That Time Again

‘Well, Meg. It’s that time again.’

Fred stands on the door step, puffing on the last of cigarette. Meg holds the door open, waiting for him to finish. The sky is bloctchy, black and brown. The streetlights make Fred’s shadow look like a heaving black blob.

‘You’re letting all the warmth out.’ She shivers. Fred tosses his stub into the bush and crosses the threshold. He wipes his feet slowly and deliberately on the doormat. Meg cannot watch him any longer and heads into the kitchen, exasperated.

The remnants of the pasta bake, which she had just warmed up before he arrived, are now cold. She picks at the pasta shapes with her fork. When he comes in, he pulls out the chair, scraping it along the tiled floor, and starts to take his coat off.

‘No.’ Meg says, ‘You’re not going to be here for that long.’

‘Well, I gotta count the money, don’t I?’ He asks, leaning heavily on the chair.

He’d put on weight. No, muscle. He had always flourished as a bachelor. Underneath his coat he wore a nice suit. Zara Men maybe. TM Lewin?

Fred produces a money clip from the breast pocket of his suit. It  barely contains the thick wad of cash between its teeth. Fred waves it with a smile. Meg barely blink.

‘900 for rent.’ She rattles off,  ‘160 for school dinners. Lex needs a new PE Kit. That’ll be 50. Rowan’s going on holiday with Godmother and he’s going to need spending money.’

‘How much?’

‘Another 50.’

‘Let’s call it 100.’

He counts out the notes, licking his fingers, desperately trying to not to cackle with glee. Meg doesn’t watch the money the way he watches the money. She watches him. How different his very features seems. His soft smiling eyes are mean. Greedy. Lost.

‘What about you?’ He says, sliding the pile of money towards her. ‘You wanna do something? Your hair looks like it needs some love.’

‘I can look after myself, thanks.’

‘Doesn’t look like it.’

‘Well, whatever it looks like, I don’t need anything from you.’

She stands up and chucks the pasta bake in the bin.

‘Maybe not money…’ He says, quietly. When Meg doesn’t turn around, he gets up, joins her at the sink.

‘When was the last time you-‘

He places a hand gently on her shoulder, moves it slowly down her back. Meg suddenly turns around, the fork from the pasta bake hovers dangerously close to Fred’s Adam’s Apple.

‘Take your hands off me.’

He backs away.

‘Relax-‘

‘You think you can come in here, waving your blood money at me and what? Get back in this house?’

‘Megan-‘

‘Do you even care about your kids? Because you never ask about them. You’ve been here for half an hour and you haven’t mentioned them once.’

‘Of course-‘

‘Go home, Freddy. You’ve done your song and dance and now I’d like you to leave.’

‘Megan-‘

‘Now.’

Fred picks up his coat, defeated.

‘I really-‘

‘Out.’

He throws his coat on and leaves. The money on the table flies about in the gust.

 

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Big Mouth

‘Make way! Make way!’

Teddy wrestles through the crowd, brandishing his police badge. No one turns round to see it. They are all fixed on the woman in the centre, pinned down by some ‘good Samaritans’.

‘That’s enough!’ He yells, but it disappears beneath the din of the spectacle. He reaches the heart of it, where three men and one woman use all their weight to keep the woman from escaping.

‘I’ll take it from here!’

The woman is still writhing on the ground as they slowly release her. The pocket of her jacket is torn. Her two thick braids have come undone where the concerned citizens have trampled on it. She can’t be more than 100 pounds, and the pressure of four bodies on top of her has winded her.

Teddy kneels down, pulls her gently upright.

‘Wren, it’s me.’ He says quietly.

She either doesn’t see him or doesn’t care. She shoots up and attempts to run, only to be shoved back to the ground by the wall of people. Teddy pulls her up again, this time restraining her.

‘If you don’t stop fighting, they’ll call back up!’ He spits into her ear.

‘I haven’t done anything!’ She shoots back

‘I saw you!’ Yells someone from the crowd, ‘You were there, at the crossing. I saw you move the bus!’

‘I didn’t touch it!’

‘You moved it! You moved it with your mind! I saw you make the gesture.’

‘I was flagging down a taxi!’

‘I saw your eyes.’ He states, striking the condemning blow.

‘He’s lying,’ Wren appeals, turning to Teddy. Her eyes are filling with tears.

‘I didn’t do anything. Please!’

‘I’m taking you in,’ He says, firmly.

‘Teddy-‘

‘You know the rules.’

He slips a pair of cuffs out of his pockets and forces them on her. She whimpers as the metal closes around her wrist.

‘You.’ He says, turning to the bystander who spoke out,  ‘You say you saw her?’

The bystander nods.

‘Can you swear to that?’

The bystander takes a moment and nods again.

‘Come with me.’


The bystander walks behind the Police Officer, as he marches the Woman towards his car. The doors hang open from where he must have shot out in a haste.

It is not a typical police car, something nondescript. The bystander concedes the officer must be CID or undercover.

Some tools have spilled into the road from a black wallet lying across the driver’s seat. The bystander can’t work out what they are. They look complicated. Sharp.

The Police Officer puts the Woman in the front passenger seat, then opens the back door for the bystander.

‘Am I supposed to sit in the back?’ The bystander asks, unsure of the procedure.

The Police Officer looks at him sternly.

‘Are you the police officer or am I?’

The bystander hesitates, and the Police Officer’s face grows darker.

‘Get in.’

The bystander gets into the car. The Police Officer gathers up the tools and then gets into the car.

‘Teddy-‘ The Woman starts. The Police Officer shakes his head. He puts the key in the ignition.

‘Teddy, please, you have to believe-‘

The Police Officer reaches for her face. Both the bystander and the woman hold their breath. The Police Officer gently brushes gravel off the woman’s cheeks. There is something in his eyes. Familiarity? Care?

‘Teddy?’ The bystander repeats, incredulously. The Police Officer finally looks at him through the rear view mirror.

‘You got a problem?’ He asks.

‘No.’ Stammers the bystander.

‘Would you like one?’

The bystander’s heart stops.

‘No.’ He whispers.

‘Well, then.’ The Police Officers says, turning the car around, ‘You shouldn’t have such a big mouth.’

The click of the doors locking rings in the bystander’s ears. The Police Officer reaches over and, with one of his steel tools, unlocks the Woman’s handcuffs.

‘You’re going to have to help me get rid of him.’ He says, handing her the tool.

The Woman looks at the bystander through the mirror, her face changing from nervous to resolved.

‘Of course.’

The car creeps out of the city, as the the bystander’s muffled screams reach no one.

 

Not in this timeline

When I finally got out, the world was…It wasn’t the same. Everything was painfully dull. After you watch so many people die, it’s hard to be focused on washing dishes, or brushing your hair. The world is flat and heavy but I feel lighter. Like something otherworldly, floating through it. I have no roots any more, nothing grounding me. Everything I was before, everything I became has been erased. And the weirdest part is, I have no desire to start again. I’m spent. I’ve had enough of trying. I just exist now. Living my life on mute. So when it finally comes time to take me out, I’ll have nothing to miss.

When I meet people their mouths move but I can’t hear anything. When I’m working, I turn the keys and I stack the shelves and I walk up and down with my clipboard, but my mind is elsewhere. I just do what I’m told and live in my head.

I can’t really describe it. This french guy who fixes the vans told me about the idea of multiple timelines. I think that’s close to it. In my head, there are many timelines and I can tune into whichever one I want. There’s this one, where I’m siting in a four by four room with no furniture, smoking cigarette after cigarette until I fall asleep. And there’s another one, where I’m living in a log cabin. Or another, where I have a dog.

My favourite is the one where V and I- I suppose actually we have normal names in that timeline, names like Ben and Rebecca – but we make it. We meet for the first time somewhere normal, at work or at church maybe. We fall in love in a romantic way. Candlelit dinners and picnics and holidays and smiles. We get married, we buy a house. We have arguments, sure, but they’re about such inconsequential things, like what colour to paint the hall or where to host the wedding reception, that they’re more fun than destructive. We get pregnant. Have a child. Have four. We’ve got photos on the walls. Family videos. Tricycles are lined up next to bicycles int he garden. Little clothes hand on the washing line. When we go out we walk hand in hand, kids running ahead.

It is the best part of my day, visiting that timeline. It’s always warm in the house. It smells like pastry. There’s always chatter, always giggling and excited exclamations. As I walk into the living room, someone runs up to me. The youngest, maybe. She has my eyes, and V’s smile. When I hold her, she smells like baby powder and biscuits. She clings to me and I choke up. She’s lost her first tooth, she tells me. Asks me if I’ll stay up and make sure the tooth fairy knows where to find it. Eventually she falls asleep on my lap, and V is beside me on the couch, and we’re just watching TV. It’s getting quiet now. Calm. I carry her up to bed. Swap her tooth for a two pound coin.

Then we’re finally alone. I play those scenes out slowly. They’re part foreign, part memory. I tell I love her over and over. Sometimes she says something back, sometimes she just looks at me. It doesn’t matter. She’s here. She’s here with me. We are wrapped around each other. She’s so soft and warm and mine. Mine, mine, all these things are mine. And no one can get to them. Not even me.

I would never be sick there. I would never be high. Never think about my adopted father, or my dead brother, or all the shit and piss and pain and blood I’ve seen. I’d never wake up in the night screaming. Never hurt anyone. Never leave V.

I’d just enjoy it.

Really, finally, enjoy being alive.

The nights are the hardest

I have nightmares. Or at least, I call them nightmares. They don’t necessarily happen at night, or even when I am asleep. But they keep happening.

She’s at my dinner table. She’s washing dishes at my sink.

There was a point where I didn’t recognise her anymore. And rather than watch her drift away, I chose to leave. I believe some people are capable of holding onto something until it turns to dust in front of them. I cannot imagine ever holding her in my arms and seeing nothing in her eyes.

She’s behind the counter at the supermarket. She’s a nurse on the cancer ward.

At first, she would hold onto me so tightly that when they prized her away, she’d take my sleeve with her. My hair. One time, my skin.

She’s wiping down the table next to me. She’s giggling into a phone.

When she came back, she tore at the scar. Punishment for letting her go. Her rage was just as intense as her sadness, and though she was making my suffer, I knew that she was suffering too.

She’s pushing a child in a pram. She’s ringing the bell on her bike.

To have that go away. To disappear completely. To see that bright spark turn to a dim flicker, a shadow of itself-

She’s pouring over my hand. She’s slamming the door in my face.

I packed a bag and left. She didn’t come after me. I thought it would be easy. Easier.

But I keep having these nightmares.

I’m driving back to my house. She’s in the middle of the street. I know she’s not real so I keep driving. But she doesn’t move. Just looks at me. Looks so sad. So I stop the car. I get out. She’s covered in flowers. As I approach her, she falls back. Lies prone, flowered arms crossed over her chest. I kneel over her. I see that she’s not sad. She’s dead. Her black eyes are grey. Staring.

The flowers are wreathes around her naked, decomposing body. Her stomach is bloating, bloating- the skin splits. 

Fingers reach out. An arm. I recognise a scar that stretches from the elbow to the wrist.

I’m climbing out of her. A version of me that I do not want, cannot meet right now. 

I run back to car. It won’t start. He’s ambling towards me, damp. Naked. 

I slam my head against the window. Over and over until my surroundings fragment, fall apart. When I am back in this time, this world, blood drips from a cut on my forehead.

I wonder if she still suffers like I suffer.

Twin Bed

We can put some pillows down the middle. 

We can put some pillows in the middle and maybe top and tail?

We can top and tail and wear all our clothes. 

Or, let’s not sleep at all. 

I have some spreadsheets to check, you must have spreadsheets to check. 

We can work all night. 

All night. 

Then we won’t miss the plane. 

We might be groggy but we won’t have-

I’m not saying we would without all that, but I don’t want you to feel-

I’m not trying to say you have no self control, I just-

Am I over thinking this?

I’m being patronising, am I?

You think I think I’m god’s gift?

I’m just trying to help you! You’re the one either the reputation. You’re the one everyone gossips about chasing married men!

I’m sorry. 

I shouldn’t have- I don’t think that of you. 

I really am just trying to help you. 

Here, take my card. Get a second room. 

Or I’ll go, how about that?

I don’t want to cause any trouble and I don’t-

If I’m being honest, it would be me. 

It would be me. 

I’m not- I sympathise with-

No, I didn’t say you were pathetic. I just mean that I get lonely too!

I get lonely too. 

I understand why escaping from that for one night would seem worth…

I’m sorry. 

Forget I said anything. 

I’m going to the bar. Maybe we can just sleep in shifts. 

Carbury & Grant

Joel points at his screen.

J: What do you think?

C: It’s a picture of you surrounded by bubbles. Wait, no-

Courtney squints.

C: On further inspection, it’s a picture of you surrounded by-

J: It’s me surrounded by butts.

C: Yup. Why?

J: What?

C: Like, why do it?

J: For nights out.

C: What are you talking about?

J: Calling cards.

C: Calling cards are for when you visit people in the 1920s. What’s that got to do with a night out?

J: If I meet girl.

C: If you meet a girl what? First of all, you would have already met her, so you don’t have to leave a calling card. Also it’s not 1920. Also-

J: Something to remember me by.

C: Stop it.

J: What?

C: Stop.

J: It’s original.

C: That’s the only thing you’ve said that makes sense. You’re right. It’s original. It’s also bad.

J: How?

C: You want to be remembered with a hundred butts that aren’t yours?

J: It’s original-

C: I heard. You realise you haven’t put any other details on this design right?

J: What do you mean?

C: How are they supposed to find you again? You haven’t even written your name.

Joel looks at the picture again.

J: Oh.

C: Exactly.

J: I’ve printed…

C: What?

J: I’ve printed 500.

C: How much?

J: 5…500. But I’ve only opened 200, so we can send the rest back.

C: Why would you-

Courtney rubs her eyes.

B: I just wish I could see inside your head. I really honestly believe someone performed a lobotomy without you knowing. Or maybe you know and you just can’t articulate because you’re so fucking stupid.