Endurance

She unlocks the car with a beep. The little boys tug at the door handles.

‘Max, stop shoving me!’

‘I’m not shoving you! It’s Nico!’

‘Mum! Jos hit me!’

‘If you’re going to fight,’ she says, clicking the key into the ignition, ‘you can walk to Aunt Livy’s.’

The fidgeting stops. The boys attach their seatbelts.

‘Are we going to Aunt Livy’s?’

‘Yes.’ She says, smiling at them through the rear view mirror.

Nico and Max cheer. Jos folds his arms.

‘I don’t want to go to Aunt Livy’s.’ He mumbles, ‘She doesn’t let me read by myself.’

‘But she makes the best ice cream sundaes!’ Max beams. He leans forward in his seat.

‘Mummy, have you had a ice cream sundae at Aunt Livy’s?’

‘I don’t want to go to Aunt Livy’s.’ Jos says, louder. He looks at his mum in the reflection of the mirror.

‘So I’ve heard.’She says, staring back at him. ‘What do you want me to do about it?’

Jos does not expect the cross examination and stumbles.

‘I don’t know.’ He shrugs. ‘Can’t we stay with you?’

She doesn’t even break a sweat.

‘Joseph, what day is it today?’

‘Thursday.’ He replies reluctantly.

‘Thursday. A week day. And what happens on a weekday?’

‘You have to go to work!’ Max pipes up.

‘I have to go to work. I don’t want to go to work on lovely summer days like this, but I have to, because I need to make money to support you. I’d rather be at the beach with all of you and Daddy, but beaches cost money. Boys cost money. Even Dads cost money sometimes. So I have to go to work. Daddy has to go to work. And you have to go to Aunt Livy’s.’

She turns around.

‘Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to. That is how life is balanced. On the one hand-‘

She raises her right hand.

‘Fun things. And on the other-‘

She raises her right.

‘Not so fun things. But that’s good. I know it’s hard to understand now, but it teaches you things. Endurance, how to enjoy the good things when you get them.’

She continues, her thoughts far away.

‘If you just do the things that you like all the time, the minute something you care about gets too difficult, like reading a new book, or drawing a picture, you’ll walk away instead of working through it. I want you to be brave and strong when you grow up. Not quitters. Not spineless, or weak willed like the men on my side of the family.’

She turns back and starts the car.

‘Things will be different with you. I’m not going to give you the chance to fail. So you can complain all you want, Joseph Finebeck, but you’re going to Aunt Livy’s and you’re going to learn something from it.

She backs out of the drive.

The Love Your Given

‘Right. I’m leaving. For real this time.’

He walks to the door and opens it. The night is quiet, and the moon is the only thing in the sky. He turns back, one foot in the flat, one foot on the landing, as the breeze gently ruffles his hair.

‘Well?’ He demands.

‘Well what?’ She asks, feigning confusion. She pulls her kimono tight around her, and shifts her weight from one foot to the other.

‘Gis a kiss, then.’

He smiles, waits patiently. She goes to him williningly, kisses him sweetly on the mouth. When they part, she looks up at him with a smile. But she looks for longer than she should, or more deeply than she usually would, because he notices.

‘Why do you always do that?’

His tone is not accusing, more inquisitive. Sad.

‘Do what?’

She does not meet his gaze.

‘Look away just when you’re starting to fall for me.’

She is taken aback by his directness, tries to laugh it off.

‘As if.’ She mumbles, playfully nudging him. But she cannot commit. Her arm is limp. When she reaches, he easily catches her hand, holds it.

‘You know I’m right.’ He says quietly, ‘Don’t you?’

She slowly pulls her hand away.

‘Training.’

‘What?’

‘Training.’ She repeats, braver.

‘For the day I look up at you and your eyes don’t love me back.’

Rosewood

Rosewood had asked him to meet her in a motel.

She didn’t give him the chance to inquire as to why, or when. She just gave him a name, not her own, and told him to ask for it at the front desk.

Fourthstone knew what he should have done. He should have told someone where he was going. Traced the number, passed it on to the others waiting back home. He should have turned on the TV and ordered a pizza. Opened a beer, maybe. Tided up. But instead, he stood on the balcony of his apartment and smoked three cigarettes to steady his nerves before climbing into the rental car and heading to The Mirage Inn.

It was mid afternoon when he left. During the three hour drive from Sacramento, he smoked the rest of his cigarettes, took a couple of wrong turns and then stopped at a gas station to buy coffee, more cigarettes and a pocket knife. He arrived in Silver Springs as the sun was beginning to set, and fear was beginning to creep over him again.

He pulled into the car park and sat staring at the vacancy sign for some time. Whatever had possessed him to get in the car had now lost its grip. Other than a familiar voice and a direct order, Fourthstone could not conjure up a reason to enter this place. A dangerous sense of pride, maybe. A weak pang of loyalty. A misplaced trust. Rosewood had been his once. Or more, he had been hers. And no matter how much he tried she would always be his problem. He had brought her into the new world, and he had almost taken her out. Whatever virtue had existed in their relationship had been blown to pieces when he shot her. There was a chance, a strong chance that this could be the day that she paid him back for that kindness or the day that he finished the job. Either way, it was not going to be margaritas and stolen glances.

He checked his reflection in the driver side window. His black eye had almost healed. He put his sunglasses on and rolled up his sleeves. There were still blood stains on the cuffs. Then he slipped the pocket knife into his sock and entered the motel.

The foyer was all carpet and jacquard wallpaper. Fourthstone stared at the flowers infinitely entwining as he waited for the receptionist to end her phone call.

‘I’m sorry about that.’ She smiled broadly, lowering the handset. ‘Nothing ever happens here and then it all happens at once!’

‘Life has a habit of doing that, doesn’t it?’ He replied with a weak smile. The receptionist leaned in at the sound of his voice.

‘Well, you’re certainly not from around here.’ Her eyelashes fluttered, it seemed to him, in slow motion.

‘Wouldn’t be much of trip if I was.’ He said, distracted. The receptionist chuckled, but to Fourthstone, the sound was far away…

Something about the wallpaper. The thorns. William Morris. The Good Doctor had William Morris prints in his office. Fourthstone would look at them between sessions, try to focus his eyes again. Later, he’d take one down and beat the Good Doctor with it. Over and over and over, until blood ran down his hands and his adopted mother’s screams drowned out the sound of the thrashing-

Fourthstone reached behind his head and pulled the hairs as hard as he could, just as Rosewood had taught him. His attention slipped back to the present.

‘I’m supposed to be meeting someone.’ He mumbled, ‘She told me to ask for her here. The name- Her name is Patience Oakley.’

The receptionist did not seem surprised.

‘You Brits stick together, huh?’ She said, turning to her computer. ‘Her room’s left on from the terrace.’

She smiled a short, curt smile to dismiss him.

Fourthstone passed through a curtained archway into a large dining room. There, older couples laboured away at their heaped plates. The people behind the food counters stared into the distance, almost as absent as Fourthstone. The entire room had an atmosphere of stifling nostalgia. This was exactly the kind of place where Rosewood would kill him. Torture him with his memories first and then put him out of his misery

At the end of the dining room was a wall of french windows that opened onto a swimming pool and a terrace. Fourthstone walked out onto the tiled floor and stood in the fading Nevada sun, listening to the kind of floundering splashes that reminded him of the summers he spent floating out to sea. How much he wanted the water to take him.

He took his sunglasses off and rubbed his eyes.

‘Hey! Hey!’

When he turned around, he came face to face with his older brother.

‘Guy?’

‘Grayson, everyone’s looking for you. Where have you been?’

When Fourthstone looked down he was waist deep in the North Sea.

‘Guy, I- I don’t want to go back there.’

His brother waded towards him, wearing a red armband. The crest of the Good Doctor’s hospital.

‘You have to go back. They need you.’

‘I’ll kill myself. If you make me go back, I’ll-‘

‘Go back where? Sir, I’m going to need you to get out of the pool.’

When Fourthstone looked up he was face to face with a crowd of onlookers. He suddenly realised where he was. Standing in The Mirage Inn’s pool, fully dressed. He wiped the tears from his face on his suit jacket.

‘Excuse me? Sir! Do I need to call the police?’

‘He’s with me.’

Someone was wading towards him. Rosewood, in a white sundress, reached out to him. Fourthstone did not know if she was real. He did not care. He closed his hands around hers and foolishly let her lead him away.

 

 

A Musing 10/07

Persephone scans a list in front of her.

P: You’ve got to say yes to one of these things, Hades.

Hades shakes his head.

P: Don’t just shake your head at me. Melinoe’s wedding is in less than a month and your human interaction skills are appalling.

Hades shrugs.

P: I can’t have you walking around during the reception, white as sheet, and making everyone else uncomfortable. You have to practice.

Hades pulls the bed covers over his head. Persephone pulls them down.

P: I’m not playing.

Hades groans.

P: And if you even think of disappearing out of this room, I’ll find you and I’ll fuck you up. Pay attention.

Hades sits up and folds his arm.

H: (Reluctantly) Go through the list again.

P: Number one: greeting the postman

H: No

P: Number two: letting the neighbour children play in our yard.

H: Never.

P: Number three: helping Mrs Nino with her weekly groceries.

H: she’s going to die in a couple of days so I don’t see any point in that.

Persephone folds her arms.

P: You have to pick something, Hades!

H: What was number six again?

Persephone scans the list.

P: Go to the corner shop and buy some milk.

H: Yes. That. I’ll do that.’

P: (Relieved) Okay. Talk me through your strategy.

H: (Frustrated) Why?’

P: Why? Because the last time you went to a shop, we had to move house.

H: That wasn’t my fault. How was I supposed to know the place would be full of people?

P: It was a museum gift shop.

H: Yes, filled with inaccuracies. I haven’t worn a beard since the Black Plague!

P: It was a children’s book. And you turned the cashier to stone.

H: I thought she’d written it!

Persephone shakes her head.

P: Just tell me what you’re going to do differently this time.

H: It’s simple. You appear in the shop in a cloud of smoke-

P: No.

H: What are you talking about? That’s my favourite mode of transport.

P: Human beings don’t just appear in places. They have to walk.

H: But I’m not a human.

P: well, for the sake of our daughter and her future husband, we’re going to pretend to be ordinary people and not make people think about death and cry.

H: (Mumbling under his breath) I’m the king of hell, I’ll do what I bloody well please’

P: And maybe as the queen, I’ll do what I bloody well please and take another 6 month sabbatical. How about that?

H: (quietly) Please don’t.

P: Sorry?

H: Don’t. Please. I’ll walk into the cornershop.

P: And what will you say to the person behind the counter?

H: I will say nothing. I will look deep into their eyes and they shall know the date of their death.

P: Stop.

H: What?

P: No one wants to know that! And you can’t tell them because you’re supposed to be a normal man!’

H: That’s so boring.

P: All you have to do is walk into the shop, pick up a 4 pint thing of milk. Walk to the counter, ask how much it is, hand over the money, smile-

H: Smile?!

P: -Thank them and then walk out.

H: And what happens to the milk?

P: You take the milk.

H: And what about the money?

‘P: They keep the money. Unless you have too much money. In which case, then they give you change.

H: what?

P: I don’t get it either. (She takes his hand.) Look. Give it a go. If you do well, you’ll be rewarded.

H: And if I do badly?

P: Well…I guess we’ll just have to move again.

A Musing 09/07

An office party. Women and men of various ages talk about the weather and plumbers. Josie clears her throat. The room falls relatively silent. Her boss continues a muddled story about a fox. Josie stares him down and renders him silent.

Josie: It’s not every day that I get to say goodbye.  So I’d like you to do me the courtesy of listening to me speak. I know I was pretty quiet during my time here. But I do have a few words.

She rolls up her sleeves and takes a deep breath.

I’m leaving.

I’M LEAVING, BITCHES! HA!

I’ve never left anything in my life! I didn’t even leave my mother’s womb, I had to be wrenched out! Finishing school was more like the aftermath of Moses saying ‘Let my people go.’ And graduation? Less hugs and tears, more brandishing my envelope about like a purple heart in the faces of those who didn’t make it out of the trenches. I’ve never left anything. Or more I don’t look at it as leaving. Because they were all steps. Steps on the staircase to greatness. And you don’t quit a staircase, you just reach the top.

But, this place! and you hodge-podge group of- I don’t even know what to call you. Are you actually adults? If you were out after nine o’clock would a police car stop you and ask you where your parents were? I have always wondered why everyone here, you who call yourselves ‘professionals’, cannot do the same simple tasks that, say, ants can. Like gathering food and then heading back to your seat. It sounds like an uncomplicated task, but I’m assuming the twists and turns of the corridor that goes between the rec room and the open plan office are just so disorienting that you have to take a break somewhere in the middle. Or maybe you get distracted by the chipping wallpaper and dated motivational posters and have to take a nap. Or maybe you need to read up on the recipe before making a cup of tea. All I know is: I don’t get it. I don’t get it and at this point, I no longer care. The things I have seen while working here have slowly chipped away at my belief that adult life is so much more ordered and productive than 14 year olds running a student council. Truly, you’re all just kids in suits trying to work out how to get money by putting in the least amount of effort. It’s heartbreaking.

Because you’re not even good at it. You’re pissing money away. Daily croissants? Why? Who eats a croissant every day? This isn’t a bed and breakfast on the costa del jack off. You are not required to provide continental breakfasts to your staff like they’re lads on tour. Every evening, I have to bag up those uneaten French delights and bin them. BIN THEM. Do you know how many people are going hungry right now? Or what a brilliant bit of PR it would be to offer those left overs to people in need? Does anybody here know anything about running a business at all? I feel like the unfertilised eggs chilling in my ovaries could do a better job of understanding and tackling the daily demands of running a fucking small business!

I’m sorry for swearing. I know this was supposed to be a civilised event. That’s why you didn’t even bother to decorate the office, or crack out the vino. Sparkling grape juice, really?  Is this a pregnant bride’s bachelorette party? Christ. I’m not even surprised or ashamed or upset. I’ve run out Phukets to give. Although I will say one last thing. I value the experience of being here. You’ve shown me that I should never take for granted my ability to not destroy everything I touch. Holler at me when you’re in administration, there’s some office supplies I’d like to take off your hands. Have a good night.

A Musing 08/07

Three months into what we can only call ‘The Unknown’, the government has decided to recall the aptly named ‘Wounded Wagons’ due to unsanitary conditions and general mismanagement. The service, which was launched only a month ago, has been slammed by survivors and the dead alike for being ‘unfit for human and neo human usage.’ The director of the programme, Dr Enid Shaw, tonight defended her idea, by saying ‘It’s better than nothing.’

But what is the truth of this statement? Before the dead collecting cab service was launched, people were disposing of their dead in their own ways. Jackson Clifford, a retired vet from Birmingham, told LDN he had dug a hole for his son and daughter in the garden next to where they had buried their family cats. ‘They always did like those cats.’ He said. Of course, his son and daughter, when they returned to the house some days later, were not remotely impressed by the sentiment. ‘It was so deep. It’s almost like he didn’t want us to get back out.’ His daughter, Lottie Clifford, informed LDN. Her brother also added that the arrangement of their bodies was especially offensive, since on his return to the land of the living, his first sight was his ‘sister’s rotting feet inches from his face’.

In London, where burial space is minimal, dismembering has been a popular method. Junior Abowale, a medical student from Tulse Hill, shared some insights with LDN. ‘Everyone was doing it.’ He said. ‘When I checked her pulse one morning and got nothing, I immediately set to work. It’s hard. You don’t know how resilient the human body is until you’re trying to cut through it with an ASDA Smart Price cake knife.’ After several hours of ‘hacking and packing’, his mother, a French teacher in a local secondary school, woke up.  Her head, the only remaining part of her, sits on the mantelpiece of the South London flat. ‘Obviously I was furious. The government approved wait time was 2 days at the time.’ She said, still evidently unhappy. ‘He didn’t even wait five minutes.’ When asked why no attempt to reconstruct her body had been made, Abowale informed me ‘I kind of prefer her this way.’

Wounded Wagons was initially launched to combat the torrent of charges brought against friends and relatives for attempted murder once the dead resumed their living and faced a life of severed limbs and dirt clogged lungs. An independent study also revealed that people’s propensity for violence was at an all-time high, having been given free rein to deal with their dead, and incidents of disobedience and failure to comply with court orders or submit to police authority were also increasing. Wounded Wagons sought to remove culpability from survivors and bring some dignity to a difficult situation.

However within days, reports were being filed about the state of the cars. ‘A ford Fiesta with the back seats taken out, essentially.’ One complaint read. ‘Driver told us to, ‘shove him in the boot’, and when he didn’t fit (A 6’5 male of 250 pounds) charged us extra.’ Another read. Reports were being filed by drivers too. Yosef, a neo human himself, told LDN ‘Imagine driving across the Elephant and Castle roundabout, and having an 18 year old suddenly wake up and try make a run for it? What am I supposed to do? I’m stuck in traffic, and he’s weaving through the cars, completely naked!’  Other drivers complained of emotional distress, hostility, violence and unsavoury smells. But mostly everyone seems to take issue with the lack of training and guidance from the authorities. Yosef was roped into the scheme simply because he owned a car, and many others claim to have joined in similar, unconventional circumstances. A pensioner heckled during the press conference today – ‘You call this dignity? I woke up in the back of a bus, surrounded by a whole bunch of people in various states of decomposition. I’m a 90 years old man. I served in a war!’ Dr Shaw, however, seemed unsympathetic. ‘On this issue we’re all at a loss. That’s the problem. One day people died and stayed dead, the next they’re up and walking through walls. There is no manual. There is no drill.’

As we enter yet another day of ‘The Unknown’, we are no closer to knowing why or when or how, and every day the skills of the neo humans continue to increase. Perhaps a solution to temporary death will come from one of them. Until then, disposing of family members will return to whoever has the upper body strength to carry it out.