The soft haze of mystery

The summer Jake turned fourteen, he caught a sudden glimpse of his aunt undressing – a roundness of flesh in between her body and arm as she removed her bra. His head fogged up, but through his blood came a crisp pulse. He backed out of the room, unable to look away, until she turned at the sound of him; Jake turned too, hurrying back down the hall. He had no words to explain why this was wrong in his mind, just the feeling in his body, which he baulked at because of its mystery.


That same summer he had to water the garden of a friend of his mother’s. He could feel the tide in him; a hidden, silent moon pulling. He used to set out on his bike to the Henderson’s flat near the common. It was hot enough that everyone was showing something. Skinheads with their shirts off, tattoos green against reddened skin. Girls in shorts, legs bare, tiny feet tucked into plimsolls. The scent, leaking through Jake’s skin, filled his nostrils so that breathing became much more than taking in air – there was feeling and taste there too; warmth.

The Henderson’s building was in a gated complex. Their flat was on the third floor, the block nearest the pool where there was also a pavilion for courses and events. Jake’s mum and Mrs Henderson used to do yoga there. He’d had to go to the class once because he’d finished school earlier that day. It was simpler to find his mum there, rather than sitting outside the house – besides, he was thinking: I’ll just sneak in and get the key out of her bag.

The yoga teacher was in a shiny, fuchsia leotard. She had electric turquoise leggings, put on first so that the fuchsia of the leotard came up tight between her legs. When Jake came into the pavilion, she was bent over. The top half of her body was parallel to the floor, both arms ahead of her, flying. One leg held her up like a flamingo – the other was reaching behind. He could see the pink ball of her foot. Her arse was filled with muscle: a firm, steep semi-circle.

This was another of those moments – that cloudy, luxurious mystery. But with all these other women in the room – fat women, old women, and his mum – it felt horrifying. And then Mrs Henderson called his name so that everyone looked. The teacher stopped and came over so that Jake saw her even closer up, the stretch of the edge of the fuchsia leotard running across the top of her breasts – a hot shadow of cleavage.


Mrs Henderson’s garden consisted of a balcony filled with flowers and grasses in steel tubs. It was nothing like the sentimental pots with red and white fluffy petals that Jake’s mum had. Here was a meadow garden, but up high. There were towering, steel cylinders with tall grasses that lazed from side to side in the wind. Bushes of lavender hummed with bees. Some kind of climber had made its home around the French windows, and attached to the rails were boxes and boxes of poppies – bright and yet translucent in the sun.

Jake would go up the three flights of stairs – there wasn’t a lift – and let himself into the apartment: second on the right, at the end of the corridor. He’d heard about the neighbours – the Lehmans – but only to know they were an older couple with a niece who was staying with them while her mother was in the hospital. He knew it wasn’t the regular kind of hospital because of the way his mum talked about it.

Too scary. It could happen to anyone.


Jake came for a few days, filling up the watering can at the sink and then taking it out onto the balcony.

Mrs Henderson had specifically had him round before she went on her trip to ‘show’ him how to water her garden.

Now, I know you’ll be thinking this is dumb, she said. But you’d be surprised at how people don’t know how to water plants, unless they’ve had them. Mark’s hopeless with them, just a quick flick like this – and she demonstrated, walking with the water running out.

Jake wondered what was wrong with that: she seemed to be watering her plants.

Mrs Henderson laughed – look at you, you’ve no idea what I’m talking about! she said.

He shook his head.

Come here, she said, pulling him over.

You stand, she told him. You stand like this, over one tub, and you pour the whole damn lot. Then you go into the kitchen, fill it up and then – she took a small step to the left – you stand, again.

Jake nodded and she put her hand on his shoulder, leaning in a little closer.

Now, you might start to think, ‘this is dumb’, after going back and forth a couple of times. You might think, ‘hell, I’m going to do two tubs per can-load of water’. But then that wouldn’t be watering my garden properly, would it?

He smiled and she tugged his ear.

So, Jake, do you think you can do it?

Sure, he said.

Plus, look out for next door, Mrs Henderson told him, winking.


Look out for next door.

What Jake thought she meant was, like: see if there are any problems. Or, maybe they were going away too, and had asked if she knew someone who could keep an eye on the place.

But why the wink?

Basically, he didn’t know what she meant. But then, when he was on his fifth load of the watering can, he found out. The French windows next door opened, and a girl’s leg stepped out. The movement was nimble and brought a neat body in a pair of shorts through after – tan-coloured hair that blew black at just the moment she went from inside to out.

Oh, the girl said, glancing at Jake. He caught that she was holding a glass, something cold as there were drips coming down on the outside.

She turned and went back inside.

So, that was the niece, with the crazy mum.

He stood there a long time, running those seconds over in his head. He thought about it as he went each time to the kitchen, filling up the can. Every time Jake came back out, he imagined her coming out too, or wondered if she’d be there on the balcony already.

Three days passed and he didn’t see her, but each tub got two full watering cans and the leaves began to turn yellow so he thought he better ease off. Then the weekend came and he wondered what she was doing.

On Monday, Jake saw her again.

She came out in much the same way – same shorts, same clean, light hair.

She looked over, and then waved what was in her hand at him – a book. Then she sat down on one of the chairs the Lehmans had out there and began turning the pages.

Jake watered the plants and watched her read. Sometimes, he imagined it was all a show, put on for him: she wasn’t really reading. But then, if it was put on for him, wouldn’t she have to look up at least once to see the effect it was having?


When Jake was in his twenties, and his first proper girlfriend broke up with him – she was moving out of the flat they’d been renting together – she told Jake he lived in a dream world.

That ole chestnut, he said.

She growled. Her name was Nina.

The thing is, Jake told her. You’re moving out – why do you still have to say that to me? Do you think I haven’t heard – all these years? Or, are you thinking: just one last time, I’ll tell him to grow up and maybe he will.

You idiot, Nina said.

If that’s what you think, he told her, shrugging.

Do you know what your problem is, Jake?

What? Tell me, what?

You’re still fixated on that girl – that niece – like I said, can’t live in the real world.
They’d fought so much, but it was always the same fight – it wasn’t going to get solved.

The weird thing was, after Nina went, there was all this space: it was just him, nobody else to blame. Jake began to think about whether he lived in the world or not. He wondered where he did live. Was it make-believe, the dream of ‘what if’ – what if he had spoken to the niece?


He’d seen her in the pool one afternoon, floating on her back, this little white bikini. Jake imagined her watching him watching her. But he never did anything.

If that’s what he thought she was doing, why didn’t he go down there and say – how about it?

How about what?

That was the problem – having no idea what came next after the tide in your body rose up. He felt what he wanted to do, but there were no words.

The final time Jake saw her, she was out on the balcony as he approached the building. His heart went mad. She was in her bikini. Something had to happen. But when he went out there with the watering can, she didn’t look around. Through the emerald veil of Mrs Henderson’s grasses, he could see her legs stretched out on the sun lounger.

Why did she have her back to him?

He watered the garden – maybe even a few extra cans, risking the yellow leaves – until he thought: this is dumb. It was all beginning to hurt. He came indoors and paced around. He felt like an idiot. He wanted to scream, weep. Finally, Jake went right up to the French windows and stood with the grass between them, just watching.

I know you’re there, she said.


Jake’s ex-girlfriend was wrong – he wasn’t living in a fantasy world. He was fully aware he’d ducked back inside the Henderson’s flat that day, feeling too much of a fool for running away so that he couldn’t go out there again. All he could do was leave: sulking down three flights of stairs. Only then did he have the guts to turn around – it was the final realisation of what he was walking away from – but when Jake looked up at the balcony, the niece was gone.

Jake wanted to call his ex-girlfriend up and tell her that he wasn’t fantasising about spending the rest of his life with the niece. You don’t get together with your wife at fourteen!

She wasn’t some symbol of the perfect woman either – because he did used to worry about her loony mum, thinking maybe the niece had something in her genes. If Nina thought Jake couldn’t really love her because he was in love with the niece, she was wrong.


I know you’re there.

What did Nina ever say to Jake that would ever touch him as much as those words?

The niece had seen him out of the back of her head, with all that grass in the way. You couldn’t love a woman until they were able to see you like that. How could he have cared about Nina when she never noticed his presence in that subtle way, and in that subtlety feel him, the real Jake – a boy desperate to love, but afraid?


This is a new short story. I am going to be posting pieces of fiction here each month, and would love your feedback!

About gabrielablandy

Some history, a bit of fiction, with me in there somewhere.
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46 Responses to The soft haze of mystery

  1. Wayne says:

    Hi Gabriela – really enjoyed this. Had me hooked from the beginning and held me to the end. I love the way you have described something that is almost indescribable – The Soft Haze of Mystery, as you call it.

    As a fella, I can definitely relate to the young Jake’s changing emotions – and the scene where he runs, frustrated back in to the house has a real ring of truth to it. Good stuff. Look forward to reading more.

    Kelly’s Eye – Writing, Music, Life

    • That’s great to know that I’ve managed to get some authenticity in Jake’s experience. And I’m glad you got hooked from the start. I was doubtful about the piece until I cut the first paragraph – so look like that was a good idea 😉

      • cjpikebooks says:

        I definitely agree with Wayne, you did a perfect job with Jake and his early teen awkwardness. I, like Wayne and Jake, was a young boy once and was always at a loss for words and would hide or run. I really like this one, looking forward to more.

  2. Carrie says:

    I love how you developed your character of Jake in this, I felt as if I could reach out and touch him, that he was real. Beautiful stuff 🙂

    • Thanks, Carrie that means a lot. As you said the other day – putting your own writing, rather than just a blog post feels so much more raw. I could really sense how I was going to need validation on this, whereas with an essay post I’m not so bothered. I appreciate you reading 😉

  3. Liana says:

    love that the niece had a book–not just a body–that makes it work for me…keep writing!

  4. I admire you for putting your writing out there, I don’t think I’m that brave…at least, not yet. 🙂 This is a beautifully written story. I’ll certainly look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Jill, thank you very much. I’m glad to see that little addition of ‘not yet’ after your confession about not being brave. We all know when the time is right, and it’s always good to be patient and not expose ourselves before we are ready. It also sounds like even though you are keeping your work close, you are also thinking about the day when you might take a step forward.

  5. Lovely, as always. Love the Yoga outfit. : )

  6. Perfectly named ! Beautiful story. Subtle and soft..

  7. I smiled the whole way through.

  8. Yes authentic – poor Jake I want to just give him a hug…then again most boys live in a dream world for a while. *Nods* to the short stories 🙂 x

  9. Jake, Jake, Jake… Phillip, Phillip, Phillip.

    Touching story, Gabs. And so very on point. I know there are parts of me completely ruined by some girl (or woman) who captured my attention at that crazy age. Remembering glimpses of flesh and ‘killing plants’ in the hopes of something happening… what that would be, I didn’t know and didn’t care. And if that something had happened, I would have run away so fast, looking and feeling a fool.

    What a great story. Thanks for squeezing out some old feelings.

  10. Phillip – it’s so great having all my men followers give the nod on this one! Usually my post are about me and all my awkward situations, so glad to have got it from a man’s POV. Thanks for stopping by. I know how busy you are with work at the moment.

  11. I’ve lost count, but think this is the fourth or fifth time I’ve read this. I guess I just like listening to your voice.

  12. You have a knack for tempting first lines! And then the reward of a languorous, sensual story – the title is very appropriate, because the whole story has a hazy, dreamy feeling that really captures the mystery of Jake’s feelings.

    • The first line is so important – this is something I tell my students again and again. it’s not a way for the writer to warm up, it’s how a reader enters the story. But, whatever you start must be continued, so I am glad you felt the reward as the piece went on. Thanks, Andrea!

  13. I really liked this. It reminded me of all my years of being a scared little shit. You’ve captured the nervous male very well 🙂

  14. You’ve really captured those awkward early awakening feelings that I think both sexes can relate to! We get a real good sense of Jake’s character from this. Also, I really like how you don’t use speech marks and yet there is no ambiguity about whether it is speech or not – Is that a more modern way of doing things, or is it a Gabriela way? Whichever it is, I like it!

    • Thanks, Vanessa! In terms of the speech marks, it’s certainly not just a Gabriela way. I don’t think I’ve come across it in any books that I have read published any earlier than say the 1950s. I would say that each writer who chooses not to use speech marks has their reason. For me, it seems to fit with how I like to move through a story.

  15. A lovely story, Gabriela. And it’s always fun to write from a male viewpoint – to imagine what is going on inside that very different body. I’m curious about your posting them here – does that mean you’re not planning to have them published elsewhere – my experience with journals, etc. is that they want first publication rights.

    • Thanks, Sheila – I’m glad you like this. As for my posting the story here I tend to save my longer pieces for publication. These shorter stories are much rougher and less edited and are really my chance to see what people think.

  16. mcwatty9 says:

    In love with your entire second paragraph.

  17. Chris Edgar says:

    Really enjoyable stuff — I particularly found the trouble he has translating his sensations into words moving and relatable. Hell, I’m twenty years older than Jake and I’m not sure that my ability to verbalize my felt sense has improved. But now at least I have developed the ability to speak up when I’m feeling something I can’t necessarily translate. Er, sometimes.

  18. Loved it. I remember all those adolescent yearnings and cringing embarrassments. Oh what lovely times, I think not, but beautifully bought to life

  19. What a fantastic story. It was awful being that age and this summed it up perfectly.

  20. Mayumi-H says:

    There’s something both charming and distinctly creepy about Jake. I like this story, though, touching as it does on so many issues, conflicts, and fears of adolescence and adulthood, and when the two collide as it can do in many relationships. The description is lovely throughout, especially the details about watering the plants. For some reason, I fixed on those, but I really liked the way they became a distracted calling point.

    Delightful, Gabriela! I’m so glad you posted this!

  21. Kim says:

    You have mastered the art of creating awkward youth. Truly compelling, Gabriela!

  22. @hell4heather says:

    A great read and a wonderful lesson in short story writing for me. This is something I need to begin to think about tackling and have always struggled with. I’ll be back for more, keep them coming!

  23. Damyanti says:

    I know you’re there. Love the way you begin and end it. Poignant.

  24. Hi Gabriela, I’ve been missing you and decided to make a visit here. This short story speaks so accurately of my constant dilemma. Hope you will be sharing some more of your writing.

  25. gotasté says:

    Gabriela, I am not seeing your post notifications for a while. Hope all is well…warmest, danny – now writing from hong kong.

  26. Hi Gabriela, you haven’t posted in awhile now. Hope everything is alright, we are missing you!

  27. Eric says:

    Yep, dear.

    You have caught male puberty
    in all of its height
    and heat of insanity,
    which will chase a man
    till he breathes his

    😉 E

  28. Pingback: Congratulations! | Eric M. Vogt: North Country Calls

  29. Eric says:

    Congratulations, Gabriela, on being the latest recipient of The First Cup Award…

  30. Pingback: That tightrope moment in writing when stories either plummet or remain | Gabriela Blandy – The sense of a journey

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