A White Afternoon

Stephens, Meic ed.

A White Afternoon, published in 1998, is a collection of thirty short stories whose vibrancy and range reflect a period in which the short story enjoyed a new vogue. Angharad Jones’ ‘Dear Mr Atlas’ is typical of some of the stories, in that a small event in a person’s life takes on a greater magnitude and significance. When Elen trips in front of a builder who has whistled at her as she walks to work, he rushes to see if she is hurt. This moment lends colour to an otherwise drab life, and causes Elen to question the way she feels about her boyfriend, Gronw. That evening she notices how Gronw, a scholar, has shadows under his eyes: ‘the kind caused by thousands and thousands of academic paragraphs’. In contrast, the builder — less remote and more virile than her partner — is not repelled by the ‘undignified’ spectre of her blood seeping from the cut on her knee through her nylon tights.

‘One Lettuce Does Not a Salad Make’ is similar to Jones’ story in that a small event, such as a man’s reaction to a salad, can be symbolic of more important issues, and reveal the fault-lines in a relationship. Bethan Evans provides a

moving and comic account of a Welsh woman’s experience of living in France, and her ill-fated reunion with her boyfriend, Wyn, when he visits from Wales. Her new-found passion for French food contrasts with his disgust towards the unfamiliar, and signifies a widening gulf between them. Wyn is not appeased when their bed collapses during the pair’s vigorous lovemaking, and he blames it on the extra weight that Bethan has gained whilst in France. The author shows how tenderness and frustration can coexist, in her description of the morning after an argument: ‘Wyn was sleeping like a baby, his arms around the pillow… but the brick wall of the previous evening lay firmly between them. When Wyn opened his eyes and smiled at her, a few bricks fell but when he let loose a deep, resounding burp in her face, they immediately cemented themselves back into place’.

Sioned Puw Rowlands’ ‘A Fantasy in Memory of the Anglesey Bone Doctors’ is a story which stands out in this collection. The title refers to a man, living in Anglesey, who arrived from abroad as a child, and was reputed to be able to set people’s bones. The author has taken this historical idea, breaking it into pieces and resetting it into her own fantasy, in much the same way as the bonesetter goes to work on his client’s beleaguered body. After her treatment, the protagonist seems like a distorted woman in a Picasso painting: ‘In a tock of a tick, Sigrid will be on her way home, her movements a quarter of a way to being inside out. Her bones will be sore, but will be stout enough in their new harmony of fresh angles, leading her to stare at other things, driving her head to poke its tongue into new corners’.

‘Tea with the Queen’ is another of the collection’s more challenging and interesting stories, where Mihangel Morgan characteristically confounds the reader’s expectation with surprising twists and turns. In this, the most self-referential of all the stories, the author draws constant attention to the artifice of creative writing. In a passage relevant to the whole collection, the ‘queen’ of the story explains why she mixes her formal and informal means of address, saying that she enjoys ‘screwing’ language:


‘- Because language is an old bitch, an old harridan who likes to be used. She’s a witch, and an angel. She’s music and din… (she was starting to go into hwyl now)… language is a deceitful old devil. Language is a benecent spirit. When I woke up this morning I realised that language was in the room with me before I’d even opened my eyes. Language was on my bed, she was in bed with me, she was everywhere… I get the feeling that everything that exists is made of language. I get the feeling sometimes, believe it or not, I get the feeling that I myself am nothing but language — nothing but words and sentences. I shouldn’t exist if it were not for language’.

She raised her empty cup to her lips and took a draught of her imaginary tea. 180  SPJ