Open 2020, Short Stories - Arnab Kar


Pulp Fiction

By Arnab Kar 


In the early hours of the morning, following a sleepless night, he sat up and started his laptop. The editor with whom he had spoken only a few days ago about his first-ever work of short fiction, had specified that the magazine could only allot him a week’s time to come up with a story of no more than 3000 words. After two days of inactivity and no clue where to start or what to write, he was finally ready. He could do it, he knew.


After all, it had been seven years since he started out as a content writer, first in a freelance role, then graduating to a part-time job, and now he worked as a full-time content specialist for a well-known firm. Not great pay, but he managed alright. And years of churning out rule-based, deadline-oriented content made him more than eager to try this more respectable line of writing. The editor had hinted that pay would be lean at the beginning. For this first assignment, it would be negotiated only if his piece got selected. It might even get published in the magazine's October issue. He could do it, he knew.


He had never fancied himself as an artist, although he couldn't deny nursing the vanity that he was a very capable writer. Especially if it was taken into consideration that he must have written more words than even his best friend who aimed to be a real writer; his best friend who in the meantime was slaving away at a mundane highly-paying job. She was the real artist, not him.


The few short stories and poems and her magnum opus of an ever-unfinished novel (she never went beyond the first chapter which she had already rewritten half a dozen times) that he had read, bore ample evidence of her talent. He was just a hack, a mercenary in comparison, but he had his own share of decent talent. He could do this, he knew. After all, he was a voracious reader (so what if most of what he read were bestsellers and little of any ‘substance’), and everyone always says that inside every reader sleeps the seed of a writer. He believed it too.


Suddenly an idea started to develop in his mind. He toyed with it for a moment. “She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window.” How was that for an opening line? Not bad, he thought as he opened a blank word document on his screen and started typing.


She loved going to coffee shops. She had always loved going to coffee shops. As far back as she could remember, a large part of her memory was associated with coffee shops. Good memories. Bad memories. Ugly memories. Waking memories. Unconscious memories. All memories took her to the coffee shops. She couldn’t remember them all and the few that she did, were very sketchy in her mind. But she knows that this was a true emotion.


Her and the coffee shops. How did she know? Not sure, not right now anyway. And to think of it, she had no favourites. Any coffee shop would do. Any city she visited, her first exploration of the new place always found her ending up in a coffee shop. And when she left the city, the coffee shop at the airport was always her last stop before boarding the plane. She couldn’t remember anymore why this was so. Maybe it had something to do with someone important or maybe it was a whim. She didn’t remember.

It was now a few days since she had come to this city. What is its name? When did she come here? Why? She doesn’t remember right now. Her headaches in a funny kind of way when she tries to concentrate on the details. She will try again in some time when it wouldn’t hurt so much. It is good to have answers. And she would like to have some answers.


Yes, she must have some answers.


There is a very pressing reason why a part of her mind insists on knowing. It is not because she is in a city that she is certain is not her hometown. How does she know that? It is a hunch. No matter, but no, that is not why she wants to get some answers. There is a more pressing reason than her geographical location that prompts her to puzzle her pretty head. And if a location is so important, then she knows exactly where she is anyway. She is seated at one of the single tables adjacent to the counter of a Starbucks cafe. Why is she here? And how did she get here? Well, these are the questions that she wants to find answers to. Because for the first time in her life that she can remember even through her intermittent headaches (did she have a migraine condition? Is it chronic or a one-off thing? No, these thoughts can be put away for later), a coffee shop seems less like a haven and more like a puzzle.


How was this going? He read what he had written so far. Sensational start, even if he himself said so. The editor would be hooked, and so would the thousands of his future readers and potential fans. Anyway, he needed to carry on.



She doesn’t like coffee much. She never did. Ever since she had tried a cup of black coffee without sugar on a whim during one of her earliest forays to a coffee shop, the charm of coffee has been lost to her. And over the years nothing has happened to make her change her mind. Even after hundreds of coffee shops and thousands of coffees. Of course like any modern woman, educated, urban, and chic, she prefers coffee to tea and smokes the occasional cigarette, even drinks socially when custom dictates. Her visit to the coffee shops must not be inferred as a weakness towards the beverage, hot or cold, milk or no milk, sugar or no sugar, cream or no cream. Simply put, a coffee shop was the place where she felt most at home. She couldn’t be certain anymore, after her present predicament, but she feels pretty sure that’s how it used to be.


All this fleetingly passed through her mind as she sat, a little blankly, at her single table of the cafe. She tried to gather her thoughts with an effort. Too much straying. She needed to steady her thoughts, ignore the headaches and focus on remembering how and why she was where she was. And what was the meaning of her present predicament, or whatever it was, and the how’s and why’s of it? Even her primal instincts prodded her with no clue to help reconstruct what had happened, why she couldn’t remember things up to the last few days, and why what little she remembered was so sketchy in her mind that she had now to rely on her hunches and clues and signs to figure out everything.


Time passed on as she sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window without actually registering anything and trying to remember things more clearly. She was in a bad soup alright, what with a knife lying beside her, spattered with someone’s blood (it’s definitely not red paint or ketchup, she had tried to smell it and then scrape at it with her long fingernails, finally licking it a little, and come to the unavoidable conclusion that it was blood). The blood-stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf.


He stopped typing just once more to read through what he had written. He was progressing very well, he thought. The grammar and sentence construction was a little off. He might need to do some light proofing later. He might even ask his best friend to do it. After all, if a hack like him could write as well as this, she could take some lessons from him if she everwanted to be a serious writer. Anyway, now that he had established a good flow, he needed to carry on without further interruption.




She remembered the scarf though. It belonged to a different kind of memory, not like this reality of a nightmare she was with a bloody knife and crumpled bill for coffee lying beside her handbag. The handbag was definitely hers, she had concluded, as she was at a single table and no one had claimed the bag in the last one hour that she had been waiting for someone to come up and claim. No, the bag, the bill and the knife in blood all belonged to her. The strongest probability pointed towards that conclusion and that conclusion only. Oh, how her head had started to hurt again! How will she figure things out of this complicated mess if it ached so badly?


Anyway, the scarf was hers for she recognised it as one of her favourites. It was the first gift from (she couldn't exactly remember but it was definitely, definitely someone important and close to her, someone who knew her intimately, at least her taste in the texture and colour of scarves). Wait! She has made a crucial breakthrough (maybe deeply embedded memories didn’t count much, but at this point of time, she would welcome any fact about herself remembered as a significant step forward).

So, she loved scarves and had quite an assorted collection of them at her home wherever it may be. Wait! She remembered her scarf collection now and the dozens of scarves she owns. Well, the spark of inspiration was gone as suddenly as it had come. The unlocked piece of information might not be that useful in her present quest for remembering things, but who knows this may come handy later on.


But who had bought this scarf, this blue silk one that she had now? Was it a gift? She couldn’t remember, though she remembers the green silk scarf she also had, that she had bought for herself. Not this one. Who then? Nope, no luck remembering. She would get back to it later. What she needed right now to do was start remembering the essential pieces of information. She was sure that if she could do this, she might be able to reconstruct the sequence of events ending up with her in the cafe. And this mental exercise was already beginning to hurt her head in that funny way again.




Oh, there she went again, her thoughts straying! She had to start learning how to compartmentalise and prioritise her thoughts and memories since she remembered so little and the very act of thinking intently hurt her head so badly. It seems a good plan, good and sensible. OK, so she will now get down to the bare and cold facts staring at her face.

She had a blood-spattered knife covered up by her own scarf (details like the ownership of things must wait their turn like so many other things she also needed to remember, coherently). She was pretty sure though that the knife didn't belong to her although she was not as positive of this as the fact that she remembered the scarf as her own or that she loved going to coffee shops. Why, she had got this blue silk one just a week before coming here!


Oh yes, yes, yes, yes! Another breakthrough and this time it was an important one. She recognises the strange city, she remembers its name. But why was she here? Oh go away, she didn't remember so many details right now, maybe later. Wait, did she remember from where she had come here? Because that clue would most probably tell her where she lived. Nope, no luck.


So what else could she add to her pile of slowly growing collection of facts about herself to serve as a clue that explained her presence in the cafe, alone (she had a niggling suspicion for some time now that she had come to the city to visit someone important, she couldn’t prove it, but it was one of her umpteen hunches)?




Outside it had started raining heavily. A couple entered and seated themselves just in front of her. They spoke in a language she was not familiar with, maybe the local tongue. They seemed to be very much in love, the way their heads tilted towards one another, the way the lilting notes of laughter rose so high so suddenly, the way they seem absorbed in one another and shut out the rest of the world.


And in a flash, she remembered all!




Her head feels alright now. Lighter. Clearer. No more hurting. She remembers now. Everything. She remembers mundane things like her name or her mobile number or her apartment number or where she lives, easily. She remembers how and why she fell in love with coffee shops. What had begun as a normal visit to just any coffee shop had changed her whole life and course of her destiny. It was a wintry day that day, not rainy like this. It was a Starbucks cafe too. And she had met seven years ago, almost to a day, to her best friend, her soul mate, her lover, her whole life.


Over the years after incredible highs and abysmal lows in their off and on a long-distance relationship, she had come to this city, travelling thousands of miles, for one last reconciliation. It was going to be a make or break kind of meeting. She had known that even before her plane touched down at the airport here.


After checking in at a hotel she had waited for that momentous date which marked their seventh anniversary. She remembers all so clearly now. And the headache has also vanished like it never was. She remembers the knife too and the blood on it, the how and the why if it. She remembers all the details. Like a seamless piece of memory. She and her partner at their romantic private dinner in her room marking the commencement of a promising weekend together, the precipitous quarrel all of a sudden over some trivial matter that ruined everything as it had lately been happening – big fights over little matters that never mended in time. She can remember those eyes looking at her in their last moment in surprise. That is what had frightened her the most, no pain or anger or hatred, just surprise and maybe a hint of reproach.



Suddenly her mobile started ringing stinging her ears with the ringtone she had set in the remembrance of their love.
I wanna grow old with you
I wanna die lying in your arms
I wanna grow old with you
I wanna be looking in your eyes
I wanna be there for you

She gets up from the table leaving the blood-stained knife under her blue silk scarf beside the bill and the coffee mug which was still half full of black coffee, without sugar. It used to be her special one’s favourite drink, and she would always order the same even though she abhorred the taste. No more. She is free now.


Outside the coffee shop a commotion was heard as a group of policemen and women tried to enter the cafe hurriedly and bumped against the couple she was observing some time ago. They were leaving.


It’s time for her too to go away now.


The End


OK, done. And within word limit too! He would have to ask the editor to think of inserting some picture to go with this suspense thriller. He would be blown away, he was sure. This was as perfect as could be. He was particularly proud of how he had finished it. No less than a masterpiece, even if he himself said so. A beginning of a famous association between him and the magazine, he could foresee. Maybe he could even start asking his own price. But everything later though. He had already been writing for almost four hours without a break. The passages he had marked for deletion and underlined for rewriting would have to wait. He would have to run it once through Grammarly, and feeling very contented and generous, decided to throw in a check with that hemingway toolas well. Not that he needed it, but he didn’t grudge the world trying to measure his quality against apps and tools. But all of that would have to wait for the time being.
He saved the file simply as "Story" for now and closed the document and shut down the laptop. The itch in his throat couldn't be ignored any longer. He stood up with the cigarette packet and lighter in his hand.



Arnab Kar from India is a story teller at heart and an addict reader at soul, scribbling down the ideas nibbling away at an over imaginative mind.


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