Archive for the ‘stories’ category

dry

November 3, 2012

He sat alone, embraced by the barren room. They had filed out slowly, each at a loss for words. They shook his hand or gripped his shoulder, but could not quite bring their eyes to meet his. Their eyes found instead the rug-less floor and empty walls and the middle distance.

After they left and the echoes of the shutting door faded behind them, he walked into the kitchen and to the sink and washed off the handshakes. The bubbles slipped between his fingers and down the drain until the water ran clear and bubble-less. He felt as his hands blushed red and tingled in the hot water. The handle squeaked as he turned off the flow. He flicked the loose water from his fingers to the floor but didn’t bother to dry them.

There were no more hands to shake.

With his wet hands he grabbed a tumbler and filled it half way from a fresh bottle of whisky left by one of the handshakers. He sniffed it and didn’t wince too much.

The floorboards between the kitchen and the sitting room whined a bit as he stepped through.

The chair wasn’t very comfortable but he sat anyway and sipped his whisky and stared at the blank walls. They were pale, blue, and unremarkable. In one of the corners on the ceiling an old cobweb looked like ancient ash.

He sipped and held it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing the burning liquid and long, slow breath. They were gone and he could surrender, finally, to the last few months. His face tightened around his eyes and cheeks His breath shortened. He gasped a few times and sighed.

No tears came.

The blood in his temples throbbed. Eyes squeezed shut, head lifted skywards, face in a grimace.

No tears came.

There was no relief. It all lay too deep, pressed down and buried.

His chest lurched. He curled forward and covered his face with his hands and tried to dry heave his tears through. His face bright red, brow bright red and glistening, but his eyes were still dry.

The months before would not move. They rasped inside him. He breathed again and sipped his whisky and let it burn.

walk in white

September 26, 2010

The snow crunched and squeaked beneath his tattered boots. He felt his ankles and shins tense, this way and that, keeping his balance. Once every hundred or so yards a foot would slip, and he would steady his weight by grabbing the dry stone wall to his right. Each breath he felt fill every space in his lungs, the air viscous, creeping through the network of tubes, channels and chambers. His face stung on his cheeks and the borders where his lips met his skin. He could feel the hairs in his nostrils turn brittle and feel as though they would shatter with impact. Tears grew in the corners of each eye, brought forth by the weather.

Or that’s what he told himself, anyway.

bonfire skeleton

July 22, 2009

She looked among the charred wet remains. The blackened circle surrounded by damp sand. Green glass, melted, deformed, twisted into abstraction lay buried in part under the ash. She saw no smoke but she smelled the memory of it. Her fingers ran through her hair and grains of sand fell free, their landing a whisper. She shivered slightly and put her hands in the belly pocket of her hoodie. Her hair fell in front of her eyes but she didn’t bother brushing it aside.

About 10 feet away slept a boy. Or maybe he was just passed out. Half his face was covered in sand and his mouth was open. She could hear him breathe but tried instead to hear the sea.

The sky above her loomed low. She felt she could touch it. It brightened though there seemed no source for the brightness through the cloud. It sucked the colour from all around her. The sea lapped and looked of slate. It seemed a dead dawn.

A half-empty bottle of port sat in the sand a few feet from the scorched patch. She sat down next to it and peered down its neck, judging the remains. A small sip, to see how it sat. A deeper sip. It was sweet and hot in her mouth. It burned a little as it went down. She gasped and her eyes watered. She laughed at herself. Composed again, she looked out to the slate sea and the smattering of rocks that peaked through the high water, studying the ripples as they spread out from the stones.

A half-burned plank lay next to her feet and she picked it up and threw it into the pile of ash. Another sip. She felt a drop of rain and then another. She looked up, as though she needed to know from whence it came. It was a light drizzle, and it made a light hiss as it hit the water. She looked towards the sleeping boy and the rain did not move him.

Another sip and she stood and brushed in vain at the sand, trying to dislodge it. The rain fell harder.

She looked again towards the sea and stared and drained the last of the port.

Then she turned around and walked away, leaving the scorched sand and the sleeping boy alone in the rain.

crunch and slip

March 16, 2009

The sound of the snow pleased her. It crunched and it squeaked at the end of every step. Her boots slipped a little as they compacted the fresh powder. For each of those precarious split-seconds her heart jumped. Just a little. There wasn’t any real danger. Just that momentary slip – an inch or so, maybe less.

She breathed heavy and watched the steam of it drift away among the falling flakes. It was thick and turned the world around her into a winter mosaic. Everything familiar was different, temporarily veiled.

She stopped to kick a drift, giggling as the powder exploded from the tip of her wellie boot.

Her mittened hand waved at old man walking his spaniel; the animal amazed, confounded and delirious at the strange new medium that surrounded it. More laughter as the dog chased the falling snow.

She scooped with both hands and shaped a rough sphere. The ‘phap’ as it hit the stone wall echoed: a satisfying punctuation to her throw.

Before long she heard branches dripping, and saw above a sliver of blue sky.

She walked a different way home, listening to the crunch of her boots and the jump of her heart with every slip.

pub chat ii

July 25, 2008

She made her way back through the rapt crowd. They stared at the televisions suspended from the ceiling.

She stared at him. Her fingers flicked as she took her seat again. Her hair fell again. She cursed and pushed it behind her ear.

‘Fucking smoking ban.’

He rolled his eyes. She was already fiddling with another cigarette. From the filter end she twirled it around her thumb and forefinger. The nail on her thumb was chipped, the polish peeling a touch. He watch it twirl. She watched him.

‘I’m not going to smoke it yet. I just need something to do. And you’re avoiding the subject.’

‘I’m not. I just need to order another beer.’

‘Go on then. And stop stealing sips from mine. Thieving bastard.’

Too many eyes on the game for a queue at the bar. He ordered two pints and tapped his knuckles against the hardwood. The other half of the bar gasped, sighed and then shouted the odd profanity. Jeers followed.

‘So how long does she need to think for?’

He’d only just sat back down.

‘I don’t know. I hadn’t planned a schedule. Neither, I think, did she.’

She reminded him of some 40’s newshound from some generic film noir piece. Hurried, impatient, right. She tapped the butt of the cigarette on the table again. Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy. Prettier though. She didn’t take her eyes off him.

‘Is she that stupid?’

‘Again, a little harsh.’

‘Are you that stupid?’

‘Probably.’

She finished her first beer and pushed the empty glass aside, drawing the new one towards her. She used the hand that wasn’t twirling the cigarette.

‘No, dammit, you are NOT that fucking stupid.’

‘Well maybe I am. Maybe I’m just that fucking stupid.’

‘She doesn’t love you. Love isn’t about thinking about anything. Love’s when you don’t have to think. Love’s not thinking.’

‘So’s being stupid.’

on toast

July 24, 2008

He didn’t mind the rain. It peppered him, the tiny droplets settling and disappearing into the fabric of his shirt. He noticed it. He tried feel each individual drop as it landed on his head. Not to count, but to give each one its due. It occurred to him for a moment to seek shelter. He wasn’t far from home.

It came down heavier. He sat and felt the dampness rise through the seat of his jeans. The drops lost their individuality, becoming a rhythm. A hum. Before long it was like sitting in a shower.

But with no hot water.

He raised his head towards the sky, squinting to keep the drops out his eyes. He felt them race down his face, his cheeks and chin, matting his hair to his head. He tasted it. Stuck his tongue out like a child and for a moment focused only on what hit there.

It came down heavier. He looked down and saw his flesh through his clinging, saturated shirt. Shook his head and felt the waterlogged strands of hair whip to and fro. Standing he looked skyward again. Deep, bruised clouds looked so close he could touch them.

His key stuck in the lock for a moment, then a click. He felt a drop of water on his chin dislodge and fall.

She looked at him in the doorway, cocking her head to the side. In her right hand a mug, steam lifting lazily up; in her left a plate.

He grinned at her. She shook her head and smiled back, almost a laugh.

‘Tea and toast?’

‘Yes, please. Butter and honey on the toast, please.’

pub chat

May 13, 2008

‘So.’

‘Yeah.’

‘So what’d she say?’

‘She said she’d think about it.’

He drank his pint and fiddled with the beer mat, spinning it on its corner. Everyone else’s eyes were stuck to the television. It was some manner of football final, he thought.

She didn’t touch her beer. Her hands lay on the table, her long fingers splayed wide. Her eyes touched with urgency and disbelief. Impatience.

‘Think about it? What the fuck? What does she need to think about?’

‘A lot, I guess. It’s…’

‘It’s nothing. It’s a no-brainer. Which, you know, is ideal for her.’

‘That’s a touch harsh.’

He drank again and watch her long fingers as they tapped the edge of the table. He knew she wanted a cigarette.

‘I’m going out for a fag… this conversation isn’t finished. This is just a pause. I’ll be back.’

She fished in her bag. Her dark hair fell in front of her face. She found a pack and muttered an exclamation of victory and relief. She looked up and held him in her eye.

‘This isn’t over.’

She walked out, the swing of the door mute in the noise of the pub. Someone scored and half the bar erupted. He took a sip and watched through the window as she lit up and paced.

‘It never is.’

He finished his beer and took a sip of hers.