57 minus 19: A Small Breach of Conformity

Posted: 29 July 2021 in 57 minus, 57 minus new fiction, fiction, new fiction, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for this blog run, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. So, since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the story telling parts of my brain.

So that every week, I can write something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, sparked by an image I come across by chance, usually while looking for something else entirely. As often as not, I have no idea why the image appeared in a search for something else, and equally as often as not, I have no idea why that image sparked a story while another didn’t.

I came across the following image Tuesday afternoon, while searching for information on the English civil war for… something else.

There was just something about it, and it sparked an idea.

And here’s what it inspired.

A Small Breach of Conformity

She was early, and the heat had taken her by surprise. She was the only one, though. All around her in the streets, and now, in the square itself, people passed her with perfectly selected attire, entirely appropriate for the weather at this moment.

For the briefest moment, but only for the moment, she regretted not checking the government issued official weather forecast before she left. “Accurate to the centimetre”, it promised. And, like most government pledges and policies, while it was impossible to prove its accuracy, it would have proved – had anyone cared to check – equally impossible to demonstrate any inaccuracy.

She had been born after the supremacy of conformity, and though there were occasional attempts to change it, they never came to anything. Why, politicians would ask, would we or should we change what people don’t wish to change? They were all sure there was an answer, but no-one ever changed.

She had been careful the past few days not to do anything that would alarm, or shock or horrify her neighbours. A visit from the conformity police even in these days was something to concern.

She looked around the perfectly proportioned square, noting the perfectly proportioned paving design beneath her feet. No one had apparently realised that she wore two faintly different colour shoes. Her little rebellion. But, she acknowledged, it was very little. So far.

There were three large buildings comprising the sides sides of the small square, with one side open to a park; a park with perfectly coiffured trees, the exactly recommended diversity of flora and fauna, and an acre or two of grass of exactly the same height.

Two of the buildings were new, or at least the buildings were newer replacements for their predecessors. Outside they were twins of each other, the same colour of brick, the same windows equidistantly spaced, the same height, width, depth. All the same. And she knew that inside the buildings, were she to step inside, there would be identical dimensions, floors, purposes and people.

The third building, though, the one in whose shade she currently stood, enjoying the brief relief from the shade. That was her destination in about – she glanced up at the sky and read the digits being projected – twenty-two minutes, after which she would discover whether her plans had been worth her time. She mentally reprimanded herself at the idea of thinking ever being a waste of time. That’s what they want you to think, she thought, and hid her smile at the joy of arguing, even with herself.

Being early had its advantages, though, she thought. The shadows thrown by the biggest building’s two angular upper floors created the cooler area in which she found herself. She placed her shoulder bag on the ground. That in itself, she knew, was a breach of etiquette, but only a minor one.

She took a moment to enjoy the mental exercise of making a decision for herself: should she risk what she wanted to do next. Would they stop her?

But apart from the heat and her slightly aching feet, she was mildly curious what reaction she might do next would provoke. Disdain? Sadness? Pity? She made her decision. She unclipped from the side of the bag a grey canvas roll. She shook it, and snapped her wrist. And placed the small frame of a chair now hanging from her hand onto the ground. She knew it looked more fragile than it was, and with an anticipatory smile, she sat in it. She opened the bag, pulled out some papers, and started to read.

It didn’t take long for her to sense the disdain; it was almost palpable. When she looked up from the collection of papers in her hand, she was careful not to meet the eyes of those who were either contemptuous or shocked. The former she fully expected, the latter saddened her. She hoped no one would call the authorities though. It wasn’t a breach of the law, but of the social contract. She didn’t know if they regarded that as worse, as the people passing obviously did.

She continued reading until, with a start of surprise, she looked up. Longer had passed than she’d anticipated, and she grinned widely at the thought, now uncaring of the blatant surprise on those who saw her. She pushed the papers back in the bag, apathetic at how they fit, then snapped the chair closed with her wrist.

She aimed herself at the third building and walked towards it.

This was it. This was her opportunity. She’s found them. Yes, yes, it was ostensibly working for Them, but she’d heard the stories, the hearsay, and had discovered the opportunity. To work from the inside, to work for change for the sake of change. In a world where conformity was everything, where planning was supreme, where surprise was discouraged, where… she thought the forbidden word: where boredom reigned, she was taking the opportunity to do what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, and with whom she wanted.

She hadn’t booked an appointment, she hadn’t called ahead. She was convinced her initiative would be rewarded by these people, by these people above all.

She registered the sign on the door of the building, and slowed her pace.

The Ministry of New IdeasPermanently Closed

For the briefest of seconds, she felt pain, deep in her stomach. How could they do this to her, how could they? The sheer, unfettered, arrogance and contempt. Why would they?

She stopped. And worked it through in her mind. And reached her conclusion.

Then she smiled, pushed open the door and passed the test.

© Lee Barnett, 2021


See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

Just dropping this in here, as I was asked by message the other day: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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