Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: Fiction (page 1 of 2)

Write, Rewrite, Then Don’t Rewind : Writing Out Loud #4

I paid my money didn’t I? I should be able to take my choice then?  No, not when NYC Midnight have their flash fiction competition.

One thousand carefully chosen words,  a genre, a scene and an object chosen at random. Forty Eight hours to write it.

And on Saturday 15th July, the email arrived. Genre: Ghost Story, Scene: A Basement, Object: A Tattoo Machine.

I had to find out what a tattoo machine is, didn’t I?  That was the easy part.  A quick Google search and I found one.

I even listened to recordings of tattoo machines. Which reminded me of the dentist’s drill. That at least ended up in the story. But after listening to that, there was no way I was going to be inked in the name of research.

But me? A ghost story? My first reaction was:  I haven’t written any. I was wrong. I’ve written two. One fact. One fiction.  Still I researched my genre. And read some ghost stories, some great, some indifferent. And brought to mind my secret love of Edgar Allan Poe.

But a basement. I really don’t know what to do in a basement…Self doubt occurred early. But I persisted…

I scrabbled and scrambled for thoughts. Then came the flood of nefarious ghost-like events. I wrote them out. Then…

I revised what I had written. And threw it all away. Somewhere, somebody is looking at my lost notes and saying, “I wouldn’t write that either.”

Then the premise arrived. The idea was a ghost requesting permission…But I won’t add to that otherwise it would spoil the story.

And I wrote it. And I was pleased with it. But there was a problem…

The rewriting. The last time I wrote a short story (The Great Blow), I went on a re-writing frenzy. Eight or nine rewrites until I could take it no more.

This story (called Ghost Tattoo) was rewritten about four or five times.  I only realised it when I posted it on the competition forum. Some of the feedback was similar. And when I read the story, I realised they were right. A few more rewrites…Still when I receive the judge’s feedback, I will rewrite it. And post it. And learn my lesson. Otherwise I will have to take the test again!

 

 

 

 

A Folded Butterfly

Her train passes by
Two hands I barely see
Long fingers flit and fly
Paper folds one two three.

Before the moment is lost
I breathe and recall carefully
Her quick movements deft and free
My paper folds one two three.

We both took a paper hatchling
And moulded a folded sculpture
Her mystery now revealed to me
She sent forth a butterfly!

Drenching Human Sheep

“All rise!” The Court Clerk brayed in a tone of bored authority. The words echoed and then died against the wooden paneling.

There was a pause. The door to the left opened. A short bobbing woman entered robed and wigged even though convention didn’t demand it anymore.  The pause followed her and held its breath.

There was a scraping and shuffling as lawyers, defendants, witnesses and audience rose. And bowed their heads. The judge sat down, her head hovering over the bench above. She feathered her hand at the crowd. With a more respectful scraping and shuffling now, all resumed our seats.

“Even to its practitioners, there are things about anaesthesia that remain a mystery – such as – where exactly it fits in the spectrum of consciousness.”

Thirty seconds in and he was already uncomfortable. He started to shake his head slowly from side to side. His hands were no where to be seen. Like children of a past generation, he was seen and not heard. Short, shorter than the judge by a half head, he bowed his head over the stand in boredom. All that could be seen was a brown shiny bald patch circled by a patch of hair. In another life, he would be bowed over a pew at prayer, held to a vow of silence.

“A state of general anaesthetia is not rendered not by a single drug but by a lights-out cocktail.”

“We don’t care for such pseudo-academic twaddle,” the anaesthetist growled.

“We put people under, hold them under and then bring them back. It’s a simple occupation really. You’re making it far too complicated.”

Unbidden, unusual and unhelpful even if he was being tasked with giving expert testimony. Which in fact he wasn’t. Especially considering this was a coronial inquest.

“Yes, they’re all a secret society, even when I put them on the stand as expert witnesses,” thought the cross examining lawyer in exasperation. But he set aside those thoughts as well as the academic treatise he was reading.  Unlike his interlocutor, the lawyer was grey of hair and of skin too, tall and spare with an economy of movement that belied his age. Only the twisted folds of skin under his chin marked him as ten years later than he looked.

“What about accidental awareness?” his soft voice filled the courtroom.
The anaesthetist stirred. His face peered over the edge of the witness box, red cheeks, centred by the pasty nose of the heavy drinker or worse topped by two monstrous eyebrows.

“It happens,” he said impatiently. “But you make it far more serious than the situation warrants. We monitor the patient closely. We take the action required. Like I said, yesterday,” he drawled with emphasis,”we’re not surgeons. More like farmers,” his tight mouth fluttering at his joke,”drenching sheep. It’s really straightforward, nothing to worry about.”

His voice now which was a dull monotone, more suited to calling out blood pressure, respiration, pulse and blood gases now was a bellow.

“Yes I can see why now. How all those nurses and junior doctors complained. Yes I can see too why he kept being exonerated, without even a reprimand, all those complaints dismissed as mere professional differences rather than personal ones. Sheep dip indeed.”

The anaesthetist didn’t react to the lawyer’s unspoken thoughts. Had they been spoken, his clever counsel would have interjected anyway and dismissed them as irrelevant. But clearly too, he hadn’t been fully briefed.

“What if there’s a incident?”, the cross examination continued.

“We’ve procedures in place. Should it happen,” he said gruffly.

“Thank you for your testimony,” the lawyer concluded. The anaesthetist shrugged, relaxed and almost smiled as he stretched back in his chair waiting for the judge to discharge him.

The silence at first inviting and expectant, continued. For the lawyer was still standing.

The lawyer paused and continued,”Your testimony regarding the science of anaesthetisia.”

Then he intoned, “Now I want to walk you through the incident at hand, the incident that happened on the 28th December, the night of the emergency.”

“What?” He growled. The eyebrows fluttered in time with his silent mouth as he sought his lawyer. But she crossed her legs and folded her arms. And avoided his eye.

“I answered that fully and frankly in my statement tendered to the court.”

“Yes he is his own lawyer! And his counsel knows it!! He’s had enough experience too!” the cross examiner nearly laughed to himself. But his task now required complete absence of all expression: the perfect listener!

“Indeed that is perfectly true,” the lawyer countered. “But the court wishes to hear your story in your own words for the record.”

“It’s all in my statement. There’s nothing to tell. I anaesthetised a patient that died during the subsequent surgery.” Another lost look at the defence lawyer.

“You knew she was dying.”

“No. Her vital signs were all falling. BP dropping, pulse down,breathing shallow, blunt trauma and she had lost a lot of blood.”

“That’s correct and that’s in accordance with the medical records tendered. However, according to Accident and Emergency, she had been stabilised, prepped and ready for surgery.”

“No, not from where I stand.” Came the reply.

“She had deteriorated before you administered the first part of the anaesthetic,” the lawyer continued.

“Yes.”
Then the lawyer stood and unwound himself to his full height.

“Why didn’t you call it? Why didn’t you at that stage abort the operation?”

“Why did you administer the second part of the anaesthetic?”

“I put it to you that without authorisation you carried out an act of involuntary euthanasia on a dying patient.”

“Just like drenching human sheep,” came the reply.

The Last Selfie

The last moments are the scariest, he thought. As he had been told. Apparently you first bob like a cork. Then you are swamped. Then you stretch your arms out to push yourself out of the water. And giving up, your arms and legs climb upward. Then downward. Thus overloaded you sink to the bottom faster than an anchor. So much time to contemplate, he thought.

The wave had already broken and the spray filled the sky. So much power, so much grace, how fortunate to witness. He reached for his phone. But there was no coverage. There’s no one to tell it to now. No photo, no text, could he break into the internet using his thoughts? But there, there was so much bile, cat videos, fake news that would overwhelm his story. Although it might go viral he thought, the last selfie of a drowning man. The channel between him and the point was now frothing green and white. Apparently once you sink to the bottom, it’s like falling asleep and drifting off. He really was annoyed now. He was never going to get his few seconds of fame on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram now. He looked and now the trough was full and flowing towards him. And then the water started building up again. He looked up and saw the spray over arch him again.
A second wave. He assembled the new facts of his predicament with studied detachment resolving to record and relate it for another time. The wave fell and crushed him silent.

Baby Crush

A bald head crowned by a few curls peeks out. Two eyes large and watchful wait and see what I might do.

I’m not moving. I stand silent. I’m a daddy statue.

Tiny hands cover her eyes. She tries to catch my gaze.

No way. I’m having no part of it. Not yet.

She opens them. She peeks carefully at me. Then covers herself with the blanket.

“Peep bo!” The blanket speaks.

That’s my moment. My eyes close. Although I keep the good one only an eighth open. Enough to cheat. Enough not to get caught.

Each time she closes her eyes, I open mine. Each time I see her open her eyes, I close mine!

Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. “Peep Bo!”

“Peep bo!” I say again. Before the blanket went on.

I chuckle as the blanket giggles and rolls on the floor. Then smile at her laughter while she wriggles her way out. Usually she beats me to it. Then as she unwravels…

“Peep Bo!” She got me that time.

The blanket again wraps itself up. It giggles and rolls on the floor. Then she crawls out. And stands a little taller than this morning. Now her jumpsuit is too small for her. But that’s no matter now.

Two arms stretch to the sky. She starts to waggle her fingers. Twinkle twinkle? Yes i’m happy to sing that with her. But no peeking. Otherwise she’ll catch me lip syncing.

Then she stops stock still.

No. I was lucky there. Then not so lucky.

“Jump game.”

Oh no! Daddy workout time.

Arms stretch high. “As high as the sky.”

I squat down. I waddle towards her. I put my shoulders under her arms. Then my hands around her waist.

I lift her up. Until her head is level with mine. Her eyes are already laughing. Daddy’s doing the heavy lifting now.

I stand up and throw her high into the air.

Giggles, then laughter.

I stop just before I let her go. I’m not a dad, I’m an astronaut trainer. Besides she’ll never get vertigo from me!

“Again. High as the sky.”

More deep squats. More overhead presses. My knees ache. My shoulders sing. I sneak a glance at my burden.

She’s frozen in time!! One arm up, one arm out, frozen in a ballet pose.

Carefully I shift her to my stronger arm. I lean forward, most weight pushed backward and draw back the coverlet, sheet and blanket. Then i place her in her bed as if one false move would be the last. She slumps flaccid in her bed. I cover her up. I start to lightly leave…

Her hand finds my finger. And crushes it. I hold my breath. I listen to her breath slow and deep measuring eternity one second at a time.

Yes parenthood is a vocation, it’s not a job. But if someone can tell me how to remove a child’s hand from my finger without waking her, I’d be really grateful!

The Great Blow

I couldn’t feel the heat through my uniform. I couldn’t smell the smoke that made me cough. I couldn’t even hear the roar of the wildfire.

The hell and brimstone I heard preached so often is happening to me.

And I pray. I place myself in front of God, in faith. It’s like the book of Revelations, I’m amongst the elders, all of us importuning him, surrounded by this fire.

I pray some more. But things just get worse. I cannot pray, its no use, he can’t hear me over the praise of the elders and the firestorm’s roar.

Perhaps it would be easier to join those already lost. A fate too hurtful to behold, let alone poorly describe. Men, women, children, even horses and livestock touched then aflame, then blackened to nothing.

But for me it would be a double damnation. It won’t avoid the certain punishment to be levied upon me for sending people to their death.

My charges and I were in windowed wooden coffins. In better times, you would call them train carriages. But with flames underneath and cyclonic gusts around, we were going to be crushed and cremated. All of us in this life and me in the next.

I remember looking at Edward Barry’s locomotive, the box cars filled with the last refugees and the caboose up front. And I thought, if salvation came to them, it would be more painful than to us. But it would be quicker.

And as for mine, I’m in a carriage where no-one can move. Women, children, some men and their belongings piled like sacks of wheat. I know they’re crying, praying, perhaps even screaming. But I can’t hear them over the roar.

And outside! It’s as dark as night from the firestorm’s clouds. Yet I see the dance and weave of Elijah’s fire as it leaps and jumps every which way. White, red, yellow, orange even blue lightning falls from the sky. Sheet, forked, even ball, lightning that is pure flame.

Next to the line, away from the rails, I see burning telegraph poles, no use wiring anyone now, its too late. And stumps, leaves, branches and sawdust too turned to ashes as if struck by lightning. Let alone the torches that are the trees. A fire that never ends. Even Elijah stopped calling down fire from heaven when so entreated.

And I entreat God again. For now I have fallen forward in front of him. I cannot stand in his presence. I ask that if I could stand that it would be in their stead. Lord, my life for their lives. This is all I ask Lord.

Then I could go down to the depths, sure and certain of that one truth. That I have been damned to all eternity for my irresponsibility. And my small comfort, a drop of water on my hell parched tongue, that I saved the lives of my charges.

He sends me from his presence. Perhaps he couldn’t hear me over the fire. Perhaps the elders were praising him and their voices drowned out mine. Perhaps the saviour’s last but one words were true and he really had forsaken me.

I knew how King David felt. He had to choose Absalom’s life or the plagues on his people. I have chosen a plague of fire.

I had always hoped that I’d lose my faith ere the few breaths before I expired. Hopelessly now I list the many ways we could die. For the cyclone could blow us off the track, telegraph poles could hit the train or fallen trees block the track, the locomotive could derail. Or the windows smash and flames fill the carriage. Or we get cremated. Or…

The train quickened up then. We had left Sandstone. Or what would be left of it. The wildfire too started to be left behind. Next is the trestle at Kettle Creek. I hoped that was the sanctuary where those poor unfortunate souls tried to flee. The ones that didn’t board the train at Sandstone and thought they could out run the fire to safety.

Yes I saw along the way that some of them didn’t make it. How they died, words cannot describe. One moment they were running, the next the fire like a rattlesnake took them in its coils.

If we get over that bridge, then there’s a quarter mile or so between us and this wildfire. And then I can start believing again.

But the train stopped. I push myself up, squat, stretch and stand now hoping no one has seen me fall.

My door opens and the dark moves. A charred black brakeman from the freight train. I don’t recognise him. Even though he’s short, squat, much like all of his ilk.

He speaks. I’m relieved. He is a man, alive. He’s no dark phantom sent to haunt me before my demise. I can’t hear him over the roar. Doesn’t he know that? His lips move like a wooden floor groove. He might as well be silent.

I don’t need to hear him. For I know what he will say. He’s about to tell me that we can’t go on. That the caboose, box cars or locomotive in front of us cannot move. The fire has won the race to the Kettle Creek trestle.

I haven’t answered him. In his rising panic, I can only see his gloves as he starts pushing and shoving me backwards and forwards. He’s being insubordinate and I mean to deal with him accordingly. There’s no time for his anger.

I got angry then. Real angry. I mean I should be angry at God but that did Job no good at all. Nope, I’m angry at me.

I grab his overalls and draw him close. He shouts in my ear, “Powers, the Kettle River trestle is alight.”

He’s asking me if we should go on. I’m the conductor and these are my charges. But it’s already too late. Because of me.

This steel and wood trestle is the only way back to Superior. But now the fire has won and it will take all of us.

This was the wildfire that had turned buildings to flames before my eyes. And then melted fireman’s hoses. And had stopped the train from being watered. And had fused the tracks as they left. And now had finally chased us down.

These last two dry and crackling months had sullied the beautiful Minnesota landscape. Hills once peopled with pencil pines, olive and green meadows all competing with each other to catch the passer’s eye were now an ochre treeless desert.

Today, September 1st was so hot I felt I was living in a pan with the lid on. And on the journey to Hinckley, the smoke which looked like a mist at first became thicker and darker until it was as night. And I noticed something queer : sometimes the leaves, and sawdust and branches left by the sawyers were smouldering.

But that didn’t prepare me for what happened when we arrived late afternoon. We weren’t even a quarter of hour by my watch’s reckoning before fire fell from the sky onto Hinckley. Now so many times, on this very railroad line, I’ve seen fire creep through grass and sweep through trees but I never saw anything like that. Or hope to again.

Then the wildfire engulfed the town. People appeared from everywhere, a crushing crowd rushing the train. Men pushing women and children and their baggage just piling on the train in no order at all. Too soon the carriages were full. And there were more people pushing and shoving.

Somewhere in that tumult the freight train arrived. As it soon as it did we knew it wasn’t going anywhere. The heat had melted the turntable.

I don’t know who got it into their heads first, but William Best and Edward Barry and myself took it on ourselves to hook the caboose, three box cars and the loco to my train.

We helped the crowds onto the box cars. It was all women and children as far as I could tell. Any men that made it were infirm. I remember the children crying as if they were my own.

And then it was time to go. Edward Barry sounded the whistle. The train didn’t move. William Best had put on the emergency brake.  I went to see. And he leant out and pointed.

For there was a new crowd of people, scared, wild eyed and pushing forward. Perhaps some of these were from the gravel pit or other parts of town I couldn’t tell in the dark and the noise.

I delayed the train some more. I went forward and helped pile them in the box car. I was lifting children up and over each other. One of the boys, a tall strapping fine fellow, started helping from inside. A couple of the little ones around him joined in. We managed to get all the women and children aboard.

But by then, paint was peeling off the box cars. I ran back to my carriage. I turned and saw grown men falling down as if dead. Only a hundred or so yards away.

“Can you wait?” A woman small, standing there. “My daughter…”

But a clap of thunder silences the roar of the fire. I turn. Buildings are exploding as if dynamited. I didn’t think. I just acted. I grabbed her arm and pulled her aboard. We got out of Hinckley fast enough before the ties and rails melted. It was too late for the rest of them by then.

Now I’m still angry. Not at God. Now there’s a waste of time arguing. For I know he will outlast me. I’m not even angry anymore for letting the train go late. For I’m not doing enough now. And that makes up my mind for me.

The brakeman asks again. He runs back to the locomotive. The train moves forward. I must have nodded.  I was struck silent.

I turn back to my charges. I don’t know what to do. I bowed my head and pray hopelessly. It was the only way I knew how. In the midst of my desperate reverie, I felt a gaze alight on me, like a match struck in the dark. I almost laughed at that ironic thought.

I opened my eyes. The first thing I see is a moving heap of coats and dresses. I squint a little. The two eyes that are its inhabitant stare right through me. She looks the size of a six or seven year old. I’m not much figuring ages that’s my wife’s purview I’m afraid.

A ragamuffin girl, perhaps it’s all the clothes she has ever had. They’re falling off her, a street urchin, skinny, bony, looks like nobody’s orphan to me. She must have sneaked aboard when I was looking the other way.

She speaks. At first I hear nothing over the roar.

She doesn’t have to say it again. For my years of being a train conductor have given me one unsung skill.

“My soul clings to you, your right hand upholds me,” I lip read.

I hear another voice, one that fills the train, a voice that only I can hear now. The one I had been waiting for.

I start to go backward through the train. It seems almost cooler now. Perhaps providence has sent us a breath of air. I straighten my cap, sip the new air and check my watch chain.

I tip toe through the pile of bodies. I’m fearful of waking them up. But more fearful of them drowning or burning in their sleep.

I wake the men, infirm though they are, roughly with a push or shove. Or a squeeze of their shoulder. But I apply no such ministrations to the women or children, though, a touch of the hand is enough.

I look for God’s ragamuffin but she has disappeared. Perhaps she hid herself under a seat. There’s no time now to go a looking for her.

I don’t shout. That moment’s past. I might as well be Job arguing with God when he spoke from the storm.

Then the shudder that we knew would come runs through all of us. The carriages are starting to cross the bridge. I shiver and shudder myself and will the train across each beam of the bridge.

I only found out later that the trestle fell when we were two thousand yards ahead of it. But by then we had made it back. Over more burning trestles that wouldn’t fall.

I had given up on my fear by then.

The Third Whisper Of Love

Safe between the cold clouds and their rain 
How can I ever want for heat again?
This warmth will always be enough for me
No longer tepid and lukewarm I'll be.

And to hold one breath and another
That is yours as our spirit melds together
Who would want ever to speak to be heard
When all is listening already and always?

Yet how can I ever be silent
When in you there is all that is yet to be said?
Yet when I speak from you I hear another
The voice one of a third infinite lover.

But not one that would rend us asunder
No that's earths unjust storm and thunder
It's a soft whisper louder than breath
Louder even than that last drawn before death

But this soft trill is no harbinger of hate 
No this quiet voice heralds love's true fate
Which is to salve and heal the solitary one
And weave together untorn two once alone

And much more like the quiet gardener still
Plant unkillable seeds, water, wait and till
And reap fully a love once merely finitely
That embraces all enjoined in an everlasting trinity.

The Happiest Dental Patient Ever

Was this the last one? I went to the surgery door and called his name.

He looked up at once. And his eyes twinkled at me. And he smiled as if he had been in last week! 

He walked in arms swinging by his sides as if it was too easy. Tall, thin and vaguely familiar. But he wasn’t on my books at all. He couldn’t be. He was a walk-in as far as I was concerned. 

I didn’t know him from elsewhere in this town. Today was just my second day. I still was remembering more important matters. Such as which room was mine, the name of the receptionists, where the autoclave was, in case my assistant forgot to bring in the instrument tray. Which saving my anxiety, she did.

But this guy! He swings into the chair like a test pilot promoted to astronaut! And I think to myself, is he another one too? Another professional? If he is he’s pretty confident in what we all do!

Unlike me. I make a bad patient. And I’m even worse, now that I lecture. And  worst of all, provide expert advice when things go badly. If it was me, I’d be jelly.

And I ask,”What can I do for you?”

He says, “Just a check-up, ma’am.”

And I laugh, and ask, “ma’am. No one says that anymore!”

He says as unbidden, he swallows, swishes and spits, “The school librarian made us say it.

And while he’s drawling, he puts on a posh accent, “Don’t call wimmen Miss, Ms, Mrs unless you know if they’re married or not. And she said never call them Madame. And never said why. Reckoned I worked out that one!  But our French teacher wouldn’t answer to anything else! Reckoned ma’am is the least worst thing to say. Yeah. no. It’s okay most times except when I say it to the really young girls. They hate it. They scowl at me and swear under their breath while they’re texting!!”

Between us the ice is broken. And it seems familiar somehow. I laugh, and ask, “What do you do?”

He said leaning back and opening wide, still talking like a Northern Texan, “Professional bludger. Tell people stuff they don’t need.Write documents no one ever reads. Better get started, eh?”

And that’s the giveaway. He’s from the deep north of Queensland like me. Even with his mouth wide open, he still makes each word twice as long like a native. And that “eh!” That’s a deadset giveaway right there! And then I laugh to myself. Sometimes I still lapse back, I think. Just because I shifted states.  Another lapse now too.

Meantime, the work begins. I peer into his mouth with my mirror and sickle probe. I check and call the numbers and state to my assistant who scribbles dutifully. He’s as patient as Job. Except a lot more silent!

I say, “There’s a small hole in your back molar. We could leave it for another appointment. Or we could whiz through it now. It will only take another half hour.”

It didn’t matter, I thought. He was my last patient for the day and I was running half an hour early. My husband still had his lectures tonight so time didn’t matter.

He nods me through.

Drill, chip, wash, clamp, check, double check, tighten the clamp, fill, let set, wash and clean. It’s like doing dentistry on the Dalai Lama, I suppose. He’s so composed and relaxed. Simple and straightforward. By the book, I thought, the textbook. Which made a refreshing change from the day I had. 

And then a memory returns to me. “Didn’t I do a root canal on you?”

He just laughs, “Yep you sure did, wasn’t the once-off either, took a couple of goes, if I rightly reckon.”

And I remember, he didn’t flinch an inch that time either. That’s why I know him but he’s not on my books. 

I say, “You would have been my easiest patient.”

As the filling sets, he laughs and tells me why (out of the corner of his mouth of course). 

“It was easy,” he says, “I had the full metal jacket as a kid, a couple of teeth removed, wired up, that mouth guard thing and braces. Thought it would never end. Always knew this would!”

Three Steps Too Many

Everything seemed perfect. Nothing had changed in years. So much so I forgot where I’d put my wallet and keys.
But only momentarily. Everything was as it was.

The carpet, that dull dirt brown, with sickly flecks of grey. Brighter than I remembered. No fading, no wear, no patches yet needing repair. The walls too, that soft creamy white, which was yet to fade fatally.

Yes it’s close to perfect. They had done well.

The curtains too, drawn against the sliding glass aluminium windows. The sunlight was completely blocked not strained as I later remembered. I flicked them open, and peered down. Four floors to the street.
I overlapped the curtains and shut the world out.
Just a desk, an old school desk with the hinged top. And then the bed. Both pristine as if just delivered. I stopped myself from looking for the packing.

Clean crisp sheets lay under that green and black patterned bedspread. That lost joy of sleeping in a new bed. I pulled the covers all the way back. I slipped in and slept.

Set your doubts aside, I told myself, as I woke. I had slept through. I swung my legs out and planted them firmly on the floor for certainty’s sake. Back on that carpet. Push off the covers and start a new day.
New clothes awaited me. Shiny shoes too. I showered, shampooed and shaved in expectant pleasure. Next a singlet, clean and fresh. White shirt next. Though pre-pressed I could still feel the new creases. Cuff links magnetically almost magically attached themselves. My trousers fitted perfectly as if they had melded themselves to my form. These easy features were so great I thought. I noted it for later.

Socks and then the shoes. I tied up the laces as I hated self-tying shoes. As I stood up, the shoes felt loose again. I looked down and they were untied. Sit down, tie them, stand up and untied again. I took them off and put on a pair of slip-ons. Noted.

My wallet and keys were where I’d left them. I pocketed my wallet which snugly fitted. The keys. They were there on the bedside table only a minute ago. They were gone. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. Nothing. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. I looked up and the gleam of the key ring caught my eye. They were on the bedside table after all. Okay. Noted.

Breakfast next. I was running early so I had nothing to worry about. As I made the coffee, I left the teaspoon in the cup. As I poured the water in, it flowed up the bowl of the spoon and over the handle. Quickly I jump back. And quickly I mop up the mess. The water doesn’t seem so hot now. I should think nothing of it, I say to myself. I pick up the knife to butter the toast. The blade brushes the handle of my cereal spoon and sends it spinning. Luckily I’m quick again and save it from meeting the floor.
I’ll see this through I say. But my teeth are starting to grind.  A lot noted for later,definitely some kitchen patching required here.

The last task before work. The teeth clean. But first as advised, I floss. I check the indicator and there’s about 50 metres left. I tug at the strand and pull out two fingernails of dental floss. I look again. None left. Thus warned, I duck under the basin and draw out an extra roll. When I look up again, there’s 10cm of floss waiting for me. Okay it’s not what I expected but I’ll take it. Noted for later. Bathroom supplies not the bathroom.

Then the trek to the street ,four flights downstairs, two at a time. It’s like walking on air. I check my watch. Come to think of it, when did I put it on? Five minutes to the bus, it blinks at me. Noted for later.

I step out onto the street. Instantly my hand goes up to my left cheek to deflect a waft of breeze. A little cool in the morning is a joy. Suddenly I crouch and duck my head as a slurry of leaves and twigs suddenly appear. Then as quickly as it appears, it’s gone. I get to my feet and realise I had fended off the assault with my right arm. The winds are fluky today but not as I remember.

The bus arrives on time but not my time. I don’t argue with reality. I take it anyway. I touch on as usual. I shove the card back in my wallet and it promptly pops out. I’m quick but it takes two grabs to catch it. It seemed to start, float in the air momentarily and then stop. But why the hell didn’t it pop out before? I gave it enough chances!

Then I look at my fellow passengers. They’re strangers who are familiar yet remain a mystery despite sitting in the same seats and talking about the same banalities that I can still remember. Conversations about matching lists of possessions, defiant children and recalcitrant spouses, all suffixed by furtive glances at their smart watches. It’s strangely stilted somehow but I just can’t work it out. I’m not dropping out now. Not this time.

Finally the bus makes it to the freeway. And I’m dazzled. I slam my eyes shut. After a few seconds I reluctantly half open my right eye. The sun was still glaring at me. But I remember this trek far too well. Even in my half sight I can see the landmarks I know and mentally tick them off. But the sun. It’s still there. It’s in a different place today. I mentally play back the trips I remember and this doesn’t match. Perhaps the freeway has been re-routed, or I’m in a different seat today. But none of those match either. Also noted for later,but definitely a core problem.

But it’s too late to think of that. The bus has left the freeway and is being piped along a dark tunnel. And my stop is next. And it does appear. I leave, wend my way through the crowds and climb the stairs, two at a time, to the street.

And it’s raining. How did the weather change so quickly? I look up at the rain trails in the sky which stop before they hit the ground. I rack my brain for the term: Virga. I scan the sky for the source : cumulonimbus clouds and there aren’t any. Perhaps the wind blew them away?

My place of work looms up before me as I walk. A few steps, take the lift, see what joys and pressures await me today.

I take the steps three at a time…

I didn’t even feel the thud.  They wake me up from a leaden sleep. I feel as if I’ve been drawn up from the depths. Dimly I realise that there are two familiar though geeky men wrestling my helmet off me. With that familiar mixture of deftness and roughness they unstrap me and unbuckle my suit.

“Where am I?” I ask.  As soon as I ask,I know it’s a stupid question. I’m back.

“You shouldn’t have taken the stairs three at a time”, one of the coders say.
“It forked the stair routine and deleted the building instance. They’re rebuilding the model now.”
“Hey, there was nothing about that in the testing guidelines,” I say.
“Was it in the specifications? The requirements?”

The first helmet wrangler says nothing. The other developer just glares at me.
“It was the final beta test.. It goes live next week.”

“I don’t want to be an alpha tester anymore,” I say.

I shrug, find my misplaced wallet and keys, and leave. I approach the exit stairs.

I take the steps three at a time…

The Glass Slipper (3)

Celebrities, I now realise, live in a perpetual fog. And nowhere more so than on the red carpet. This night I’m slow prancing through a warming mist of light. Camera flashes and phone selfie stick shots leave me blinking rapidly and staring dumbly. Further along, the spotlights surround me like a hot cloud. I’m suited up, white shirt, black tie, the male uniform of universal fame. But I do look good, I have to admit that. So my social feed tells me anyway.

Ella like a vision is in front of me. The classic fairy tale goddess : tall, blonde, slim, leading everyone’s eye towards her. Remember, I thought, people don’t stare at beauty like that, they just hold their gaze for longer. It’s her night, after all. That much this simple man does know.Right now, I have little idea why I’m here. It’s an opening night for a product Ella is endorsing. Something, something, folate. I start to fall behind.

“Folate? What the hell is Folate?”

I’m open-mouthed staring at the TV. My reality mega celebrity wife is yet again endorsing another product. And no-one has told me about it. She’s saying what a great health supplement it is. Which is of no use to me at all. I don’t know a thing. And that secret leaks out very quickly. For my followers have tapped into my confusion. According to the social media feedback, that is. The joke continues, smart wife, dumb husband. Not dumb I say to myself. I just do what I’m told. She’s the ball gown, I’m the plastic handbag. And so long as it stays that way, I will have ongoing success.

There’s Ella, in glorious 3D. So real I could almost reach out, tap her on the shoulder and ask, “What’s it for?”

But it’s not me doing the asking. Or the tapping of the shoulder.

Out of the misty light, the voice spoke to me, “Good evening sir, I hope you’re well tonight.”

I squint. I try to see who is talking to me. A smiling urbane gentleman of the old class I thought.

“Thank you, I am”, I replied. As my eyes adjusted, I could see who it was. He was a head taller than me. He was perfectly clean shaven. He had green eyes that were both piercing and twinkling set in a pleasant thin face. He was dressed in a thin grey woollen suit and wearing a earpiece. I couldn’t work out why he was not behind the silken barrier. Then I looked at his badge. And then he spoke again.

“You can’t go any further.” His voice hardened slightly as he emphasised all the words. The scene now starts to make sense to me. Here I am speaking to the most well mannered security guard I’d ever met. And now he is very diplomatically telling me my night was over. I looked behind him. He had firepower on his side. On his left and right were two heavy set men. Now these were the security men that I would cast in the role, I thought. Exactly alike, they were dressed in jet black suits, short, squat, standing silently and watchfully. If my new found acquaintance had asked to burrow they would. But they were more suitable for scrummaging. When I saw men like that coming for me, I always threw the ball away. Although it didn’t help. But this time I stood still.

I said nothing. I was outnumbered. I was told the reason. I was with a rival company. They had orders that it was best I be turned away. The pop and flash of cameras continue as if these were fans asking for a selfie or even an old-fashioned autograph. But not for long, as the real star is moving on.

I started to say, “I’m with Ella.” But I thought better of it.

I decided to be an anonymous celebrity for now. I stayed in the fog. I waited for rescue. Any other reaction I realised would be all over the media in seconds. I looked down at the phone. “What’s happening Jack?” was the theme of the feed. “Who are these people?” they asked. Tempted, I started to tap on my phone. Remembering the advice I had received about social media, I pulled my hand away. I chose to shut up and wait for the lifeline.

When it happens, it makes me believe in science fiction. Yet again, out of nowhere, John and Tash materialise. My producers, who had been avoiding me for reasons unknown for the last week turn up at the time of crisis.

I always thought of them as the perfect couple. Interchangeable. One could substitute for the other. As they do right now. They step right up to the security supervisor, so no-one can easily listen. Two people invading his personal space. The security gentleman doesn’t flinch. He is inscrutable. He tilts his head down to listen. All I can see is his bald head with a light sheen of sweat.

John or Tash speaks first, the other continues the sentence, without the other even stopping for breath. All I hear is the phrase, “Endorsement conflict.” My head just tick tocks as I look from one to another. I know I still look as stunned as I did during the camera, phones and spotlights on the red carpet. I look down. My feed is full of a jumble of emoticons, some funny, others puzzled, of course, some obscene.

John and Tash stop at the same time. They both look at me. They speak in unison, “Don’t do anything until we tell you.” I think to myself, yes, mostly that’s what I usually do, but not always. Especially when I have an unexpected surprise and try and fix it myself. Just like when I tried to placate Ella after she shattered the glass slipper. But we fixed that, didn’t we?

They continue to speak to the butler. I think to myself, he would make an excellent butler. But his tone is firm. Then without speaking to one another, John and Tash start calling on their mobiles. I’m stupefied by now. I think I hope the camera’s aren’t zooming in on my open flapping mouth as well. They’re speaking as one person to different people. “How did they do that?”, I thought. “How did they decide who called who and who went first?”

Meanwhile, twilight surrounds us. The lights, phones and cameras have moved on, seeking Ella’s long gaze. I’m sure she’s thinking of me. But that would be reality TV being too real?

The next thing I hear is a whisper. The two of them talking into my ear. How can they get so close? “Text her and tell her you’re not feeling well. And then go home.” I do as I’m told. It always works. My new found security detail escort me to the waiting car.

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