Short Story: Lucem Ex Tenebras

I was sitting at my desk arranging the desktop icons into the semblance of a middle finger when the chat window popped up. 
 
“Tony, are you there?”
 
I finished giving myself the finger and began to type: “Sorry, but this isn’t Tony.” and I was about to press enter when I read:
 
“I’m drowning in a sea of shit Tony, except I’m the sea. I could really use someone to talk to.”
 
It occurred to me that Tony might not be available to talk to whoever this person was. That is precisely what had happened to me, the day before, except her name was Michelle, and she’d gotten sick of how often I needed her help.
 
Besides there appeared to be no one else at any of their desks, anywhere on this floor.
 
I wrote: “Okay. What’s wrong?”
 
They said: “IT’S fucking stupid. I’m being stupid.”
 
“Whatever IT is, If IT bothers you, then it bothers you. And that’s okay.”
 
They didn’t type anything for awhile. 
 
Then they wrote: “On the subway someone’s phone went off. The ringtone was Don’t Stop Believing by journey and I wanted to cry because of it, but I didn’t want anyone to see so I picked up this newspaper and there was this stupid picture of a soldier upside down and he looked like an idiot so I started laughing but I was crying at the same time and then I realized I was holding the newspaper upside down and that everyone would know why I’d done it.”
 
I waited.
 
Typed “lol” then deleted it. 
 
They wrote “See, it’s fucking stupid.”
 
I typed “Why did the song make you cry?”
 
They wrote it all out. How their face had been scratched by the windshield of their car whilst they listened to what used to be their favorite song. How they had lost who they were and that reminded me qof how I’d lost Danielle, and how simple things that shouldn’t be, did. Like waking up. And breakfast,
 
Except Danielle was definitely still alive and waiting for me at home with the next episode of Game Of Thrones.
 
Later they wrote “Thank you I fucking needed that” so I thought it was time to type: “My name isn’t actually Tony you know. Though I am in tech support…” which is when I woke up from the dream, into an empty bed, on top of a duvet too large for one person because Danielle was still dead and I’d forgotten again. 
 
It took me sometime to get dressed and go to my real desk, out in the real world. It was somewhere around noon when I realized that I’d left my latest prescription at home. My supervisor let me go, told me to stay home, and I knew he meant well but why couldn’t he understand that I would come back the moment I took my pills and that the last thing I needed was to be at home. That auditing the accounts of a popcorn company was bliss in comparison. 
 
The pills didn’t seem to do anything except make day time TV somewhat more bearable. The romance, between an ancient concubine and some kind of half-man, half-bird creature was particularly enthralling, especially since I do not speak cantonese and so made up the words in my head. My stomach growled so I put some instant dimsum in the microwave and pressed some buttons. At some distance from the couch the microwave started beeping. I figured that now that it was cooked, that it would keep, for several hours if necessary. Later the washing machine started making noises. I remained on the sofa, listening with half-shut eyes to the nonsensical patter of another Chinese soap. 
 
Of course my phone had to go off right next to my head. An unknown number. I prepared to be polite. If it was all I going to do today, I was going to be polite to his poor, underpaid telemarketer.
 
“Hello.” I said, in my polite voice.
 
She said: “Hi there! I’m calling from tech support! Why so glum chum?”
 
“Excuse me?”
 
“What’s on you mind man! I heard you’re kind of down.”
 
“From who? Who is this?”
 
“Well, I got this memo, said you’re kind of down. Got it from the sysadmin. He assigned me to you I think. I’m not sure. But who cares, whatever, you sound like ass, you really do and for what it’s worth you shouldn’t bottle it all up. Let’s see here…Danielle…lovely name that. Come on man, tell me about her. I’m listening. You can tell me whatever you like.
 
I tried a few Well’s, some But’s and it’s just’s- she waited for me to finish one of my sentences but I failed to. I only breathed slower, and harder, till I was gasping.
 
She said “Danielle would want you to treat yourself well, I mean, that’s love right?”
 
“That’s…what the fuck…” And it just spilled out of me. In a babbling mess. I confessed about how I’d finally found someone that made me feel everything I’d ever dreamed of, right when I’d given up all hope, right when I was at my most overweight and tired, and then out of nowhere, just like that she’s gone and all the pills in the goddamn world weren’t enough. I told her how I hadn’t really been happy to begin with. How Danielle just accepted me and that was the definition of love.
 
The tech support lady said: “Self-acceptance counts too.”
 
And after that I poured the rest out. And after that I tried to thank her. “That was so much better than these pink pills I take.”
 
It turns out we took the same pills.
 
She had been swearing a lot. I asked: “Have you…ever been in a car accident?”
 
She said Yes.
 
“And do you have a friend, a good friend named Tony?”
 
She said What the fuck.
 
The line began to crackle. I remembered then, being transferred to tech support, the empty office, and a middle finger made out of desktop icons and: “LOOK, IF YOU’RE AT THE OFFICE TONIGHT, MEET ME AT THE PHOTOCOPY MACHINE!”
 
She managed to ask: “The pink one?”
 
“YES THE BRIGHT PINK ONE!!!!!” and the line went dead and I woke up opposite the TV and I made a mental, then a written note to bring all this up with my psychiatrist. Then I did my washing, ate the dimsum, and went back to work.
 
I was so excited that getting to sleep took ages.
 
It felt like I was about to go somewhere new. Meet someone new. It felt like my first date with Danielle and the debate I had about what flowers to buy. So I still thought I was awake even when I found myself at the bottom of a lift shaft, with only a ladder and the distant sounds whirring office machinery. I climbed and counted the floors, perpetually afraid I had lost track, that I was going to miss mine. It made me want to start all over again but my arms were tired and what if I wouldn’t be able to go back up? 
 
The silhouette of a head peeked out, far above me. “About time! I couldn’t find a single freakin’ photocopy machine anywhere. Its like the end of the world up in here.” 
 
At that point it became easier to climb, until I stood on the other side of the shaft from her, the gap in between too large to jump. “Jump it!” she said. 
 
“I’ll fall.” I replied.
 
She extended her hands and it occurred to me that if I ran really, really fast, then maybe I’d outrun gravity. So I did, and I was only a foot away from her when gravity caught up to grab me by my ankles, “OH HELL NO!” She yelled, then her hands clasping mine, pulling me up till we stood, face to scarred face. She kissed me and I didn’t ask why, or feel guilty at all despite the fact that she looked nothing like Danielle.
 
“I checked out the company directory, none of it makes any fucking sense, but I’ll tell you what- the sysadmin’s office is on the top floor. Come on, we’ll take the stairs.”
 
So we ran hand in hand up an interminable fire escape. Eventually we emerged into a white marbled lobby. At the end of it, large and imposing, were a set of double doors. One black, the other white, with a drop of the other color in each. Holding hands we shouldered both open together.
 
Inside the sysadmin dropped the dimsum he’d been eating. Then he tripped over a bundle of wires covered with what looked like unwashed clothes. He stuttered: “Who the…what the…you guys aren’t supposed to BE here! At the same time! Oh jeez, you’re even holdin’ hands.”
 
I gently disconnected from her.
 
The sysadmin sighed and circled us, humming and hawwing to himself. I said: “Excuse me, we would very much like to know how…”
 
“Shhhh.” He gently pressed one finger to his lips. “Shhhhhhhitttttt I see it now. Wow. You guys. The pills you both take. They messed with the system! Fucking PEOPLE!” His hands flew up, beseeching a red neon sign above him, composed of Chinese characters I did not understand. “Always messing around with the mind, like idiot children. Damn pills got side effects. Ought to put that on the label.”
 
“Look sir, is she real?”
 
She turned on me: “SAY WHAT? Fuck you, are YOU real?”
 
“YOU’RE BOTH FRICKIN REAL!” he said. “Look. Here’s the thing. There has been a teensy little screw up. You aren’t ever suppsoed to be together in the same place and time. The same place-time. That isn’t how it works,”
 
“How what works?” One of us said.
 
“The…buddy program. For broken people- not unlike yourselves. What happens is when one person is really low, like, down in the sewers low, then another person, quite like them, but- and this is crucial- not feeling the same way at that exact moment in time, contacts you, and you have a bit of a talk, to alleviate the symptoms of existence. Now you are both, if I may say so, HIGHLY QUALIFIED buddys in your own right. Seriously top notch traumas you’ve both sustained. But the algorithm’s screwed up, there shouldn’t be a recurring relationship. Not like this. There shouldn’t be anything tying you to together. Except for the goddamn pills your quack of a psychiatrist gave both of you. Same pills, same connection, and now you’re freakin HOLDING HANDS!”
 
He sighed again, said: “There is only one thing left to do now. Gotta reset the system.”
 
“Reset?”
 
“Yeah, turn it on and off. Works most of the time.”
 
“And then what, we just…”
 
“Wake up, and all of this is forgotten, and later on you help someone different instead.”
 
I asked him: “But wait, you mean, we go to the same doctor? We could see each other…outside of…work?” 
 
She asked him: “Hey dickhead, what if we don’t want to forget, did you ever consider that?”
 
The sysadmin paused, hands hovering over the console he had been typing at. “Sorry. Really am. But if I don’t do this you guys might end up perfectly happy, and then so much for balancing out the others. And you’ll know all about the backoffice. And you’ll start some frickin cult and invariably in a century or two it’ll all get fucked.”
 
I held her hand again. “What does it mean?” I asked.
 
I was pointing at the neon sign, which had changed from Chinese to latin. “Lucem ex tenebras; from darkness, light.” The sysadmin massaged the top of his forehead. “Even if I reset the system it won’t be over for you guys. You’re on your way up. The darkness, without it you wouldn’t understand each other. You wouldn’t care. Not as hard. Not as much. And for what it’s worth there are a lot of you guys out there, trust me.” He gestured to the stack of servers: “You’ll find someone else. Or you won’t. I don’t know. It’ll be like a dream- you’ll forget the details but you’ll remember the point.” He squatted and reached into a space between two servers.
 
She turned to me, her smile melding with the scar that traveled from her jaw to her forehead. “I’ll remember you.” She said.
 
And then he flipped the switch.
 
I woke up late on top of a duvet too large for one person. I was pretty sure I’d dreamt of Danielle. What little I had slipped out of my grasp, leaving only a few word that made no sense.
 
So I googled Lucem Ex Tenebras and went back to work.

Flashfiction for Scifriday: Alone

What follows is a 100 word piece of flash/micro fiction for SCIFRIDAY! From the following blog:

http://chriswhitewrites.com/2014/03/21/scifriday-1/

I hope more people take a shot at this!

Picture below was inspiration, and then the story follows. I went over a little (112 words), alas. 

tracks_by_sandara-d6ko5hm

Alone

In ancient times it was called a railway, a sort of mass transit system. Now it was a strip of verdant beauty, a green path stretching forward. Luke took off his smart-boots, and for the first time, felt grass between his toes.

“Follow at 3 meters.”

“Okay Luke.” Came the voice, programmed to sound just like Julienne had.

It still caused Luke’s pulse to skip, her voice that followed him across such a gulf of space, and time.

Here, on Terra, alone on this graveyard of a world, Luke would spend the rest of his days. To dwell on loss, of his home in her, and all their homes that once were here.

 

Flash Fiction: Sewed Shut

Claudia biked with her husband, through the same paths they always took. Past the same trees that wrapped their limbs across the same, too-near fences. This time when they got to the crossing, they kissed with eyes closed, and raced- Hugo started first, got ahead, and Claudia was too focused on his sweat-clinging back. So that when Hugo yelled “LOOK…” and she did, she failed to hear the next thing he said, before the van hit her.

Claudia woke into a room she had never been in before. Everything about her was wrong. She could not move her legs or arms that were tied to a teal wall. She could not speak, or turn her neck. She tried to stay awake, instead she fell into a sleep, where she dreamed of pain and snapped twigs. The man woke her, the scary man who moaned at her, words she did not understand. The man who went about her, he poked and prodded and moaned some more. Made noises abhorrent and incomprehensible. She could not turn her head to look and see what he thought in his eyes. He would go. Leaving her there, trapped. She would wonder, had he always been waiting for her? At that crossing? Was her happiness too much, was she guilty of being too content? She wished Hugo would find her and rescue her, and these were her last thoughts usually, before she slept and dreamt of broken twigs.

The man came back, and she resolved to finally do something, anything at all- even if it was only to scream.

So she tried to open her mouth. She attempted to widen her jaw. But the sewing between her lips, the thick black threads would stretch and cut her and the pain was too much to bear. The stitching was so tight she could not even open a centimeter. She tried to scream and could barely moan. The man however paid attention, to the box beside her head. He stopped and then would make moaning noises near her face. She tried to moan back, but the threads hurt so, and cut against her mouth. So she mumbled instead, and he didn’t seem to hear. He left her to sleep and dream of a cage, the bars of which thrust through her belly, that wrapped around her flesh, piercing her so that any movement would bring the tearing agony.

Then finally, Hugo came, with the man, and other shadows. They moaned at her- she could not moan the way Hugo did. She wished she could, she tried so very hard to. She tried so hard to open her mouth that the stitches began to rip. They ripped apart her lips. “Oh.” is all she wanted to say. The threads began to stretch and then came the blood, pouring into her mouth, that tasted of cold iron. And she screamed and screamed and screamed.

Inside the hospital room. Hugo wiped away his tears and regarded his immobile wife on the teal bed. He said to the doctor that he could have sworn he saw something happen on the monitor attached to her head. He could have sworn he saw inside her open eyes a hint of life. The doctor told him it was only an illusion. The doctor told him it was time to say goodbye. So he did, and they turned her off, and she stopped screaming.

Repost of short story: Castles and Dragons

(First time was a failed copy and paste. Repeated paragraphs then missed paragraphs. How frustrating. Reposted properly.)

We had deigned to let her play with us in spite of her penchants for screaming and despite the fact that she was too mentally immature to play properly and irregardless of the unspoken consensus that her manners were annoying because Edward had said we should be nice to her and “That it was a secret why.”

But It was Alexis that taught us the new game in the playground.

“I saw my brother playing it, it’s so cool. I’m not allowed yet but it’s called Skyrim. FUS RO DAAAHH!” He yelled, as loud as Miri ever screamed, and we all stumbled back at the force of it and stared. Alexis laughed in that wierd way of his and confessed: “I’m not allowed to play Skyrim so instead we’re playing Castles and Dragons.”

“Lame.” Ranjeev said. It was a common utterance of his.

Alexis ignored him, as he was considered cool like that and he started telling us our roles whilst the rules of the game developed in that organic way of children’s games. I was to be the thief, called Wallclimber, and I took no little amount of pride in my namesake, one which I thought very important because it meant I could rescue the princess by climbing the tower. Ranjeev was to be the wizard, and we didn’t really know what he could do except cast spells, and so we negotiated that Ranjeev could cast any spell that two out of the four of us knew- Miri did not count as she was female. Thus Ranjeev had the entire arsenal of the Harry Potter movies to draw from, as well as those derived from some obscure texts by a man named Pratchett.

Edward, quiet as always, was told he could be the cleric- a term that meant little to us budding atheists and less to Alexis, who had appropriated the term from another game played by his astoundingly cool brother, and thus it was spake that a cleric had the power to transform into any animal or vehicle. “Like a twansformer.” Miri added, and we all politely tried to ignore her.

Alexis was of course, as was his prerogative the game designer, the knight in shining armor. Miri was told to be the princess.

She did not approve of this. “NOOOOOOOOOooOOOOOOOOO WHYYYYYYYYY. NO WANNA BE THE PRINCESS NEVER EVER. NO.” She started to bawl, her stub nose dribbling, and little tears cleaning away small lines of the muck that perpetually clung to her pig-face. So I thought of her then.

Ranjeev and I decided that in lieu of a princess she made a fine dragon. Thus the two of us retreated to the swings to compose our plan for the assault on the dragon’s tower. As we made our way there we casually began to lay down obstacles in our path- arbitrary rules that leant the whole game savor. It was decided between Ranjeev and I that if the dragon otherwise known as Mira saw us, then we were turned immediately to stone. I asked Ranjeev if he had a spell to counter such a predicament and he gravely revealed to me that there was no cure for stoneing.

Thus stealth would be the order of the day.

It was also decided that we had gathered intelligence in advance that pointed to the location of the princess, who although icky, was heir to a kingdom composed almost entirely of summer holidays and would bequeath her demesne to any heroes bold enough to free her. She would be trapped at the top of the slide, also known as the Dragon’s Tower. Which is when Alexis returned to us. He had sprinted over, in other words, ridden on his noble steed to deliver both good and bad news.

The good news, which was really bad news at first, was that Miri was NOT the dragon. Alexis had folded during the cacophonous negotiations, which Mira had resorted to after her failed argument where she pleaded equality of gender- as at that barbaric age we never would have compromised against our staid prejudice that girls were icky and certainly not policemen- which is what Mira, the next member of our fellowship, had become. She was a dragon-cop.

“If she has a gun it’s unfair.” Remarked Ranjeev.

Alexis concurred, and we won a small consolation- denying her access to firearms which would have been in violation of the mileu. We filled Alexis in on our reconnaissance and he rode his steed away, over to Edward and Mira to spread the information. “WAIT UP MANNNN.” Yelled Ranjeev. I pointed out that he was not as fast as Edward’s black warhorse, to which Ranjeev thoughtfully said “Accio Firebolt!” and sped off after him. He returned later with a sullen expression and transmitted to me the afformentionted bad news. As Mira was no longer the dragon it was deduced that the dragon was not only a fire-breathing stone-turning flying lizard, but that it was also invisible. “Dontcha know an anti-invisible spell?” I inquired of my wizardly companion. He answered in the negative, and I wonder to this day exactly what if any spells he knew that were of any use in an actual crisis.

Thus we approached the dragons tower. There were only two ways in. The tower was situated on a high bluff that emerged out of the child-safe-padding around the slide. The main way was a stair case, trecherously high, and with a lava moat between the nearest padded island and it, as naturally, any non-padded surface was lava- we did not even have to say it out loud, it was as given as gravity. The secondary way up was the wall- a steep climb, but one I, The Wallclimber, was more than capable of making.
Ranjeev insisted that we should first try the stairs, even though I pointed out what a waste of my abilities it was. We pondered the long jump between our island to cross the lava moat. At which point Ranjeev said “Accio Floatness” and we floated merrily across. As we made our way up the stairs, Ranjeev taking point, I started to whisper to him “What we gonna do to the dragon when we find it? Fight it? Maybe we jus’ get the princess.” Ranjeev kept saying he did not know, he did know, he knew nothing- then halfway up the stairs he stopped. I waited for a moment, wondering if we had been spotted. “Ranjeev?” I whispered. He did not even shush me.

We stood like that for some seconds till I poked him. He did not move. “Ranjeev?” I started poking him quite a lot, particularly in the ribs, till through a feat of sheer will, or perhaps magic, Ranjeev defied his fate to mutter, with great difficulty, the reason we had stalled. “The dragon saw me and now I’m stone.” I did not know how to curse effectively at that tender age so I merely said “Doggy balls.” which elicited one final gasp from my striken companion. Shedding no tears- for we were made of the stuff of heroes, I began to ponder our fate. At last an ingenious plan emerged, which I told Ranjeev in case he was in there, somewhere. “Ranjeev I’m gonna hide behind you and use you as a shield.” Since he was stone he could no longer respond despite his utterances to the contrary.

I began to try to lift the wizard, but alas, he was a stony corpulent spell-slinger, quite overweight which probably explained his leanings towards the arcane as opposed to the physical. After getting red in the face repeatedly I gave up and decided to beat a hasty retreat before the dragon got me too. I backtracked to the base of the tower, saddened by the loss of my companion and our first defeat, yet also emboldened- afterall, an epic finale requires harrowing obstacles first. Even at that age this was obvious to me.

From out of the distance then came the others. I waited, ready to give them the sad news. They reached me, and I explained what had happened. Edward asked where Ranjeev had gone since he’d been turned to stone. Indeed the stairs were devoid of his chubby mass. “The dragon must have moved him.” Offered Alexis.

Edward pointed to our fat friend at the ice scream stall. At which point I felt it nessecary to emphasize, for the sake of the reality we had so painstakingly invested in that “I saw the dragon move him into the tower so he’s gone.” Edward withered under all our stares, including Mira’s, and we promptly forgot about the doppleganger licking his chocolate Magnum near the tennis courts.

We began to plan anew. Presently we surmised that the new plan was that Alexis would ride Edward who would become a jet, all the way up to the dragon and then Alexis would shout it to death. I assumed this would be similar to Mira’s inherant abilities. I asked what my place was in this grand scheme and was promptly informed that I had failed, and lost the party wizard to boot. Edward and Alexis went up. Mira tugged on my shirt. She informed me that their plan was unfortunately destined to fail as well. “Shouting never ever works.” She said with as much conviction as I had ever seen- far more seriously than Edward always was. Somewhat thrilled to know that the limelight was still upon me, even if I were saddled with a girl for a companion, I asked her whatever we were to do.

At which point she launched into a description of the dragon, one that has haunted me to this day.

Apparently it was bright red, with gleaming scales and darkly mirrored eyes. It made a sound as it swooped towards it’s prey, a terrible noise that Mira immitated. I pointed out that the noise sounded a lot like Edward’s jet engine and she did not deny it. The dragon did not merely breathe fire, which was too quick a death- it clawed and bit, and smacked with it’s tail. And it did so to the princess, as well as those that tried to reach her. The dragon told lies, terrible lies that everyone else believed, and it did use fire- usually on your arm (and Mira pointed to her own). She was almost in tears as she said all this, and this scared me terribly. The dragon was no longer a petty threat, waiting for it’s inevitable defeat at the hands of heroes arbitrarily noble and empowered.

It was a Dragon.

Enraptured by Mira’s ability to describe such things I asked her the question I’d been wanting to ask all the others, but felt far too ashamed to broach- though I thought, personally, that it was of paramount importance. At that age it was a ‘girl’s’ question, though later it would certainly become a ‘boy’s’ question.

I asked Mira what the princess looked like. This bought me a smile.

The princess was apparently blond-haired and blue-eyed, with long tresses that reached down to her hip. She was slender and liked to read books, and always soft-spoken. She only cried when she was certain no one could see, and she gave the best hugs. My heart ached at Mira’s passionate description.

I no longer craved glory. I wanted justice.

I asked her whatever we were to do against all that. Mira told me then, that there was a crossbow- a magic crossbow that she suspected would slay the beast. Once more I wanted a description, as she had a way with words far in excess of her age, and ironic considering her habit of nonsensically screaming at the top of her lungs. Perhaps she was so full of words they burst out of her.

The crossbow she described was unlike any crossbow I had learnt of later, though at the time, ignorant as I was, I took her words for granted and assumed all crossbows had short stub-nosed barrels, and revolving chambers for six rounds of ammunition. And that they came in a chest kept in caves underneath a murky sea upon which were the floating wrecks of ceramic ships. The chest was locked, naturally, but Mira held my hand and confided in me that she knew where the key was.

She had it. In her pocket.

It was real. She took it from out of her torn dress. It was small, like a postbox key, and a bit rusty but certainly real. After that it was over- I didn’t stand a chance, I believed her over the others, despite her being an icky girl. She had props for godsakes.

The battle cry of the knight came then, from the top of the tower. We could not tell if they were winning but we assumed that without the information we had, and without the seriousness with which we were taking this quest, that they were certainly doomed. Quickly we formulated yet another plan. Mira was to retrieve the crossbow and start up the stairs. I was to climb from the rear. I would distract the dragon with wierd faces whilst she plugged the wyrm with the crossbow. A sound plan. We separated and started.

Alone on that slide I began my ascent. I have never forgotten it.

Years later I would run a race in highschool, the finals of a national competition- a hundred meter dash. I had trained for so long for that one race- and I realized at the time that I had begun my training here, on the wall of the tower. As I lined up with the other sprinters and bent down to take my mark I remembered how the cold steel of that slide felt.

With the shouts of Alexis in the foreground I continued up, stealthy as can be, till finally I reached the top.

In the small enclosed tower Alexis swung wildly with his sword, shouting “FUS RO DA FUS RO DA!” Edward had transformed into a mouse, and sat meekly in the corner. The dragon’s back was to me, I thought, probably concentating on Alexis. A sinking feeling possessed me, Alexis never realized, and I felt honor bound to remind him “That it turns things to stone.” So Alexis froze. The inevitable, inviolable nature of the game had taken over. Alexis looked at me, hands plastered down his sides, and with his last ounce of will said “Killit”.

And appearing on the otherside there was Mira.

“BANG BANG!” She said. We gasped.

And her face crumpled into tears. “BANG BANG BANG BANG!” And she froze. Except for her trembling lip and the wet reflection of that invisible dragon in her eyes she was stone.

I found my courage, yelled: “MIRA! THROW IT AT ME.”

And she really did. With one final act she tossed me the crossbow, hurling it with all her little might.

And then she began to fall. The force of her throw had caused that equal and opposite reaction we were too young to know about. She slipped, tumbled back and for a moment hung in mid-air, not unlike in a cartoon. The drop was long, probably fifteen feet. It was a poorly designed playground, and the tower was certainly epic for it. Everything seemed to stop.

I don’t know why I did it, but I ignored the crossbow entirely, and the dragon, and threw myself after her. I caught her by the ankle as she fell backwards, and she banged her head solidly on the steel steps. She started to cry, and Edward helped me get her back up. There was a cut on her arm, and she had cracked her skull quite badly.

And all she kept saying was “WHY DIDN’T YOU SHOOT IT? WHY DIDN’T YOU KILL THE DRAGON? WHY?” She kept asking, over and over and over again. She was inconsolable.

Years later I put it down to her having hit her head, or an overactive imagination.

But even more years after that I learnt the truth, when Mira shared it with me, on our wedding night.

She told me how her mum had come to pick her up afterwards. How they went to the hospital and she got a few stitches, and how jealous she was of her mother there. She had stood in the mirror you see, as the nurses wiped the grime off her short brown hair and the snot from her blunt nose, commenting on how she looked like a boy, whilst a doctor spoke so sweetly to her mother, who years later even I would recognize was beautiful- an awkward discovery. Mira’s mom had golden hair and wore it long. She was incredibly kind and soft-spoken. I used to love going to Mira’s house when I was a teenager, and sitting in their small, makeshift library. The shelves filled with second-hand books painstakingly collected.

I would stare at a picture, completely incongruous, that hung from a wall, of a dark and melancholy forest. It was that picture, and a question about it, that prompted her confession after our weddng.

Mira told me that before, there was no picture there, as there had been no hole to cover up. She told me how after they got home that day with the dragon, how she was so happy, even though she had been hurt- she loved her mum dearly, and somehow she thought that she had really slayed a dragon. When she remembered that we hadn’t finished it she had started to shake and weep. Her mother consoled her, but she also understood the source of Mira’s anxiety.

Mira told me in tears, how she heard the car drive up- how it wasn’t the right day, and yet he came anyway. She told me how she stood in the kitchen window, watching the man with brown hair and a blunt nose she hated so much, walk out of his Farrari wearing his expensive sunglasses, and how he casually came up the drive. She told me how she heard him enter, after Mira’s mum, with a shaking hand, had closed the kitchen door, and told Mira to play. Play in the kitchen, with nothing but knives and soap to keep her company. Mira told me how he saw him take the iron, still hot, and make her mummy scream. Mira told me how she looked at the key, and how she went under the sink, and how she took out the crossbow.

Mira told me how she opened the door and slayed the dragon, leaving only a hole behind a painting that was yet to be hung.

I did not know what to say, so I told her how it was a long time ago, and he was long gone. And she reminded me how real dragons exist in our minds, and how those are not so easily slayed.

Short Story: Original Sin (Part 3 of 3)

(Part 1 here)

A loud noise wakes me up, two people hovering over me in the morning light. It’s daytime. The woman says: “Honey?” I growl and grab the knife, leap out of bed in my pajamas. It’s Sarah and some guy, a small runty fuck with glasses and an ugly nose. He’s just staring at me. Sarah starts yelling at me, telling me to put down the knife, please. She says please like that’s some magic word, like we taught Jimmy once except I can’t fucking remember teaching him that which doesn’t make sense, “UNLESS THIS IS ALL NOT REAL.”

Sarah says “Please, calm down, calm yourself. You’re not well honey.”

“What’s his name?” I jab the blade’s point towards the skinny guy. “Let me see your wallet you little shit, you fucking demon. WALLET. ID. LETS SEE IT.” The guy stares at me, his hands up, slowly pushing away, he’s saying “Sorry, look, sorry…look…”

I snarl and throw the knife at him. The handle smacks him in the mouth and he grabs at his bloodied teeth. Sarah screams. The guy’s running out of my room and Sarah’s too slow, I grab her by the arm. She tries to get away, pointless- she’s some kind of child in my hands. I can’t see the knife, heard it clatter across the floor. “YOU FUCKING BITCH.” I yell. Fuck the knife, my hands come up in a familiar way, I take her head with both my hands, and I smack it against the wall. Sarah is whining, “PLEASE. No. PLEASE….”

“LET ME OUT.” Smack. Something white and red falls out of her face.

“FUCKING LET…” SMACK I feel something give and a crimson stain appears behind her.

“…OUT.” SMACK. SMACK. SMACK. I let go. Billy is still there. I turn to him. He has the knife. I say to him: “I want to see Jimmy again. Now.” Sarah’s ruined head turns to me, looks up from the floor- impossible, she shouldn’t be able to move anymore, and her hand it touches my bloody leg and I look down at this woman, wondering how the hell I ever loved her, and I can’t see Billy, but something happens behind me where I can’t reach, something cold around my head, like a halo made of ice and the whole world goes dark.

And then white.

I’m lying down. There is a perforated Styrofoam ceiling, very high, maybe twenty feet above me, and the bed is comfortable, warm and made of leather. My body is aching, my head hurts so much and there is an iron taste in my mouth, like I’ve swallowed a battery, and then a face floats into view, a young man’s face speckled with acne that I’ve never seen before, and I can hear weeping in the background, Sarah weeping.

The young man looks down on me, and he has red eyes and the rivulet shadows of recently shed tears, and he says: “You sick fuck, you traumatized Anne.” And then another voice, with a musical accent- Indian says “His memories, it will take a while to restore them. This hasn’t happened before.” The man looking down on me brings up a rock then, like he’s going to smash my face in- no, it’s not a rock, it’s a VR headset, big, glossy, and he’s examining it. “Fuck the warden.” He says.

“Begin restoration.” the Indian man says, somewhere to my left.

Then the young man leaves, and comes back to inject something into the IV bag hooked up my arm and I sleep and have the most terrible nightmare. The fear begins, first, when I’m watching myself walk across the fifth floor corridor, my stomping feet muffled by the abrasive gray carpet. Past classrooms already in progress, students sat obediently, I walk towards the hum of chaotic children emanating to my shame, from the corner room where I teach. From the opposite side of the corridor through a lined pane Ruben gives me a dirty look whilst gesturing to his final year sociology class of six. I shove open the corner door with my foot, notices flapping on the door, hands clenched into fists, and now I feel my own anger, the stifling rage I can’t control, I want to hit something, smack something. The clumps of conversation mostly evaporate, the children stiffening in satisfying fear. In the front, Isaac, oblivious, continues to talk and balance a ruler on his nose, and I yell at him, from the board: “SHUT IT ISAAC.” and he doesn’t quickly, so I stare at him, beaming the hate I feel at this twelve-year-old I despise, always talking, always fucking around, always making my job so much harder.

I want to wake up now. I don’t know how to.

Isaac with his early stubble and his double chins is grinning at me, despite my stare, and I turn away, reluctantly, pen in hand I’m supposed to write something on the board, I can’t remember what it is, so I draw a red underline that curves downwards, it isn’t FUCKING STRAIGHT and with my hand shaking I toss the pen backwards by accident, right in front of Isaac. I turn to him, and the whole classroom is vibrating, I’m so angry, so angry because of what- the fact that I think Isaac is doing it on purpose, not picking up MY PEN, that HE MADE ME DROP, and a long list of trespasses by Isaac fill my head as I bend down towards that abrasive gray carpet in front of the little shit, and his shoe, somehow it touches my nose, his filthy dog shit ridden shoe, and I bark URGHH and fling an arm up, and I connect with something small and round- my open hand on something and I trip, sort of, it happens so quick, I don’t know why it happened- I slam Isaac’s head into the corner of the table, and fall backwards- I was just trying to not fall right? I was just trying to break my fall right? And all the children start screaming, even Jimmy in the corner.

My eyes shoot open, and I want to wipe away the tears but something binds my arms, keeps them from raising off the leather bed. The streams tickle my cheeks, I try to shake them off.

I turn my head right, and hear “Upload finished. He’s come to now.” says a bald brown man with a white beard, black spots dotting his face. He wears a wide open white coat, a crumpled polo shirt underneath. The ceiling is the same perforated Styrofoam. Something heavy on my head.

Sarah’s voice now, says: “Please don’t move, we’re removing the headset.” and two shaky hands grab something solid behind me, attached to my head, and there’s this strange suction sound as something big detaches from around my scalp- I feel it come off across my whole head, like I’m bald- I am bald, my head shaved of even stubble. That momentary sensation of a cold halo, then the beginnings of a throbbing head ache. A moan escapes me. Someone says: “Should I give him the pain-killer?”

Sarah’s voice: “NO. Because, it will dull him, he won’t uh, be able to talk…”

“Riiiiight.” Sarcastic voice, young, the one who said real smooth before. Sarah starts to say something, then the white beard he starts talking, he’s addressing me, asking if I can hear him, if I can respond.

I say “Of coz I cin reshponn ahhhhhhh.” My throat feels too solid, like wood, and my head, I close my eyes as spots appear to jab at my brain. There is a snapping sound by my ear: “Wake up, open your eyes.” I try. “Drink.” Someone holds a plastic cup to my lips, something sweet and warm trickles into my throat. “Can ye reshpon now?”

Sarah says “Stop it. Give it a few minutes, hell, give it a few hours. What difference does it make anymore? The whole thing’s botched.”

I relax my neck. Open my eyes again. Blink repeatedly to dispel the spots. They fade reluctantly. Young man says: “I think he’s fully conscious. Let me read it out.”

White beard says: “No forget that, damn thing is horribly written.”

A pale, veined hand waves in front of my face: “Hello there.”

“Ahhhh.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Uhh. N-n-nuh. Ahhh.” My mouth isn’t working properly

Sarah says: “For christsakes.”

The Indian man says: “He remembers. The upload was successful.”

The sarcastic one has gotten all serious, it doesn’t suit him: “Hey I think maybe we should read out the thing. Even if it isn’t that well written. It’s the protocol right?”

Memories appear, small clouds of information. “Fuck protocol.” says the white bearded man whose name is actually Dr. Vishnu Chopra. He continues: “There’s no damn point. You think just because the literature says that we do this, and that, then the other, that is what we actually practice? This is almost as much art as science. And besides the treatment did not work. We’ll have to restart.”

Sarah whose name is actually Anne-Marie says “Seriously? I have to do that all again? This is bullshit, I had a contract for one only. I am not going through that again, you can talk to my lawyer. I am not going through that a second time. This man is psycho, you know what it’s like to have your skull caved in? I couldn’t feel it but Jesus Christ, I still died. And the hours? This guy, he keeps looking for me, I can’t catch a break. The whole thing was bent, and I’m done with it.”

Dr. Chopra sounds angry, he speaks in bursts: “Fine, fine, we’ll talk to your lawyer. You can have a new contract. The courts will provide for a bigger fee. Think about it, you could leverage this situation, get paid a lot more. It would make my life easier you know, I won’t have to scan another person in- they will understand that. I’ll argue you for you, you could get four times your fee. Four times, for sure, this is unprecedented.”

“Four times? Seriously? Has this happened before? I don’t know, this guy, he’s…and the son pattern he came up with- it’s fucked, it’s a too much.”

I say: “H-h-ello-I c..c…an’t”

They ignore me. Dr. Chopra says: “No this has never happened before. Ever. Which is why the justice department will pay you to avoid any trouble. Can you imagine if this got out? I mean truly. The whole thing could come down- and you know, and I know that this is a good program, it’s better than incarceration in a multitude of ways.”

Anne says: “Okay, fine, but first we sort out my contract. I’m not going in till that happens.”

“Yes, yes, yes I understand Anne.”

I find my voice “H-H-Ello?”

Dr. Chopra turns to me says: “You’re going to sleep now, for a while, and then we will wipe your memories and restart the treatment.”

The kid, Michael Lee, says: “Woah, are we allowed to do that?”

Dr. Chopra rounds on him. His cheeks puff out as he gives the kid a withering stare: “YES. We CAN. Did you not READ the contract, the agreement made by Dav…the patient? Yes, we have full rights to edit his memory…”

Lee continues: “…but that was for the eye for an eye not…”

“BUTTON IT BOY. If you READ the agreement you would see we have full rights. This has not happened before and we are doing this man a favor, so he can avoid a sentence in jail, and being raped and beaten. Do you know what happens to people like him?”

“..sorry doctor…”

“GO AND GET the DAMN FILES, so we can start all over.”

There is a sound of someone walking away, then shutting the door.

I say “Dr..Chopra? What are you going to do.”

He seems to take notice of me for the first time. He says: “We’re going to start again, delete your experience. The whole thing went to pot and I think I know why. Anne you said, what the kid was into VR games?”

“Yeah. Racing games. The patient here tried on a set.”

I say with as much mumbling rage as I can manage: “His name…was…Jimmy.” Not the kid. The doctor regards me like some kind of object then looks away to Anne. “That was the problem, a VR experience inside a VR simulation- it’s too much, the mind would revolt, turning on the very idea of simulation. Next time the kid will be into other things that focus on sensory experiences. The mind would summon up the feeling of a simulation then try to wake from it. In the next round the child shall like sports. Now help me prep the mem-wipe.

They are going to delete Jimmy. “W-wipe? WHAT DO YOU MEAN? NO. NO.”

Dr. Chopra tchh’s, and then looks at me with the same denigrating expression he unleashed on the kid. “We’re not going to hurt you know. You’re safe here. We’re simply going to edit your memory a bit. We’ve done it before, we did it before- you are in very safe hands, do not worry.”

I try to struggle, the Doctor steps back. “Calm yourself.” He says. “Let me explain fully…”

“I GET IT. I DON’T WANT YOU TO. THIS IS SICK. YOU’RE ALL FUCKING SICK, YOU’RE GOING TO TAKE AWAY JIMMY.”

“HE ISN’T REAL.”

“YES HE IS.” The leather straps are strong, real strong but I shake the bed, left and right, forwards, backwards.

The doctor shouts: “ANNE hold him down.” and Anne does nothing, just stands there in shock.

The doctor says: “Jimmy was a figment, a fantasy we helped you feel- do not worry, it was all a bad dream.”

“WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?” One of the leather bands seems to loosen a few inches. The doctor notices.

“STOP. Mr. PAUL STOP. YOU VOLUNTEERED FOR THIS.” That checks me.

“Why…why would I do that?”

“You’ll find out at the end.”

“I want to find out now.”

The doctor hesitates, then looks at my left wrist, nearly free. Anne/Sarah says: “Want to know? It’s not a VR recording, just a video.” There is a humming sound coming from the seat as it begins to bend, till I am finally upright. I’m in some sort of large room, looks very much like an operation theater. There is a steel table with the VR headset and disturbing tools, and many screens surrounding a chair in the corner of the room. Dr. Chopra approaches one and pulls it over. He says: “Playback committal by D. Paul.”

My last name is Paul. The video starts up, with myself facing the camera.

Afterwards the fight leaves me. I say: “Do it. Wipe it all.”

Dr. Chopra begins to ministrate to the machines. When he’s not looking Anne dabs some tears from my face with toilet roll. She looks at me the way Sarah looked as me at the beginning, before Jimmy had to go to the hospital. “Thanks Sarah.” I say, and then bite my lip, I can’t take back the words.

Her frown deepens.

She looks back to Dr. Chopra: “Doctor, I…I don’t think he needs another treatment. I think it worked.”

The doctor doesn’t turn around. “No, he realized it was all a simulation, of course it did not work. His mind created too many idiosyncracies we should have controlled more of the parameters.”

“Doctor, he still felt like he lost a son. That’s the whole point right? I am of the opinion, professionally, that we succeeded. I think he’s ready.”

The doctor sighs. He comes over to me: “What do you want? Do you want to remember…Jimmy?”

“I don’t want to remember Isaac. And I want to remember Jimmy…I do. Please.” I weep, hands bounds to the bed, unable to move, I can only feel the water trickle off my face, plop silently somewhere out of sight.

Anne says: “See?”

The doctor says: “Yes.” He addresses me directly. “Understand now? There is a leaflet. It’s not very good.”

I say “Jimmy. Who was Jimmy?”

He sighs and pulls at his lab coat. Then he says: “The VR you just experienced interacts fully with your mind, which fills in the details- not unlike a dream. Certain scenes are scripted but everything else- how things look, the sensory experiences, these are created by you. Anne, she witnessed everything- perhaps…”

I turn to face Anne. She looks exactly like Sarah did. I know what she looks like naked, and somehow, I feel comfortable, I open my mouth, before I can speak she says: “David. Your image of Jimmy was taken from a memory of a student.”

“Who?”

“David, you will never be allowed to speak to the boy.” She says it with a look in her eye, one that I used to think of as kindness. She steps forward, says: “I saw it all David. The treatment is finished, that means you are free to go…soon.” I can’t stand the kindness, it doesn’t make sense. I say: “Jimmy was real.”

They both look at me like I’m some kind of idiot, some pathetic figure worthy of pity.

It’s too much. I say: “Give me the rest of my memories. And something to sleep. No dreams.”

Dr. Chopra does so.

Everything goes black.

The eye for an eye treatment dictates that I have my previous memories restored fully, whilst leaving my VR experience intact. According to the contract I signed I have to do a set number of interviews, in which I hopefully display contrition and true empathy for the victims of my mistakes.

The whole thing is a show. I carry it out, willing to do whatever I have to do because I deserve to suffer. The media will praise my rehabilitation as the answer to overcrowded prisons, the victory of technology over our archaic, barbaric judicial practices.

The final interview, with some organization ends with me having to watch for the umpteenth time my committal video. I watch it knowing it is for the last time:

“My name is David. And I…”

Anne’s voice interrupts from off camera: “State your full name please, and then in your own words.”

I look to the side, then look back myself. I brush back my head of short hair then say: “My uh…full name is David Paul, and I have been convicted of murder. I am a murderer.” I watch myself swallow. “I killed, by…accident.” I look to the side. Anne says:

“Good. Your own words. This is for your future self.” I nod, repeatedly, look back at me.

“I killed a little boy. His name was Isaac.” My eyes stop meeting the camera lens, look somewhere downwards.

“I have chosen to undergo the uh…treatment- sorry what is it called?” Someone too quiet to hear says something off camera.

I nod and say: “Right. The treatment they call an eye for an eye. I am a volunteer. In lieu of a long prison sentence. I will be uh…made to forgot, my memory will be edited and then I will experience the…death of my child. I don’t have one. He isn’t real.”

He is real to me.

“I do this with of own free will. And I uh…is that all?”

Someone says something off-screen: “And what I…hope…is that I will understand afterwards and be fit to rejoin society. Or yeah.” I look off-screen say “Yeah, that’s it.” and then it ends.

The Date (Part 3 of 5)

3

Everything I’ve trained for has prepared me for this moment.

I do a quick mental check before pushing open the door. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to do something. What was it? Just nerves. I push the door open, emerge into the chattering class. I tell myself to breathe. All that training has led up to this. Which is precisely the right way to think if I want to feel an immense amount of pressure. I close the door behind me. The noise subsides a little. I can’t let them smell my fear. 

I turn and survey my charges. Twenty pairs of fifteen year old eyes gaze back at me. At least they aren’t looking away, distracted. At least no one is bored, yet. I suppose I should start with my name. Then inside my jacket, which is draped across my chair, my phone starts up- playing the guitar riff at the beginning of Fortunate Son. I knew I forgot something. A chorus of laughter assaults my ears. I maintain the blank expression, despite the warmth- I must not show weakness. I saunter over to my chair, face hot. Reaching inside my jacket I take out the phone. It’s Tom. I hang up.

A boy with terrible acne says “No phones allowed in school.” His clansmen laugh. Perhaps I should dicipline them or something. Or something indeed. With my phone in hand, I ask the class, “Can anyone tell me what song that was?” These kids were three when The Matrix came out. Might not even have seen a phone with a cord before. Right in the back, a girl wearing thick, black-rimmed spectacles puts up her hand. I say to her “Yes- and what’s your name?”

“Jean.”

“Yes Jean?”

“The song, it’s Fortunate Son, by Creedence Clearwater Revival.” This one, has excellent parents, or whoever it was that implanted a bit of good taste in her.

“Most people just call them Creedence, but yes. Do you know what the song is about?”

No response. 

On the whiteboard I write “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident.” “It’s about the Vietnam War.” I say to the class. Then I spend the next hour showing the kids youtube videos of Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. I explain the lyrics of each song, somewhat aware of how reductive I’m being. I’m do it partly to teach them about Vietnam, mostly because they need to listen to some real music. I keep trying to find a way to say something about autotuned pop songs, but it never happens. Next class then. Halfway through my phone buzzes. Message from Tom: <My seniors secreatry is fuken HAWT. Drinks later?> I ignore it. After class I text <ok>.

I’m not of a going out sort of person so I follow Tom’s directions to the right bar. Inside I realise I still haven’t gotten used to Tom’s haircut. If I didn’t know him any better I might have assumed he was a real, honest to goodness contributing citizen. After his first three beers he starts to pepper his speech liberally. “Dude!” he says. “You look good, man.” I eyee him above the lip of the glass bottle. Tom says, “So uh, I wanted you to meet someone.”

“She’s your seniors secretary you lunatic- do you want to lose your job?”

He smiles, looks wistful for a moment, shakes his head. “No, no, this ones for you my friend. She works with me, her name is Rachel. She’s hot man.” Ambushed.

I hold up my hands. An old feeling surfaces in my stomach, starts climbing towards my head. “No thanks Tom. I appreciate it really. Very grateful. But no thanks.” 

“Alright dude. Your loss. But like, you sure? Is it because of uh…Jann…”

“No.” I say, immediately, without even wondering about it. Anger waits right around the corner. He drops it, and the rest of the evening is awakward, hovering in a shadow. 

Later, at home, I search for the old picture frame. Panic when I can’t find it. After half an hour I excavate the thing from the bottom of a pile of takeaway brochures. I run my finger around the edges of the back of the frame. Eventually I turn it over. Her white dress strikes me. I let myself mutter out loud- beautiful. I like the way she’s shorter than me. Inside the picture we look like a unit. The sky in the background aches a deep blue. The frisbee poes out of my hand, in the corner, revealing half a skull. I tchh out loud. I didn’t remember that being in the frame. I should have cropped that out. 

For one moment I consider defacing the picture with a scissor, to edit out the skull. Instead I close my eyes and try to remember what flavor ice cream she had. I had chocolate chip, she had, raspberry? Lemon sorbet. Relief. I remember the rest of the date, in bits and pieces. I remember it very well. That certainty haunts me all the way to bed. In the morning the picture is on the floor, a quick examination revealing the frame isn’t cracked. Carefully I deposit it in another drawer. Close it.

In school I quickly develop a reputation amongst the kids as the rock n’ roll teacher. It felt good. What felt better was overhearing their tastes slowly change. They seemed to listen, as a whole, to less pop. For a glorious few weeks the whole year worshipped Pink Floyd. Everyday I couldn’t help but think back to when I was a kid. That felt like a taboo thing to do, as if getting too much perspective destroyed my role as overseer. I used to hate teachers. Funny how I now realise they were just as clueless and petty as I can be.

One day I thought I was busted, that my unorthodox methods were coming to an end when the head of the history department called me in. I spent a good while in the staff room psyching myself up, going for a Dead Poet’s Society state of mind. Remember not go get angry though- I do like this job.

Turned out to be something else entirely. Our head of department was what Tom would call “Hawt”. Stunning legs, low-cut tops, and this domineering approach to things that I admit I found vaguely compelling. In her office she joked about my classes, and then out of nowhere, asked me out. I was prepared for something else, and the whole angle threw me. I said “No thanks.” like she was offering me a coffee. Her voice and face might have gone a bit a rigid, as if she seemed hurt. 

I left the office feeling strangely guilty. At home I thought about her, Stephanie. I had her number, and decided to give her a call. Explained that I wasn’t quite looking for anything at the moment. I realised what I was getting at and quickly blurted out I’d like to just have a friend at the school- didn’t know any of the teachers that well. She said “call me Steph.” and we tried to be friends for awhile. 

The Date (Part 2 of 5)

 
2.

The tutoring center took me in, and for awhile, I didn’t dwell on the past. The pay wasn’t stellar but I could at least make rent. Had to sell some of my old stuff to pay back all the people I’d borrowed from, which left my apartment looking emptier than it had eight months ago. Jann crossed my mind less, I think. Though the picture still remained face down. I’d brush the dust off it’s back once a week. Then one day it all broke down.

That day the boss’s daughter, adorable, had waddled in with her Dad. I overheard their conversation, her, lilting, high-pitched, him- condescending, as he was with us. He was supposed to play Frisbee with her. That word, Frisbee, sent me back. I resisted remembering right up until I noticed how the boss ignored his daughter, taking calls instead. I witnessed the moment when the little girl stopped asking her Dad; when he levelled some anger at her. I watched her silently wait, her face slowly crumple from afar. As the little girl leaked silent tears I realised how much I hated this fucking job. Rage mixed with the word Frisbee, and I felt this urge to run. 

Striding into the boss’s office I tugged my ID off my neck and hurled it down in rage. Palms on his desk, teeth in his face I said, “Take your daughter. To the fucking park.” and left. Cleared out my desk whilst the shit head peered at me from around the corner of his office like a frightened cat. I gathered up my things carelessly, my mind filled with old memories. As they played, relentlessly, another part of me kept telling myself this was all just the final push, the last straw, nothing more or less. I tried to summon up as many excuses as I could for my actions. Holding plastic bags filled with the leavings from my desk, I walked all the way back to that park. I hadn’t been there for eight months, since the day I walked the wrong way. 

At the park I found the wide lawn. Threw down my bags on that grassy field. I let the smell take me back to that date with Jann. 

I remember feeling way too terrified about the fact that the mini-golf center had closed down. It was next on the list after ice cream. Of course I’d memorised the list, I’m not that stupid. I unthreaded my hand from hers and blabbered incoherently about mini-golf being silly anyway. In hindsight I must have been deathly afraid she would want to leave. Instead she silenced my fear by taking my hand again. “Never mind the golf, I have an idea.” and she took me to some vendor, and bought a red Frisbee with a skull on it. “Skulls fly faster.” she said, straight-faced. In the present I cover my face as I remember snorting like a pig at that. Then she dashed onto the lawn, spry as anything. 

We threw the Frisbee around. It felt like being a kid again. Perhaps that’s when I realised I liked kids. Between throws I watched children playing. It’s not so much innocence, as their honesty that I liked. I remember, I was so certain of things whilst the Frisbee traversed the space in-between us. A perfect day. Focus on the Frisbee, burst towards it, catch. Then release. Then know, on some level, that this was the whole point of life. Moments like these, like those- the rest is drudgery. Focus, track the Frisbee, catch. Aim, release. Watch how she laughed. Together we are free. I open my eyes. In the foreground of the memories of Jann a line from a play surfaces: “We give birth astride a grave.” 

I edit the memory so the sports car is there, waiting in the background, with that douchebag- no, that’s not fair- with that man, in his fucking sunglasses, with his fucking phone. I consciously imbue my past with a narrative. Then I leave it be, try to focus on the present. My dress shirt wet with grass stains. My bags sprawled around me. A family sits under a sheltering tree, on top of a pastel-checked picnic mat. They eat and smile. Unable to make out their faces I indulge in feeling resentful- as if the picture in front of me was something I was robbed of, even though it had just been one date. No one understood, no one can witness how much it hurts. Why am I doing this? I’ve avoided these thoughts, like a dark door inside my head- always I turned away. There is nothing wrong, despite what they say, with caring too much. 

So i lay back in the grass, and let it soak through to my back. I fall back into that day. Didn’t Jann say it true? She said, between breaths, as we lay next to each other, “It’s the little things.” I had nodded. 

We give birth astride a grave, or as Jann might say, life’s just too short. In the present I open my eyes and turn to the left. I gaze at the plastic bag filled with crap, crinkling softly in the breeze. The little things eh? I push myself up from the ground. Tutoring is bullshit. In my head I ask so softly, afraid that anyone who looked me in the eye could see the sentimental words- Jann, do you think I should become a teacher? 

No response. She was the one who believed in prayer and God. All I have is chaos. So I make one up. I think Jann would say “No regrets. The rest is pointless.” 

So I go home and google: becoming a teacher.