Roadrunner – a short story

They seem suspended in the air for a moment, cartoonish, like how the Road Runner would hover for a second beside a cliff before falling. A broken mosaic of paper clouds picked up by the wind and thrown in all directions.

*

‘A promotion?’ I repeat. The walls seem to shrink in the cramped office. Amanda beams, interpreting my expression as excitement. I don’t know what I had expected when she asked me to meet her after my shift, or when she gestured over her computer screen for me to sit down.

‘Yes. You’ve been with us for a while now and you’re a valuable member of our team,’ she pauses to drink from her mug and I stare at the small circle of coffee it leaves on the desk. ‘It’s time you had more responsibility – and a pay rise, of course,’ she laughs. I feel myself smile back, distracted by the chaotic beeping of tills and the distant Muzak that permeates the room. I realise I have only been in here once before, not long enough to notice the picture of her family beside the neat potted succulent; the poster with all our faces smiling amiably down at us (meet our team!), my teeth artificially white.

‘Responsibility, right…’ I trail off, unable to do much more than repeat her words. There is a loose thread on my uniform and I pull at its frayed end as she pauses for me to continue. ‘Thank you,’ I finish in a voice that doesn’t sound like my own.

She stands, manoeuvring us towards the door, always efficient. Succinct. ‘Thank you, assistant manager,’ she is pointing at my nametag, Sales Assistant, saccharine sweet, ‘you won’t need that much longer – but we can talk more about it more tomorrow.’ Then I am outside the office, plunged back into the sterile white light and linoleum of the shop floor. The shelves seem to blur into one. Aisle after aisle of colours and biscuits and flowers, and my legs are working mechanically, carrying me out the entrance and up my street as I toy with the thread as though I could unstitch myself.

The darkness outside surprises me. The store has always been to be a vacuum in time with its seemingly endless daytime under the fluorescent bulbs, like the town in Norway where the sun doesn’t set for months and people lose their minds. A whole day can pass by there without me noticing; two years…

A vacuum, timeless.

Out of time.

Continue reading “Roadrunner – a short story”

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Forgetting

I

There it is, on the porch, tucked beneath the wood storage. Rickety stool, one leg shorter than the rest, teetering on the edge. Tiptoes. Just out of reach but – there – untangled the string of the wind chime: its dull scrape of driftwood and hollow chimes: how the sea would sound if it could speak. It is too windy for them here, a crude cacophony interrupting my sleep. I will move them somewhere sheltered. Nails, I need. Some logs for the fire, too. Nights are closing in now, the chill seeping under the doors. Cold days. Colder nights. I will have to take the bus into town, the three-o clock one, yes. A busy day. Things to do.

The bus is crowded. A female driver. She waves away my pass, ‘I know who you are, Mrs Jones,’ knows my name – I’m getting old – too old. A family on the seat in front are eating sandwiches: smells of tuna and cucumber and cheese flood the space as they’re passed around. A toddler turns and looks at me, owl-eyed. We’re slowing down, the bus swaying. This is my stop. Is it? Yes: the square with the hanging baskets and the tulips, all reds and oranges, outside the supermarket. Bright lights inside, disorientating, too much choice. All in one shop. It was never like this, the greengrocer used to let you try the strawberries before you bought them. Where am I, which aisle? Nails. I need nails. And logs, hard to make out my scrawl on this paper. The signs swim above the aisles: bread, kitchen, hardware – there. Rows and rows of nails, I grab a small pack, still too many, they will go to waste. I only need a handful. A hand by my shoulder, a young man in red. Spotty face. Continue reading “Forgetting”

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Pyrenees Road Trip: A First Attempt at Travel Writing #2

Week 2

On Monday we make the trip to Figueres where the Dali museum is easily distinguishable as the bright red building adorned with stone eggs. We eat hurriedly whilst we wait for our time slot, watching the queue shuffle past the surprisingly cheap restaurant beside the entrance. The museum is packed: its maze-like corridors wall to wall with tourists snapping pictures. Still, I wouldn’t have missed the ceiling canvas painted with the different passages of Dali’s life. Escaping the crowds, we head for the road again with the aim of getting as close to Carcassonne as the day allows. We stop in a small village which, given our zig-zagging route, it takes a while to ascertain is in Spain. We stop for a refreshment and I buy a flat peach from the grocer’s shop: the freshest I have ever eaten. So far, we have been lucky with campsites, but today’s is the first to turn us away. No spaces. After some searching, though, we find a camping municipal in Durant. It is nearing evening when we finally pitch our tents. It ends up being a good night, regardless. There is a bar short walk from the campsite and we walk there, ordering beer and tapas platters to share. There is more than enough between us, but we make short work of it, hungry after a stuffy day of travelling. Subdued, we watch lizards climb up the walls and behind the shutters of the bar until the locals begin to filter out. I collapse into my tent not long later, hoping, as I try to get comfortable in the heat, that it will be cooler beyond the mountains.

Continue reading “Pyrenees Road Trip: A First Attempt at Travel Writing #2”

Pyrenees Road Trip: A First Attempt at Travel Writing #1

Week 1

The Calais crossing is infinitely quicker than the long slog down south to Folkstone that precedes it. Only half an hour of swaying through the dark tunnel and we arrive in France. It is nothing like the falling asleep and waking up to the rumble of an engine I am used to on the North Sea ferry, and the reminder to drive off the train on the right side of the road is understandable. The first campsite is just outside of Calais, our first night spent drinking cidre fermier at its bar. La Ferme Des Aulnes is the only campsite, bar one, that is booked for the next fortnight; the places we will reach over the next days uncertain. There only is one goal for the moment, and that is to reach the mountains.

Continue reading “Pyrenees Road Trip: A First Attempt at Travel Writing #1”

Extract #3

I used to feel secure with the blue pin head hovering over my town: you are here, until I realised how absolutely it eclipsed me and felt at stuck as that pin. I started to think that if my town is no more than a pinprick on a map then what must I be, and I travelled as though the threads shooting off across the map might tether me to the world, stop me floating away with this feeling. But staring at it now I know that however many pins assure me that I have been here; however tangled the tapestry of thread becomes; I will have made no lasting mark outside of the worn-out map in my room.

Extract #2

Strangely the first thing she thinks of is the art gallery in her old town. The one she went to with him, early on, all nervous smiles and nervous silences, and the exhibit they wandered through. Dodging car parts suspended on strings at eye and hand and knee level, laying bare the mechanisms of a car in mid-air. It is as though someone has walked into that memory; into her life and cut those strings. Everything crashing to the floor.

Extracts from a book I’ll never write

I look at my feet, the space between my toes and empty space and the expanse of sea before the line where it meets the sky. I remember how ancient Scandinavians believed that the Aurora Borealis was the refection of shoals of herring, of their iridescent scales projecting a light show among the stars. Today the sea and sky bleed into one another, a continuous stretch of grey reflecting grey and I think of how everything is a muted grey to me lately; every sound like the buzz of static, and I want to take that step towards the horizon.

Argus

Light.

A harsh, fluorescent bulb. Its low hum, a flicker every one, two, three, four seconds.

White walls. Sterile.

Someone is in the room.

A young man, wearing a lab coat too long at the sleeves. He is facing a dark pane of glass in the wall, gesticulating widely as he speaks. He looks nervous. The tail of his coat is lifted periodically by a breeze from the window, slightly cracked so that a slither of light paints a line across the room down to-

Hands.

A fist, two. Clenched and unclenched as the thought appears, blue light like veins passing beneath the skin. I want it closer and it raises. I want. I. My hand.

I…am. Continue reading “Argus”

Counterfactual Fiction Prompt

The nights are the worst.

Even now with the generators going in the main streets, casting harsh fluorescent light around as though this is all a film set. It feels like one sometimes, with the myriad of candles flickering in apartment windows like some gothic drama displaced in time. It’s as though the clock has been turned back on our world. Beyond the reach of the lights is a darkness so deep it seems to have seeped into the people, the ones who had to hide in the old world. We try not to walk alone now.

I wake early, just as the first slither of light appears above the cityscape and floods the store fronts with light, their broken windows casting shadows like mountains against the barren shelves. A city I grew up in but hardly recognise. One week. If the flare had happened one week later it would have been no more than an afterthought, something scientists might look at some time later and remark that we dodged a bullet. One week. A flap of a butterfly’s wings. A different world.

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