Fiction or nonsense? Writing task: write for an hour and see what comes out.


The Friendly Society

Ursula Heath was a collector of friends. She had 73. She knew this from writing the names neatly in pencil in the black Moleskine notepad she bought ahead of her first evening with the ‘Friendly Society.’

She was introduced to the group by Frieda Aalmers, a Dutch human rights lawyer who, two weekly classes out of three, took the mat beside her at the regular yoga class she went to near her home in Ladbroke Grove. What started as cordial “hi” quickly became a post-class coffee, then drinks at the local wine bar after the Friday 6.30pm class. Ursula liked Frieda because she listened. Her boyfriend Iain had stopped doing that some time ago.

“Why don’t you just delete her?” Ursula was taken aback when Frieda asked the question one Friday evening two months into their friendship. She had been complaining about a friend she had loaned some money and was still waiting six months later to be repaid. She complained a lot about this particular friend and quite a few others. She shared their secrets, made fun of them, admitted her crushes, cried for one who had recently died from cancer and constantly reminded Frieda what a good listener she was.

“You collect friends Ursula,” Frieda told her. “It’s time you got rid of some and made room for new.”

Frieda told her to go home, make a list of her friends and put a one word description against each. Fuelled by the two bottles of wine they had shared, she started making the list in the cab ride home. After opening another bottle, the names and descriptions followed freely and honestly: Saskia – vain; Martin – ex; Simon – alcoholic; Wendy – narcissist; Liberty - disabled, Claire - needy, Serena – abuser; James – hot. She wrote the last name at 11pm and was alarmed to count a total of 73 friends.

She didn’t see Frieda until the following Wednesday’s yoga class. She had missed a deadline on Monday and had to stay at the office to finish the piece commissioned that day by her boss and friend Hadya – ‘desperate.’

As they walked to the tube after the yoga class, Frieda invited Ursula to come to her flat for drinks that Friday evening and to bring her list of friends. Frieda was the last name on her list but she had yet to add the description. She couldn't decide which word described her best.

On Friday afternoon, she received a text from Frieda to say she couldn’t make the class and to come to her flat for 8pm.

Ursula.

“Someone recently told me that I collect friends. The fun. The adventurous. The needy. The depressed. Alcoholics. Overworked. Ambitious. The reliable. The challenging. The terminally ill. The nurturing. Like collecting coins, she said. Some are valuable. Some just kept for the ‘collection’. Some ebay-able and others I hold on to. Some people collect stamps. She pointed out that I collect friends.

I used to collect magazines. The piles rose so high they started to topple, so I arranged them in smaller piles. They looked great on the shelf. Copies of Vogue, Interview, Vanity Fair, GQ, The Face, but do they make me look superficial? Better to have more books than magazines one friend said. Then I gave them all away expect for a few nostalgia editions. Then I started to do the same with friends.