Is A Moment a piece of flash fiction? Is it a scene in a much longer story? Is it a poem trapped in a cage of prose? I’ve no idea. But sit with me a moment and I’ll tell it to you, and you can decide.
Barefoot, she stands in the snow under the neon orange light of the lamppost, fingerless gloves hanging in tatters to hands that are gnarled by years of toil. She draws on the damp toothpick roll-up ferociously, drawing the thin blue smoke into her lungs as if it can warm her from the inside out.
She can feel me watching her. Her unease has been rising steadily over the 20 minutes I’ve been tracking her, I can hear her heart speeding up, her breath catching a little, the pulse in her delicate, delicious neck throbbing a little faster from all the way across the street, 50 yards or so behind her.
[Note, Red is a twisted fairytale, but it is not intended to be read by children. May also be a little NSFW, depending on the work.]
She buttoned her dress slowly; gnarled fingers, stiff with arthritis, struggling over each wooden button. It wasn’t the dress she had been wearing when she met him – that had been lost somewhere over the decades, a casualty of either the children or grandchildren playing dress up, perhaps, or else of the moths. It was similar though, pale yellow and button down, though the body it wrapped itself around was much different.
He probably wouldn’t notice the similarity anyway, men rarely noticed things. Over their many years together, she had changed many times – her hair, her body shape, her face, even the way she walked. He had never remarked on it. Perhaps that was just his way of being sensitive. Or maybe it was denial.
I’m an accidental millionaire; I was never supposed to be rich. Council estate lad done good. I was working in a factory when my mate Tim showed me a picture of his dog after a few too many and Pupr was born.
We labour under the midday sun, stumbling over the cracks in the parched earth. There is never enough water.
They say this was an ocean once – water as far as you can see in any direction. I can’t picture it. All we have here are the bleached skeletons of long dead beasts that roamed this place long ago. And the plastic. Everywhere the plastic.
Dying hadn’t been as painful as Mary expected it to be.
The moments just before she died had hurt, hurt beyond anything she had ever experienced – more than getting Malaria. More than when she got shot even. She didn’t think anything would be more painful than getting shot. Her mother had always told her she was risking her life “running around in warzones” – how banal to have died in a head on collision with lorry just outside Hemel Hempstead.
Mary had never been one for religion – which came as something of a surprise to a lot of people she met – she decided at an early age that what happened after death didn’t matter a jot, it was what you did before death that counted, and she’d not given it much of a thought after that.
What she definitely hadn’t expected was the plain white walled waiting room she found herself in now. One moment she was blinded by lights, spinning out of control, feeling the sickening crunch as her ribs folded in on themselves, puncturing her lungs, the stench of petrol hanging in the air, the next she was stood in her best dress and cardigan, handbag hooked over her arm, in front of a desk where a bored red-haired receptionist sat, idly flicking through a magazine.
After a moment, Mary gave a small, polite cough.
The woman at the desk licked her finger and turned the page of her magazine.
“Welcome to the afterlife,” she said in a bored voice, not bothering to look up. “Please take a seat while your paperwork is processed.”
Come sit on Nanna’s knee, little one, and I’ll tell you a story about when I was young.
Back in the old days, before even my parents were born , they didn’t have palm discs. They had no access to the HiveMind at all.
I mean, they thought their technology was cutting edge, they really did, but if they wanted to find out something, or speak to someone that was further away than you are from me now, they had to use a machine. The machines started off big and clunky, and were attached to the walls of the house with wires, you couldn’t take them with you anywhere. They were useless really, you had to read information off of a screen and everything, it must have taken ages to learn things. But without them we wouldn’t have the advantages we have today. Like the candle being the forerunner to the electric light.
Now, the more a person uses something, becomes accustomed to it, the more they tend to rely on it. It was that way with the forerunner of the palm disc. The mobile, I think they called it. People got fed up I suppose, having to get to their home or place of work to be able to find out a fact, or listen to a song, or talk to someone in another part of the world. They began to create smaller and smaller devices to do the job, tiny versions of their home machines, that ran on something called battery power, although don’t ask me how that works as I’ve no idea. All I know is that to keep the devices powered, they plundered the world’s natural resources, polluted the air, poisoned the water. There were many more people back then, in cities a bit like ours, and small settlements called villages, all over the globe. They were scattered across the entire planet, grouped into tribes and communities and peoples, not united into a few cities like we are. Imagine living so divided from people. Awful.
Years I’d been building up to this. All the times I almost said something, all the times I nearly kissed her, all those times I should’ve told her I’m in love with her smile, her laugh, that her eyes are the colour of heaven. It had all built up to this mundane Monday morning. I woke up and decided yes, I was going to tell her.
It’s week 25 of Miranda Kate’s Mid Week Flash challenge, and illness, work and general life chaos has meant I haven’t been able to participate as much as I’d have liked to, but this week’s image really spoke to me. Anyone is welcome to join in, the general guidelines can be found here.
This week’s prompt:
We dreamed of going to the ocean. She had this romantic ideal of walking on a moonlit beach, hand in hand, listening to the roar of the unseen sea. Our dream sustained us through the long, hard years we couldn’t be together, when our relationship was built of dreams and texts and snatched moments. We were going to go to the ocean.
They say life’s a bitch, but she’s got nothing on the twisted sense of humour Fate has. Finally together, finally able to touch instead of talk, to kiss instead of dream. We were finally going to the ocean. Packing up the car together, all excited. She looked like a painting, the light on her face too perfect to be real. I kissed her, then turned away to load the last bag into the boot. When I turned back, she was on the floor, lifeless, hair sprawled in the mud.
Three months later, life is drained of colour. She smiles through the pain and the sickness and the exhaustion, brave little stoic smiles, drained of their warmth. Every time I walk down this disinfectant scented corridor I hear the doctor telling us “I’m very sorry, it is terminal. We can make her comfortable…” and I have to swallow my anger, my pain, my disappointment, push it all down into the pit of my stomach and try to have my smile ready for her. I can’t let her down.
Those of you who have followed me for a while know that it has long been my dream to write an episode of Doctor Who. Well in 2016, with the help of multitalented political and philosophical poet and musicianSteve McAuliffe, that dream (kind of!) became a reality when I wrote and performed in an unofficial mini-episode of Doctor Who for the Ungagged podcast. Grab yourself a cuppa and a blanket and curl up for a 12 minute adventure that should (hopefully!) leave you laughing.
“You have to understand, we didn’t want this” said Berry nervously. “Every elf in the workshop chose this job because we are passionate about bring hope, joy and laughter to people all around the world-“
“Yet here you are, threatening to strike days before Christmas” said Santa, stroking his beard. Something about the movement made Berry nervous, reminding him of a Bond villain stroking a cat. “Happy to disappoint every child in the world, and for what? To make some kind of political point?”
Berry tried to swallow his nerves. He wished more than anything that it hadn’t been him that drew the short candy cane.
“With respect sir, it isn’t about the politics. Whether we agree with the expansion or not, things just aren’t workable as they are.” He scrambled around for the words to explain, words that would make him understand. Santa rarely visited the shop floor, preferring instead to sit in the grotto with his sexy secretary Mrs Claus and some of the perkier elves, counting out cookies and mince pies and basking in the adoration of the masses. He rarely saw the worker elves sobbing with exhaustion as they tried to work out how to craft the latest piece of gadgetry.
Shit, my head is banging. I didn’t think I was that drunk last night, but it feels like someone came in the night and replaced my tongue with a sock full of sand. I can’t even remember the election result, let alone getting home and going to bed. Maybe I fell asleep before it was announced. That would be embarrassing at work thank God I’m on annual leave.
I never really should have agreed to go to the work’s election party night. I don’t know what Tim, our manager, was thinking when he organised it. He’d seen the divide in the coffee room whenever the conversation came around to the hot political topic of the day. Nick and I had almost come to blows on more than one occasion. The whole team in a confined space with alcohol and the live election results? Great idea. I tried to make an excuse about previous plans, but Tim pulled me aside when our break was over and strongly suggested I reconsider.
I keep moving against the cold, never stopping my steady, ponderous progression. My body is warm – almost too warm actually, bundled as I am in heavy furs – but winter’s chill still bites at my nose, and my feet are tingly and numb.
It is rapidly becoming dark, and the snow is glittering with the reflected colours of Christmas lights that are just starting to come on. It might cheer the soul, if you were strolling along hand in hand with your lover, or heading home to your children. To me this day is always the saddest of the season.
They start to hang the lights earlier nowadays, though they have largely forgotten the reason. Some people have them up for the entire month of December, small points of cheer and defiance against the darkness. But today is December 27th, and soon they will all be gone. All the build up, all the belief, all the energy that built to wake me is slowly ebbing away. I feel myself weakening already. It is becoming harder and harder to maintain my stride, my breath wheezing now in asthmatic gasps. Continue reading “The Greatest Gift”