Emma (Not a Jane Austin Reference)

I wrote this for the short story contest, but never really got around to typing it up. (I am, incidentally, still working on A Story About a Girl on Holiday with her Family).

Anyway, I’m interested to hear what you guys think and of course, everything here is mine and you can’t steal it, or re-post it without permission, or generally be a dick. Characters are based on real life, the fabrication in the story is pretty limited (I’m sure you’ll guess it), but I think that it fits. IF by some freak chance you think you know who its about, PM by all means, but keep it to yourself. And anyway: here it is.


Emma has been beautiful as long as I have known her, though some people have had difficulty accepting this. Her skin is waxen with an ethereal inhumanity that somehow cries for lips to be pressed to its irresistible surface. It is supremely soft, though it is stretched taught across the bones of her face and indeed, fits her entire body perfectly. It is entirely unblemished as far as I have ever been able to tell and I have spent far too great and expanse of time investigating the matter.

Her cheeks are high and delicate and make you instantly expect her lips to be pouting, which of course, they never do, being already quite captivatingly fulsome. Once again, it becomes impossible to look without yearning to feel. An expertly daubed streak of blusher accentuates the slight hollow of her cheek and her chin will not allow an eye to stray, though it is cleft and so not traditionally attractive.

Emma used to be a lot shier than she is now. She’s still driven to madness by self-criticism – though her anxiety is earnest and private rather than vulgar. She would never seek a compliment. When we met she was afraid to talk to me until the very end of the evening when I was several pints up on her and a fair way under the weather. Whilst I freely admit that I am not always as approachable as some of my better friends, it is unlikely that I would have been cruel earlier in the evening. Besides, very soon I started going to the pub with her boyfriend more than with my real friends, simply to see her.

Once we did begin to speak to one another, sparks flew and ignited flames that still burn like her incendiary red hair. We talked about clothes, about philosophy, about how very funny our cats can be and everything else besides. We conducted a secret correspondence in emails, aware that something in our friendship required its pursuit to clandestine and furthermore, that the connotations of letters, of the truly written word, entered into territory that was intolerably uncomfortable, or at least, unsuitable.

In due time she broke up with my friend – with whom I had eventually become quite close – but soon after was plucked by a courageous friend of mine who had been allowing himself to hope since the day they had met, which was in fact the precise same day as that prior boyfriend. I wasn’t upset; I had then the girlfriend I still have now, but resiliently forcing its way through both our good intentions, Emma and my relationship begged new questions at every step. We met for shopping trips, which ended in little purchase but instead, eternal coffee breaks. We painted each other’s clothes for a fancy dress party. Together – for neither of our partners were of the culinary inclination – we slow-cooked tagines; roasted sweet potatoes, squashes and red onions, and baked an endless succession of chocolate based confections.


A few months after I had begun university, my girlfriend who was not due to commence her studies for a further year, left England to travel the world. She went nowhere hugely original and anyway, the important is not how jealous I was of everything she was experiencing – and my envy was souring our conversations as if I were chewing early gooseberries – but how alone in the world I was left. At the relevant time I had, at university, only the friends of four months and this is nothing to the familiarity that we had achieved in the previous two years, whatsoever our flaws.

I went to school with the same people for ten years, and so at the point in question I had moved from the comfort of over half my life to the turbulence of relocation to a far less accommodating habitat. I met no one with whom the words shot to, quickly, under pressure like a geyser, from the depths of my stomach and out from not just my tongue, but my whole trembling body, as they had with Emma. I met lovely people, but we needed time to establish our own environment within which to fit together and this would take us years. In many ways, even by the time we left university, we still had not so completely welded together as I remember doing when I was younger. I believe life to be punctuated by ever increasing isolation.

I was happy, then, when I spoke to Emma and she told me that she was coming to visit. I frantically made an effort to push the worst of my mess under the bed, I knew that she wasn’t an ordered person, or even to arrive for days, but I felt that the floor-space was necessary. My room felt very bare and I worried that my fellow students would be ill disposed to go out on a Saturday, I built a bed from a sleeping bag and some spare duvets, not that she would ever end up sleeping on the floor; drunken chivalry would forbid that someone so entirely breakable be treated so roughly and even sober, I could not imagine her lying on the floor beneath my bed.


Emma arrived at the bus stop just two minutes from my building eight minutes later than we had planned. We missed the storyteller who had brought his terrific embroidered gown to stand beneath our weeping riverside trees and reconnect we children of the digital age with our folk roots. I’ve seen him since and he’s very good. Paralysed on the left side of his body, his voice animates his tales beyond that which gesticulation could attempt.

She wore high black shoes and intricately patterned black leggings under one of those simple navy summer dresses that hands loose everywhere, but amplifies the slender figure. She walked towards me as if on the runway in Paris or Milan – she would never do London as her friends might see – yet completely unselfconsciously: not an ounce of pretence. There was no showing off, but just the grace of a simple action exquisitely performed.

I chastised her lateness and spun around to lead her to my room. We didn’t try to catch up. So much happens day-to-day and so little is important a week later. Attempting to fill in old friends only widens the gulf between the two of you and the two of us, well, we fell back into the chat that had so irresistibly erected our friendship with the that same ease and firmness that the key of a weary traveller finds its whole upon his return home.

We laughed and grinned and grimaced and slotted words into one another’s sentences and mocked and teased and prodded deeper and further and relentlessly. We did not shy away from crude discussion but revelled in its ease, nor did we pursue the base as our intercourse followed its natural path, which required no active pursuit.

I became very aware when I opened the door, that my building stank of shit, the open doors to the communal toilets and the emetic effects of student life meant that our narrow strip-lit, badly-patterned-carpeted corridors seemed more squalid than they really were. In reality, our accommodation was just blankly institutional, but I worried that it may seem a little depressing. I wasn’t ashamed, but I thought that for Emma, my university could only appear underwhelming.

My room smelled sweet of the candles I still burn to mask the oppressive damp that I have discovered to infect most university accommodation and indeed, cheap residence in general. She gestured at the mess and I gestured her to the bed; the only clear space for her to place things or for that matter, her self.

I should be clear, before I continue, I sound scared of Emma, like a hopeful lover, pandering to every whim I suspect she might have. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our dynamic was always fluid and I felt always at ease. As well as this, I gently poked her in tender placed and dug my fingers in deep where she was unassailable. But my gentle bullying was well intentioned and is really just a petal of our flower. What forms the stem I honestly couldn’t begin to say, nor the root, but our dark and playful flirting must remain the leaf that supports nothing, but keeps the whole plant alive.


Our equality established, I would like to skip forward some hours in the story and indeed, to begin to tell it somewhat faster. During this time we had a light but delicious meal of lentils and fragrant cucumber and dill salad. We went to the off-licence and I thrust upon her the responsibility for any disfigurement I might have suffered from that second dinner (as I had eaten immediately prior to her arrival) in order to quell her agony at the calorific content of a bottle of gin.

Emma was a pretty worrier. She did not worry with her whole face, but her lips parted a little as she narrowed her breathing to facilitate a clearer decision. It meant, that her precisely drawn top lip was peaked a little, creating a gap that let her excruciating lower lip pour forth from her mouth and flood your vision with its tremulous splendour. A wisp of runaway hair might brush over her lips and she would lick them with the tip of her tongue before concealing it once more and blowing the hairs away. I think that her body wished to express – without her knowledge or participation – the tantalising and vibrant moisture inside her. Nowadays it is true that she worries less like this. She has perfected a form of concern in which only one eye shifts, but she has developed other beautiful moods to take the place of concern.

We have skipped to a point in the evening where the two of us sit, quite drunk, on the leather seats of my university bar, polished with the occupiers who have slid back in them before. Emma bought the drinks and she met my friends. I was relieved as they were friendly; as they seemed not to disappoint her, as they seemed even to like her in her own right. Even though she was not with me, I was flattered by the guys who came up to me at the bar, when my round came, to tell me how completely beautiful they found her. Though I shrugged my nonchalance, I glowed at her presence and even more, I was reassured that such a girl could need me as a friend.

Basking in the satisfaction of our mutual validation I played the role of the intrepid and the two of us marched the length of a very long road. I imagined Emma smoking as a clunkier girl trudged along the opposite pavement, aggressively pulling on a hand-rolled cigarette. The image was sophisticated and I felt my head grow full of laser blue eyes shooting beams through smoke that curled and billowed through wavy hair. I remember that I sniffed hard and departed even further from reality as I felt ever drunker and inhaled a pure lungful of Emma’s overwhelming scent. Her perfume harmonised with mine perfectly and the two of us lifted from ourselves and arrived at the party – as we eventually did – in no state to do anything but continue drinking and revelling in one another.


We left a fantastically dull event with swimming heads. Entirely encapsulated in a world of our own we poked and prodded our way down that lengthy street, embraced by the close darkness, feeling that we were moving forward rather than back. She told me that she had been going to the gym more than ever and as competitors we clenched our biceps. We linked arms and then my hand was on her hip. She told me that she had worked her arse to steel and I grasped without a thought to the consequences. She giggled and I erupted in silence, not daring to breach the terms of our new, unspoken, primordial relationship.
We walked intertwined past the doorman of a club and into its sweaty basement. We danced as if there was no one else in sight. Lascivious, we ignored the older men whose eyes burned with the desire to take the place of mine for just a second as our lips brushed in an surge of guilt and relief. Laughing as if it was nothing more than a friendly gesture we fled the club, insulated in ourselves, into the dizzying frigidity of the outside. In just minutes the morning had taken hold from the embracing night and was freezing us in such a way that we had to run to my room to prevent the chill of that cold light of dawn from overwhelming us.


Emma and I did not kiss again, but my hand on her buttock guided her through the door to my building and her hand on my arm tugged me up the stairs. I fumbled my key in my intoxicated hand and twisted it firmly in the lock in such a way as to demonstrate my resolve.
She hit out at the light switch as we fell into the warm laundry smell of my room that I had not had the spirit to notice before. The pair of us joked as we always did. I told her that I’d felt a firmer arse before as I spread an extra duvet I had borrowed from a girl I had though I might love.
I went to stand in the corridor at her gesture that she would change. Determined, I re-entered my room to find her dressed exactly as before, in her black and white going-out dress. I dropped my trousers and shirt and washed my face at the sink. I stood behind her and felt the float material of her dress and she said, “I have to leave early for work tomorrow. There’s no point in changing.”

I said nothing and together we lay on the pile of bedding on the floor. We got up and moved to the bed. Our noses pressed against one another and I lifted my head to whisper ‘goodnight’ in her ear. Emma rolled over and nestled her behind into my lap. I ran my hand fearlessly up her gossamer leg and on to her inner thigh and my spine shivered and I was watching myself from above and I reached the top and pushed up and I felt plastic. She said nothing and I said nothing and I understood. I pressed deeper into her and applied a little more pressure to the front of the diaper and prepared to sleep clasping her with all I could give.

I thought how much I loved Emma at that moment and she sighed as if she was letting something out that had been held back far too long.


I remember waking up when it was still dark and then, when I was sober again, and it was the morning proper, I was alone and the bedding did not even retain a hint of her scent. A plastic bag was tied shut in my bin and otherwise here was nothing left of a night that we can never repeat.

Emma (Not a Jane Austin Reference)

There’s some good detail here and some good turns of phrase. I also like the cold finality of the last section and the way it contrasts with the narrator’s previous romanticism.

At the same time, however, I feel that we need to get a sense of how the narrator’s night with Emma impacted him. Stories are fundamentally about character change. In this piece, we have a character narrating from the “after” (from the present about the past), but we don’t get any sense of how he is compared to how he was. Also, the lack of dialogue was curious.

By the way, is the title a Madame Bovary reference? ;p

Emma (Not a Jane Austin Reference)

The title is actually a real disappointment; I changed the character’s name and the title with it!


I know what you mean about character development, but what I really wanted to capture was the kind of headiness of the episode and the fact that it does have no lasting impact. It happens and it’s great, but it doesn’t get to mean anything because it’s just one night and life has to go on.

I suppose I’ll have to try and find a way to make that more satisfying.

What I would like to know is whether you thought that it had a slightly dirtier side in a way. I tried to put in a couple of suggestive phrases to capture sexual tension and I’m not really sure whether it comes off.

Thanks for the advice. Perhaps it might be better if there was a prologue showing the usual mundanity of the narrator’s life to contrast?

Emma (Not a Jane Austin Reference)

OK, if you’re trying to show that it had no impact, then I think you probably need to convey that more clearly. One possible way of doing that would be to open with something routine/mundane (a daily ritual, perhaps), introduce Emma and build excitement/interest, then return to the routine/mundane at some point.

Yes, the sexual tension was noticeable. It wasn’t ponographically overt, but it was there.

Emma (Not a Jane Austin Reference)

I think this is an excellent story, although a bit depressing in a sense. you know weve all had that girl that can never be more than a friend and the night where you almost become closer but just at the crucial moment you dont. and the first thing i thought was jane austin