side and John stepped into the familiar hallway. He paused to look at the faded family pictures on the wall, before moving to the living room.

His sister had lived in the house on her own for the past twenty five years. John felt he was in a familiar room but at the same time it wasn’t a room he knew that well. His sister had changed the wallpaper, but some of the ornaments and pictures were the same as when they had been children – the pen and ink drawings of Gaudi’s Spain on one of the walls, the Lladro china on the mantelpiece. The sofa was relatively new but the armchair where his father would sit and read the evening paper was still in the corner.

“We’ve got some people coming next week to pack everything away to get the house ready for sale. In the meantime – well. Like the house, proceeds from the contents are going to be donated to a local hospice. But in addition to the family photographs, the will allows for you to take one painting, one ornament, and she specifically left you a marionette. Do you want some time to choose what you want to take?”

John peered into the kitchen. “I suppose there’s nothing to make tea and coffee with.”

“There is a kettle, but there’s no milk I’m afraid.”

John fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a ten pound note, thrusting it in the direction of the solicitor. “There must be somewhere round here where you can buy a takeaway coffee. I’ll have a cappuccino please. Whatever you want as well, of course. No need to hurry back.”

Matt took the note and smiled. “Thank you, Mr Django. You’ll be alright on your own won’t you?”

“Of course I will – I lived in this house for long enough, even if it was a long time ago. Where is the marionette?”

“It’s in her bedroom. The one…”

“Over the living room, yes I know.”

The solicitor smiled before walking out, and John moved round the living room seeing what there was that he might take. It wasn’t just his sister’s belongings, but also those of his parents. His father had been an MP in Spain before the civil war, and had fled to London when Franco came to power. The house contained occasional reminders of their homeland, which his parents had only left behind in one sense. But, apart from his surname and occasional family holidays to the Balearics, it was a country that John himself had few links with.

Heading upstairs, he looked in the small front bedroom that had been his when he was growing up. On a shelf stood a stuffed python and John dimly recalled that an old family friend had given it to his father after going to Ghana for business. It had initially been placed on top of a cabinet in the dining room for a week until it was removed, first to his bedroom and then to the attic where his sister must have found it at some point.

He walked into the bedroom that had belonged to his parents and then to his sister. Lying on the bed was the marionette – the one item that she had directed he should have. It was a Christmas present that his parents had given to his sister, and had dark hair, a thin red smile and was wearing a flamenco dress – red silk trimmed with black lace. She had taken time to learn how to operate it, skilfully moving the wooden cross bar so the limbs would gesticulate in a lifelike manner. One day John had spitefully taken a permanent marker and added a moustache to the marionette’s face, disfiguring the princess’s delicate features with a thick black handlebar.

He dimly remembered the row that had ensued – he seemed to think that he had been grounded for a fortnight, a punishment that at the time had seemed harsh but now seemed appropriate for the spiteful teenager he had sometimes been. He had turned his back on so much that his parents had given him and done for him. Anglicising his Christian name had felt like the right thing to do, but John Django sounded odd when said aloud and left him feeling neither here nor there. He sometimes felt like a man with no past and wished he’d had more backbone.

The door banged downstairs and Matt was stood in the hallway with his coffee. “I’ll come down for the coffee in a minute. Do you mind if I have some time to myself,” he said. Matt nodded – “I need to make a few calls anyway. I’ll be outside if you need me.” He walked outside, and John lay down on the bed next to the marionette still disfigured with a stripe of black pen, wondering if he could have the face repainted and restored.


About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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