OLYMPIC SUMMER • by Sarada Gray

(in the summer of 2012 the London Olympics coincided with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee)

It’s only money: that phrase had repeated a thousand times in Leuka’s head, but it didn’t help. At least it was a fine summer’s day: it was easier to face destitution when you could sit in the sun and watch the bees as they pollinated your tomatoes and beans. Easy enough then to pretend you could live on fresh air and sunshine; that God or Nature would provide; that genes were not in essence selfish. But indoors on the table — held up by the four post-free days of the Diamond Jubilee — lay that morning’s letter from the bank.

Destitution. What did those four syllables mean anyway, on a day like today, in a country like theirs? There were people sleeping under bridges — it had been on the news, along with the Olympics and the Greek debt — but it was hardly likely she and Leon would come to that. Destitution seemed far-off, a little darkness in the corner of her heart: easy to ignore, at least as long as the sun shone.

But once she’d drunk her coffee a cloud came over — a black cloud, small but intense, and looking as though it could easily cover the garden in a sheet of rain. A breeze had got up and the bees had disappeared, as if they knew something was coming. Leuka shivered: she gathered up her empty cup and the sketch pad with a pale broad bean just emerging on it and went indoors.

Indoors on the table lay the letter. Leon hadn’t come home yet; hadn’t picked it up and scanned it as she had, her eye going straight to the large black letters at the bottom, the stark black letters O/D. She took the sketch pad upstairs, but when she closed her eyes, all she could see were those black figures on the naked white page. They weren’t even real; just numbers on paper — but those tiny digits had the power to tie up their lives like Gulliver in Lilliput. It was so frustrating! Usually by painting she could work through her problems. But not today: today her art was nothing, just marks on paper.

The Greeks probably had a word for that, too.

She laid her palette-knife down and went to look out of the window. The sun was still shining on the cars that lined the road into the city; the road where only a few days before, the Queen and Prince Phillip had driven past. Jubilee, Leuka seemed to think, was a Biblical idea; a time of cancelling all debts and starting again. A custom more honoured in the breach, probably, even in those days… She looked down at what passed for their garden: the patio, the tiny strip of earth stuffed with vegetables; the still, watery ‘O’ of the pond. She’d meant to fill the pond with lilies and paint them like Monet, but she never had — and as she leaned against the window-frame the surface of the water began to shiver. It had started to rain; that little cloud had arrived and was now disgorging its load over their garden. The rain intensified and seethed, as only summer rain can, so that the tomatoes and beans were bent over in the sudden onslaught. Once more she felt a stab of resentment at the thought of that letter.

She turned back to her canvas. There might be something there worth saving… but all she could see was the tally of their debts, summed up in that square black font. She closed her eyes but it made no difference: the figures still swam.

She picked up her brush again and tried to reason with herself. They were the privileged ones; unlike those promised Jubilee-work (not even paid work!) then bussed into London and left under a bridge. Unlike those evicted from their homes so some landlord could coin a year’s rent from an Olympic fortnight.

It didn’t help. And yet something was emerging: she stood by the easel and waited. It was the bridge that came first: Westminster Bridge. At first you wouldn’t even notice the huddled mass of people underneath; they would seem composed of the darkness. Hunched, defeated, abandoned, they wait for someone to collect them, while up above, men and women in suits are lunching on a terrace. She would call it Earth Has Not Anything to Show Less Fair.

And then it was done: she stood back, the palette-knife dripping yellow and adding to the Jackson-Pollock effect of the floorboards. She was just coming out of the shower when she heard the front door: from the landing she watched him coming upstairs, the letter in his hand. His face looked like thunder, but then he caught sight of the still-wet canvas bathed in the evening sun, and his mouth opened in a silent ‘O’.

(Wordsworth’s poem ‘On Westminster Bridge’ opens with the line
‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’.)


Sarada Gray is a Londoner; she grew up under the flight-path to Heathrow Airport and in the shadow of a church spire. She now lives in the centre of England and wrestles with radio drama, short stories, flash fiction, poetry and — eventually — a novel. She has two children who are home-schooled, and until recently she taught yoga but now writes full-time.


Rate this story:
 average 4 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • This is a lovely piece of work, beautifully written.

  • This is a lovely piece of work, beautifully written.

  • Avalina Kreska

    I enjoyed this. Beautifully painted the picture for me. 5 stars.

  • Avalina Kreska

    I enjoyed this. Beautifully painted the picture for me. 5 stars.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    An exquisitely-written political editorial disguised as a Meditation on Life. “It was so frustrating!” is a phrase that seems to have wandered off from a 1920s novel. Read this a couple of times and still can’t find a reason to care about Leuka and Leon. Two stars.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    An exquisitely-written political editorial disguised as a Meditation on Life. “It was so frustrating!” is a phrase that seems to have wandered off from a 1920s novel. Read this a couple of times and still can’t find a reason to care about Leuka and Leon. Two stars.

  • Erin Ryan

    Reminds me of the story of Saint Lawrence – the Roman emperor’s representative ordered him to turn over the riches of the church, and Lawrence presented the poor and suffering, saying those were their true treasures.

  • Erin Ryan

    Reminds me of the story of Saint Lawrence – the Roman emperor’s representative ordered him to turn over the riches of the church, and Lawrence presented the poor and suffering, saying those were their true treasures.

  • Sarah Russell

    Answering poverty and desperate times with art. Isn’t that what all of us writers and artists do? It just isn’t held at arm’s length and examined often except by historians for those who become famous. It’s hardly ever examined as a short story. Well done. Though I must admit that as a Yank, it took me awhile to figure out what O.D. meant. We are truly separated by a common language sometimes. Here is just means “over dose.”

    • Edward Beach
      I read over-dose at first too. It was only the context that made me think over-draft.
  • Sarah Russell

    Answering poverty and desperate times with art. Isn’t that what all of us writers and artists do? It just isn’t held at arm’s length and examined often except by historians for those who become famous. It’s hardly ever examined as a short story. Well done. Though I must admit that as a Yank, it took me awhile to figure out what O.D. meant. We are truly separated by a common language sometimes. Here is just means “over dose.”

    • Edward Beach
      I read over-dose at first too. It was only the context that made me think over-draft.
  • Jen

    Yes, exactly! I’ve tried to people over and over that this happened in the London Olympics as well and so many people don’t believe me. This beautiful peice of writing just might help convince them!

  • Jen

    Yes, exactly! I’ve tried to people over and over that this happened in the London Olympics as well and so many people don’t believe me. This beautiful peice of writing just might help convince them!

  • Gretchen Bassier

    Really nicely done. The ending was especially well-delivered.

  • Gretchen Bassier

    Really nicely done. The ending was especially well-delivered.

  • terrytvgal

    Not my cup of tea, I guess. I have no idea what destitution has to do with anything…

    • Edward Beach
      Destitution has to do with people's fears of not being able to provide for themselves and their dependents. The structural inequality of society means destitution is a reality for many people. Whether you choose to recognize that and show some empathy is up to you. I guess you're choosing not to.
  • terrytvgal

    Not my cup of tea, I guess. I have no idea what destitution has to do with anything…

    • Edward Beach
      Destitution has to do with people's fears of not being able to provide for themselves and their dependents. The structural inequality of society means destitution is a reality for many people. Whether you choose to recognize that and show some empathy is up to you. I guess you're choosing not to.
  • Kathy

    What’s the story here? I will assume O/D means overdraft, but I really have no idea, nor what the significance of the letter from the bank might be when coupled with line, “They were the privileged ones.” (A reference to Leuka and Leon?)

    • Edward Beach
      Privileged means your not having to make a living on a garbage dump, like some children in Manila, Phillipines. It is a privilege to have the freedoms and opportunities that we in the Western world have grown to take for granted. I suppose you could argue that these are rights rather than privileges, but still, we're a lucky few not to have been born elsewhere and elsewhen.
  • Kathy

    What’s the story here? I will assume O/D means overdraft, but I really have no idea, nor what the significance of the letter from the bank might be when coupled with line, “They were the privileged ones.” (A reference to Leuka and Leon?)

    • Edward Beach
      Privileged means your not having to make a living on a garbage dump, like some children in Manila, Phillipines. It is a privilege to have the freedoms and opportunities that we in the Western world have grown to take for granted. I suppose you could argue that these are rights rather than privileges, but still, we're a lucky few not to have been born elsewhere and elsewhen.
  • joanna b.

    Quite a bit in this story touched me: the description of the garden before and after the rain, the reaction of the husband to the finished painting. Beautiful writing, beautiful concepts. The passivity of the MC bothered me in that she had no thoughts about addressing the financial problem directly. i wanted also to see her actually painting instead of laying down the palette-knife, turning back to the canvas, picking up the brush, standing by the easel and waiting. The “something was emerging” seemed like the act of an external force rather than the painter herself. Three stars for the idea, the noble attempt, the beautiful ending.

  • joanna b.

    Quite a bit in this story touched me: the description of the garden before and after the rain, the reaction of the husband to the finished painting. Beautiful writing, beautiful concepts. The passivity of the MC bothered me in that she had no thoughts about addressing the financial problem directly. i wanted also to see her actually painting instead of laying down the palette-knife, turning back to the canvas, picking up the brush, standing by the easel and waiting. The “something was emerging” seemed like the act of an external force rather than the painter herself. Three stars for the idea, the noble attempt, the beautiful ending.

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  • Edward Beach

    I liked this, 3 stars overall seems stingy so I’ve given 4. The story is relevant; destitution and poverty are themes that still effect many people – I don’t know why so many of the commentators on this site appear so devoid of empathy here. And it’s so refreshing to read a story on Every Day Fiction that doesn’t involve fairies or aliens or other childish devices. It feels like adult fiction rather than children’s story-telling.

    I think your technique could do with brushing up a bit. There was a lot of what I’d call ‘doll play’ in your narrative; “she picked up her brush”, “she drank her coffee”, she turned back to her canvas”… da-de-da. It kind of felt like watching a doll being moved around a play-house.

    Overall though, this was good, if a little blunt. The social commentary, and paraphrasing of Wordsworth’s line felt a little clunky to be honest, but hey, no fairies!

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
      I can speak only for myself, but I'd say any lack of empathy here is for Leuka, not for the Great Big Social Issues this story thought it was about. Leuka is, in that wonderful phrase much used in the subcontinent, a drawing room socialist. "I feel so awful about the suffering millions--I think I'll do a painting about them!" Perhaps this is part of a series--we've seen Leon's silent 'O' before. Makes that a set piece rather than any genuine feeling. I particularly dislike stories where nothing really happens except beautiful writing.
      • I'm sorry you felt it lacked heart - for me it was genuinely felt and I experienced a passion and anger as I was writing. I've been there myself- the bank account incident was taken from real life (and on more than one occasion) - plus I would dispute that art can be ineffectual in addressing poverty. Think of the effect that paintings and poetry have had - think of 'Guernica', for example, or Wilfrid Owen's war poems. I would hotly dispute that art is a lame response to suffering - in Left Unity (a new political party) we are using the arts as a way of directly engaging people in politics. Oh, and yes - the OD thing is another example of 'two countries divided by a common language' and here it does mean 'overdrawn' as well as 'overdose'. Still, the publisher didn't query it so I left it in
        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
          I like art and literature too. But when confronted with the powerlessness of women in a conservative and constricted society, I founded a women's center whose students achieved the means of economic power through a six months' course. Poor people need immediate help and solutions that lead to permanent change. The MC in your story indeed feels deeply--but to me, the reader, it seemed she was more piqued about her overdraft than anything else. You put words together beautifully and there's no doubt you have talent. But this didn't work for me.
  • Edward Beach

    I liked this, 3 stars overall seems stingy so I’ve given 4. The story is relevant; destitution and poverty are themes that still effect many people – I don’t know why so many of the commentators on this site appear so devoid of empathy here. And it’s so refreshing to read a story on Every Day Fiction that doesn’t involve fairies or aliens or other childish devices. It feels like adult fiction rather than children’s story-telling.

    I think your technique could do with brushing up a bit. There was a lot of what I’d call ‘doll play’ in your narrative; “she picked up her brush”, “she drank her coffee”, she turned back to her canvas”… da-de-da. It kind of felt like watching a doll being moved around a play-house.

    Overall though, this was good, if a little blunt. The social commentary, and paraphrasing of Wordsworth’s line felt a little clunky to be honest, but hey, no fairies!

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
      I can speak only for myself, but I'd say any lack of empathy here is for Leuka, not for the Great Big Social Issues this story thought it was about. Leuka is what's called a drawing room socialist. "I feel so awful about the suffering millions--I think I'll do a painting about them!" Perhaps this is part of a series--we've seen Leon's silent 'O' before. Makes that a set piece rather than any genuine feeling. Beautiful writing without real heart is an exercise, not a story.
      • I'm sorry you felt it lacked heart - for me it was genuinely felt and I experienced a passion and anger as I was writing. I've been there myself- the bank account incident was taken from real life (and on more than one occasion) - plus I would dispute that art can be ineffectual in addressing poverty. Think of the effect that paintings and poetry have had - think of 'Guernica', for example, or Wilfrid Owen's war poems. I would hotly dispute that art is a lame response to suffering - in Left Unity (a new political party) we are using the arts as a way of directly engaging people in politics. Oh, and yes - the OD thing is another example of 'two countries divided by a common language' and here it does mean 'overdrawn' as well as 'overdose'. Still, the publisher didn't query it so I left it in
        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
          I like art and literature too. But when confronted with the powerlessness of women in a conservative and constricted society, I founded a women's center whose students achieved the means of economic power through a six months' course. Poor people need immediate help and solutions that lead to permanent change. All I felt from your MC was pique about her overdraft. You put words together beautifully and there's no doubt you have talent. But this didn't work for me.
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