2k words Short Story: Chain of events, The World Walker

World Walker

“You remember how we never even said hi to each other? ” Beccy told me. “Even when Keith threw the eight-ball at us, and we all played pool for the first time since your friends started drinking there, you didn’t say anything to me. In fact you spoke the whole time to whatshername.”

“Carmen.” I corrected her.

“Sandiago” she finished. I didn’t laugh and she didn’t notice, so I added a: “Wow that was lame.” But she only giggled like I was trying to be funny and not tell her that I found her unbearably annoying.

If she hadn’t lost her contacts on the pool room floor and I hadn’t been the one to find them by the bar, then we wouldn’t have ever started going to the gym, together, and there shouldn’t have been much of a chance the gym’s showers were under repair, that we would live so close to one another, and that I had made a move when she only had a towel on.

She squeezed my nose with her fingers, like a clothes peg. I wrenched my head away.
Said: “I moved house for you.”

She laughed even though I wasn’t making a joke. “We lived nowhere near one another. I had to segue into a parallel world where I lived in a smaller, dirtier apartment, stepped right through and away from a low paying (but money’s never a problem), satisfying job in a bookstore and you know what? Even with all the possible books that have ever been written I still haven’t got enough time to read what’s out there.

She laughed again, so to make myself clear I said: “And I did it because you are the most beautiful girl I have literally ever seen, ever, in all the places I’ve been, your body is a fucking private jet, a mansion, front row seats to every show worth watching, a blowjob from the most enthusiastic porn-star blowing like she’s about to go broke.”

Her mouth dropped open, which was coincidental, but because I was distracted I said: “That’s ironic.” She wasn’t smart enough to correct me. “I disgust you don’t I?” I said. “You know I only shower like twice a week? I can’t be bothered. It’s all deo.” Her face scrunched up. “Why are you saying all this?” She asked.
“Because I’m done, I’m leaving.” And I got up and started to put on my clothes. She went dead quiet. “It’s 4 AM.”
“I’m not leaving this house, I’m leaving this world, this universe. GG Beccy: I have always had the ability to slip into a parallel world. Or maybe it’s a new world. Or maybe I’m batshit crazy, hard to say. But anyway, I’m thinking this time, I’m going to be single. I’ve spent so much energy walking into desperate women who fall for me that I think I’m ready to do the old fashioned thing and plain old delude them till they fuck me.” I stretched. It was always a good idea to stretch first.

She threw a pillow at me. I dodged. Big smile.

She went for my phone.

“NOT THE PHONE.”

It connected with my nose. She was really good at pool.

“JESHUS.”

“IF YOU CAN LEAVE THEN WHAT HAPPENS TO ME HUH?”

It was a good question. I have no idea what happens when I walk out. Maybe I just disappear, which would be mildly traumatizing but also mind expanding- think of the implications! For a normal person at least. Maybe the whole universe ceases to exist, which if the universe was infinite would make me the biggest mass murderer of all possible times and spaces. But I can’t be the only one, so it’s not like I’m alone in this regard. Maybe a copy of me remains. If so, I feel very sorry for him, especially the me who talked shit to that guy with the knife that time in the alley. Either way, fuck it, I’ll never know.

“SO RUN THEN SAM! RUN LIKE THE WIND!” Beccy said, with this very rare, intense look in her eyes that I’ve only seen her have during a real orgasm. She picked up the other pillow. I blinked, so did reality, and she wasn’t there anymore. I blinked again, and there was my new coffin: maybe ten foot by ten foot, a sofa that was probably also my bed, a bookcase that had a series of thick books on the top shelf, plates, cutlery, wallet and phone on the shoulder height shelf, and stacks of books on the lower, taken from the middle shelf to make space for my life. A folding table glistened with chip packets turned inside out and tinfoil microwave dinners scrunched up within each other like blood covered Russian dolls.

The memories came afterwards.

I’m a fucking paralegal this time. Godammit it all to hell. Then the loneliness comes down on me and I’m reaching for the middle shelf with it’s half dead bottle, don’t even need the new memories to know that’s there. And what’s this, taped to the lip? A joint? Amazing. Upsides.

I spend my thirty first year single, in the same universe. Jacky throws a drink in my face at Sherry’s birthday party, which I only get invited to because I overhear her talking about it at work. The girl of indeterminate age at the 7/11 drives me crazy for awhile, has me borderline walking into another world where we get to be married because I’m certain the way normal people might be, that if I was with her the rest wouldn’t stink so much. It’s like a retreat, a monastery where I pretend to be a desperate prole for 365 days.

The breaking point wasn’t a woman, it wasn’t some new shiny crap I saw in a movie that I just had to try (like a G fucking Six), it was Roger Mckay, my boss. It was when he chewed me out for being late, again. He had to do it by my cube, right before lunch, so not only did everyone hear, but they felt awkward about leaving. I’m not a bad guy, I’ve never raped, murdered, hell even assaulted someone despite the fact that I could do it with zero consequences. I mean that’s some darkside shit, I don’t want to go down that path. And it was a close thing, between using the scissor, shoving him into Lee’s wall, and what I actually did: which was to stand up, slowly, adjust my tie, not answer his enquiry as to why, and then hand back, all the way like I’m flagging a blind bus driver, then turn my weight like a tennis serve, and palm open, full on, bitch slap. Goddamn did the fat man go down. I said, after the shockwave: “You incorrigible asshole.” And then it was TA!, one more for the road, and he went to his knees.

“Alright guys, I’m out. Fuck you all very much. Also, Sherry, your boyfriend cheats on you. He doesn’t even play poker. I can walk between worlds and I am leaving this one.”

And just for funsies I decided to full on run at Mckay’s glass office wall, leap sideways and leave. As I did I think I felt something solid. Then nothing. Then a bed, a freaking soft bed. It only occurred to me right afterwards that maybe I do leave something behind, and in which case, previous me just bitch slapped his boss and threw himself through his office window. If he gets medicated, do I get medicated?

What if I suddenly rubber band back to my other paralegal self in that parallel universe? Fucking awful thought. Of course it makes me wonder, almost, about the implication of time. I tried to read about physics stuff once. Thought about having a hypothetical what if conversation with a physicist once. Hell, I even tried to be a scientist, but I never really seemed to concentrate enough to shift into that kind of life. It’s like trying to remember something you just can’t, you’re certain that if you focused enough, if you found the right stimuli, then you’d have it again. I gave up eventually, figured that in the back of my mind was the fear that understanding what I can do would change my ability to do it, or maybe I wouldn’t want to anymore. Ignorance is bliss. Arbitrary is better than horrible.

Jana.

Jana ended me.

A fucking taxi driver. Never saw that coming. Never saw the accident either, literally- was stuck dozens of cars behind it. Like God had reached down and froze the traffic for two hours. I could have left. I could have said stop the meter. Instead I paid, I stayed, we talked for hours and it was completely out of my control. When I told her what I could do, she took it like it was some kind of funny story.

The line that did it for me was when she asked: “What if every time someone, or you I guess, ah, jumps- they create the world they want? So like, you make it, from nothing, like you are God.” That’s when I knew, I had to make it so we were together. That was cool, I’d never even thought of that possibility. Why didn’t I just skip to the marriage? I could have, but I didn’t? Because I guess I didn’t want to leave, it was such a perfect moment. If I jumped I could arrive in another moment, but it’s not the same, the memories would drip in, it would be artificial, even if I was God.

So I stayed. We found a favorite bench, we prevented her bed from ever getting made, I wrote her inarticulate letters on scented paper, she dragged me by the arm to shit I’d never like till I loved it. I loved her, obviously. I’d tried marriage once, but never a wedding. It was glorious, and I didn’t care about my new family, or my new friends, just her, she was fun, the wedding was fun.

Happiness is a funny thing. It’s quiet. I think that in the end, it’s quiet. It’s the opposite of running. Time is the only thing that runs, when you’re happy.

The odds of a plane crash are incredibly low. You could fly your whole life, I mean spend it all up in the air, and it’s still against the odds you’re going to die.

And now, why can’t I find her anymore?

I keep jumping. I keep going from world to world, looking for my Jana. She’s not there. Nowhere I go. It’s like, I don’t know. I’ve wanted things before, I’ve wanted things way less badly than her. But I just can’t do it.

She once told me that the number one reason she’d never believe I could do the whole jumping thing isn’t because it was impossible. She said it was because she didn’t think I’d ever leave people behind like that. That I could be that selfish. And I believed her.

She said: “I think a lot of people would, but not you.”

So I’m still looking. And I’m still getting older.

And I’m starting to wonder if I ought to just stop, and skip all the way to the end. But I’ve never tried that either, all I know is I can’t go backwards. But I reckon I’m going to do it soon.

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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: After he yells HI!

After he yells HI!

Over the nightclub music He will yell “HI!”

She’ll laugh at his awkwardness and then they’ll talk, dance, exchange numbers. He’ll see her for dinner, where they’ll make in-jokes; finishing off each other off in his apartment. She’ll teach him how to cook and he’ll show her his sketches, and together they’ll rescue a kitten. Till sick of sharing it, all three move in together, watching cartoons till the mornings.

They’ll get married with sand between their bare toes, somewhere far away from this club.

As none of that happened except in his head, so he finished his drink and left.

Short story: Afterwards

Afterwards

The room I was in was for waiting, and the person that stood over me was saying: “Ray Gupta, Peter will see you now.”

I said “Oh.” and accompanied her through a glass door that I could have sworn was from work. On the other side was a maze of cubicles. The sounds of phones ringing, of hurried typing, so much of it was recognizable. The hundreds of cubicles were not. “What office is this? Did I make an appointment or…”

She interrupted by stabbing my shoe with the tip of her heel. I screamed and no one seemed to care. She explained: “Sorry but I have to hurt you if you ask me questions.”

I almost asked why.

She motioned me to follow, so I did to a cubicle with a man inside and a single chair.

Peter said: “Sit!”

I held my foot and again the question pulsed: Why?

Peter said: “It’s your head! You tell me! Maybe it’s a metaphor- think of it as pain guiding you here, or something. All questions lead to suffering. Etcetera. Besides you’re dead, literally, so don’t worry too much.”

He had a point.

Peter said: “Actually, you still have a little bit you have to worry about, or at least some choices that need to be made, concerning your severance package.

Before I could phrase another question he answered: “Look, just go with it. Focus on how comfortable this environment is. How familiar. Don’t ask questions, it’s too late for all that. And don’t worry about the people you recognize. It’s perfectly normal.”

Peter got down on his knees, on the computer brought up a spreadsheet. “Let’s see now.” He said. Over his shoulder I saw tiny black marks, thousands of words in a too small font. I croaked: “Peter…can I…leave…please?

Without looking back he said: “Don’t worry you’ll be gone soon. You just need to go through your review, and poof, you’ll be done.”

“What do you mean…gone?”

“You know exactly what I mean.”

So I was going to die, or I was already dead, or oblivion was next. Peter said: “Exactly! Here, we’re going to start now, so you understand why you get what’s coming to you next. Unless you prefer we skip this?”

And expedite my non-existence? Fuck that. Peter said “Typical” and brought up Youtube.

“You have internet here?”

“No it’s an illusion. We have something better.” He typed: Lowest point before 30.

One hit only. In the screenshot I saw myself lying on a bathroom floor, two plastic prescription bottles in one hand, a Gideon’s bible in the other. Peter pressed play and I beat my head bloody with the bible. I watched myself tear out random pages, terrified of Peter witnessing me committing what was probably sacrilege. I tried to explain: “I didn’t know, okay? Sorry, so sorry, I didn’t know the bible was…I mean I’m not even Christian!”

“Just watch. We’ll turn up the sound.” He did and we heard a voice speaking, though the high-definition image of my mouth remained shut. I heard my voice, the way it sounds normally, inside my own head, say: “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t get up again. No reason to. No one to see me rise. No point in doing anything.” Then the tears started. “Fucking lonely stupid loser. Fucking FAILURE of a man. Deserves nothing. Deserves to die.” There was a murmuring sound then, too quiet to make out.

Peter said: “Ah, need to turn this part up, it’s a background thought, very hard to hear.” And he fiddled with the controls till we could make out what I thought, which was: “Beccy cares. Arjun cares. Other people suffer too. Don’t give up on them.” Then blasting out, so loud I covered my ears:

“JUST TAKE THE PILLS AND SLEEP THE GOOD SLEEP REST FINALLY REST FINALLY FUCKING REST…” and Peter muted it.
With the volume down I looked like somebody lying on a bathroom floor, clearly miserable, but seemingly doing nothing for an hour or so. Then with the volume up I heard myself find hope and choose to flush the pills down the toilet. Peter showed me other scenes after, and how they all linked, one into the other. He watched me watch myself being decent to strangers, showed me how I affected then, how their lives were indirectly improved by the hope I had found on that cold floor. He showed me how my kindness had been kindled by suffering, and how with my everyday actions I saved people- for eons he showed me videos of them remembering what I’d done or said and thus finding the strength to get back up themselves.

He showed me all the ways I’d suffered and the empathy inculcated by years of torment.

Afterwards I was ready. I told Peter I could die now.

He told me to wait, that we had to go into his office. On the way I overheard someone say “Sex is good, fuck, sex is GREAT, but the money, it’s empty- so let’s try having less.”

Inside Peter’s office I wondered: Do I get heaven now? Or is this it?

He said I would be gone, one way or another. I thought I was supposed to be Hindu, and that this was not the karma I had been taught about.

“Don’t worry Ray!” Peter said. “All that’s left is this…” And he produced a blank paper pad and a pen. “Now Ray, in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, you did good. As far as this department is concerned you did good with what you had.”

“So I won then?” I asked, the tears finally pouring out in this absurd and twisted version of the afterlife.

“Yeah you did great Ray, real super. So, here’s the deal.” He put the pen next to the paper, pushed both towards me.

“Write your own cheque Ray. You decide the circumstances of your next life. Completely up to you! For example…that…ah…K-pop guy you heard outside- you want to be like him? Sex, all the sex you’d ever want, or money, security, fame. You want it, you got it. A soul mate maybe? Meet her, or him by the time you’re say…twenty-three? Done and done. You get the idea. Write it out Ray, and your next life, that’s it.”

So I stopped crying and wrote something down.

Handed Peter back the paper.

He stared at the three words I’d written:

One more time.

I explained: “I want to suffer the same way.”

“Ray? I don’t think you understand how this works…”

“No, I do.”

“You people…Okay. You’re the boss”

We left the office and I wandered the cubicles for awhile, watching others, hearing their last requests.

Questions came whilst we walked back to the front door, which Peter held open for me. Will I remember any of this? Is this real? Does it matter? I looked in front of me at the darkness, said “Goodbye Peter.”

“Only for now. But I have to ask…why are you choosing pain, again?”

“Because I think it’ll make me kind.”

It was the last thing I said to him. Never got to hear what he thought about it.

Flash Fiction Medley

I was reading about black holes today, which put me in a certain kind of mood. The Japanese have a word for it “Yugen” . That and I saw this picture (warning 10 MB picture), which is a super-high-res image of a fraction of the stars in our own galaxy.

You know I’ve always thought there was something deeply wrong with me. Partially because of the two links above. I’ve had people get very red-faced, very loud and and sure about certain ideas they have, including ideas that are really quite fantastic, compelling stories, like God and the Afterlife and Retirement, when the very fact that all those stars out there exist reduces so much of all of that noise coming out of people’s mouths to be….

Something less.

Not that I know any better. I am so awfully aware of how little I know that I indulge myself in a congruently complimentary hobby/passion/desperate need: to make things up. If I had it my way I would be a professional-maker-upper. I don’t want to call them novels or fiction, I want to call them stories. That’s all they are in the end.

In that spirit I’m writing this flash fiction medley which is is comprised of ideas that have taken root somewhere inside of me, that I have been quite an abysmal parent to, always claiming tomorrow I will finally write them all out, and do them justice. However in light (or lack thereof) of super-massive black holes of infinitely large mass and infinitely small volume I will deny my perfectionism and just let the ideas flow, like so much kaleidoscopic vomit.

Starting with The Third Planet Is Sure They’re Being Watched By An Eye In The Sky (because I love Modest Mouse and because Edward Snowden). This would have/will be/should have been a story about an obscure band with some average to pretty decent instrumentalists who acquire, randomly at a party, the skills of a front-girl and lyricist of dubious reputation- she has an obsession with psychedelics and is rarely seen sober, a sort of neo-hippy that others dismiss as pretentious.

Her name is Rachel and her parents are rich and thus the band plays at her place, which is austere and owned by her single father, the too serious CEO of some impenetrably dull hedge fund.

She writes these strange lyrics and sings in an off-beat falsetto with the band wishing she sounded more like Haylee Williams but they can’t deny the poetry, the way in which her words are so enigmatic, flow so easily, and how she never ever writes them without being at the very least stoned, if not tripping all over everybody’s balls.

The band is obscure, they get some hits on Xanga- using the new-fangled internet (did I not mention this all takes place in the 80’s?), play a few concerts but never make it big. They are torn apart by the tragic suicide of their front-girl, who falls in love with the gay guitarist that found her at the party and can’t hack the impossibility of it all.

The band falls apart, the lyrics left online.

Till they are found by a certain boy decades later. He fails to find anyone to take credit for them. On 4chan him and a dedicated few begin to form a subculture over these lyrics on account of how eerily accurate they are when it comes to historical events in the 21st century.

Funny thing about these lyrics. They are strangely prophetic. Very much like an 80’s version of Nostradamus, Rachel had somehow written down these hard to understand, rolling lines, that all seemed to come true. So this subculture spawns a member, who didn’t show her tits then GTFO, who becomes, through some twist of fate (in other words a realty TV show contestant), super-famous, ga ga famous, and after singing the autotuned songs of successful song writers eventually releases her own album- remixes of Rachel’s lines, catchier now with a bit of dubstep to underline the drop.

The last song in the album contains lines that suggest that this was what was always going to happen anyway, and whilst scholars spend a goodly amount of time debunking and arguing against the prophetic nature of all the other songs (not unlike a an 80’s remixed Nostradamus)  it is very difficult to argue against the rather explicit nature of these final lines that talk about another girl from another time when information is far more free taking her words and making them widely known.

See why I don’t finish these stories? That one could go one for awhile.

There is also Sonder, a story I really keep telling myself I’ll write, which is meant to be about a single day in the life of this person, and how it ends suddenly, and how although there is all this pain in his life- a divorce in process, a job that does not treat him so well- he values the time he has waiting, at the bus, or at lunch, the in between times, where he listens to these fantastic pod casts that teach him all about natural selection, or the general theory of relativity; space and time and history.

And at the end of this day, through random chance he is struck by a car, on his to the operating theater- with his broken family and wife united by the tragedy, all around him wishing him well with superstitious but well-meaning platitudes and the invocation of a plethora of conflicting Gods; then, in that gurney with the tube in his mouth he starts to imagine.

He imagines zooming out, of that hospital, and appreciating the hundreds of lives in the same building- like disparate atoms in a gas cloud all heading towards their own destinies, all of equal importance, all comprising a whole. From their he zooms out to the city block and wonders at the various animals, the sparrows and cockroaches that have evolved to fill their various nooks in the shadows where tigers once stalked- the strange ways in which life has continues to reproduce itself and that trajectories through time those species have taken…he zooms out again to the whole island, considers the geological movements, the plate tectonics of the island breaking off, reforming, the volcanic violence that led to it’s original creation- and he zooms out even more to consider the earth, wrapped in it’s atmosphere against the void, this pale blue dot with all the variety, all the life, all the water and wealth of chaos- and zooms out again, to the solar system and the strange series of collisions that led to the planets, the life cycle of Sol, and again to the galaxy with it’s billions upon billions of sisters to Sol and all that potential, the potential for all those hospital tragedies, and again to all the billions of other galaxies and the sheer amount of other things, the shadow of infinity- and without God, and without answers, with one single tear rolling down his face, the man is content in the face of death. Without words, without actions, with his imagination alone he traversed all of space and time.

The definition of Sonder.

The anesthesia dulls him to sleep and he dies on the table and his imagination is lost to an invisible past only the reader might have appreciated.

Let’s go for the hat trick, one time, with my final story-yet-unwritten: Get Krunk

Which is quite simply about a man who does not drink much, or dream much, whose life is turned somewhat inside out by the collapse of his company, a sudden thing that discards him, and all the things he thought were important, and leads him to a bar his fellow workers always frequent and he never did, where they regale each other with happy memories he missed in his endearing naivete, and how he drinks quite heavily that night.

He stumbles out of the cab home too early near a football field where the lights of the stadium hypnotize him- shadows, young, dance underneath those sharp lights, and he stumbles towards them driven by a mysterious line “get Krunk, get Krunk”…and he finds himself in a party for high-schooler’s, and he joins.

This man he looks so young and his askew tie and stained suit mark him as cool among all these teens. The story would have been about the lie he lives for one insane, magical night, where he tries to relive his past, and would have turned on a girl, the kind of girl he wishes he would have had, and how he realizes at the end how late it is, when, she brandishes her fake ID with pride.

I’m not certain what he would have done during that party but I think it would have had something to do with making a heartfelt speech about the future for these young ones, and something about how he befriends a supposed younger version of himself, who really is not like him at all- and that realization that he can’t even guide himself, because of course there is no one like him- not truly- that truth hurts.

I probably would have ended with the girl and whether he has sex with her or not because that shit sells.

Three’s a crowd apparently so I’ll cut the medley short. It’s kind of freeing to let these stories out so I might do this again soon. It’s also a form of cheating which appeals to me.

The End.

The Date (Part 5 of 5)

The first part can be found here.

5

The rainy season had begun.  Rain drops whipped the class room windows. Lights on during the day, and I had to speak louder over the oppressive thunder. The class had changed. It would be unfair to give myself full credit, though at times I indulged in the fantasy. In reality it was probably due to the wild impetus of adolescence, changing bodies and minds faster than this staid adult was used to.


Or maybe I had just gotten to know them better. The annoying attention seeking ones had developed nuances and insecurities- I no longer reduced them unfairly, now I felt sympathy, and I suppose, I do care. The quiet ones opened up more, or at least I marked their occasional voices with regard- the rarity of their contributions to class lent them all the more value. And though I tried not to admit it, Jean had fast become my favorite. It seems she was well liked by her other teachers too, especially her English teacher, Ellen. Ellen, who was a member of the old guard, having taught here for the last decade or so, spoke enthusiastically about Jean’s creative writing. That gave me an idea- for the fall of the Soviet Union I had each student write as if they were somehow linked to the fall of the Berlin wall. Once I told them they could be old soldiers, veterans of World War Two, most of the guys went for that. Jean wrote a great piece, about a widow on the eastern side, who had not seen her sons in years.

Disturbing how convincingly she wrote as a widow. It was a great piece. Since then I’ve slowly egged her on in the direction of both history and fiction writing. I once entertained another fantasy- a dedication to me years from now in some bestselling historical fiction novel. I chuckled at that, tried to find absolution by confessing the thought to Steph. She confided in me her own stories, as a young teacher, latching onto students, desperate to live vicariously through their possible successes. She also warned me. “Don’t get too attached. They all leave eventually- and you would be failing the next batch if you cared less.” It was good advice. 

I should have followed it.

A typhoon one day, in the middle of school, a bad one, the worst in years apparently. We had students taping windows, us trying to make it all seem like fun. As if they were fooled. No one allowed in the corridors during one horrendous hour, the corridors being outdoors. We settled for watching a video in class- Dr. Strangelove. Even at max volume it was hard to make out the dialogue, a shame. 

The window vibrated like a snare drum. All at once, during the video, a tremendous bang.

A bird, maybe, had shot through the glass. Shattered shards everywhere. Rain pouring through like an invasion. “Everyone, out the door! Come on now!” I yell. The kids flood the doorway. I notice Jean not in the crowd. Right at the back, under the rain, Jean with her hat (she wore this silly hat!) off, red horror all over her arm and face. Blood. No please. I run over, and panic some. She is covered in glass, had been sitting next to the window. I fish for my mobile and hate how long it takes to switch on. Whilst it loads I say, “Hello Jean, can you hear me?” First aid classes from training in my head, something about stopping the bleeding. “JEAN?” Her eyes are closed, maybe she hit her head. There is so much blood. It makes no sense. Like a sniper took her out. What a sick thought- hate myself for such a thought. I finally got the ambulance to come. A voice on the phone says: “Remain clam. Find some towels and stop the bleeding.” Stop the bleeding. I call out to the kids, and one of them, a quiet one comes in, flanked by others. “I need towels, hurry, cloth towels, ask a teacher.” He ran for it. 

Jean’s eyes are open, blinking. I had not realised. I try to level my voice off, must sound calm for Jean. Memories scream inside my head, and tears start to leak down my cheek. I smooth back her hair, just like I did years ago. “Jean, the ambulance is coming. Can you hear me? Please nod or blink or say something if you can hear me.” She blinks, and blinks, and her voice- so child-like now, it says “Yes, i can hear you sir.” Good. Jan couldn’t hear me before. At some point the school nurse is in here, and she’s asking me to move, but I make sure to stand where Jean can still see me. So I smile, I smile my ass off like everything in the world is brilliant. The rain soaks the carpet all around, the noise like we’re at war. I keep saying stupid things like “It’s going to be ok Jean.” things I learnt in movies where people seem to know what to do. Her eyes flutter shut, right before the ambulance comes. I think my heart is going to burst.

When the professionals arrive they seem too calm. I start shouting, telling them to hurry, that Jean is just a child- as if that would somehow make them pull out all the stops. Steph was there, telling me it’s ok, that she’s just cut up a bit. I let her drag me away, just outside the room. Whole class is there, waiting, they can see me, covered in blood, I don’t care. I should be telling them to do things, but I don’t care. This is life- they should see this. It is a good lesson. Steph says many things, mostly questions “Can you hear me?” She says, and she looks so worried. I feel so cold.

“Steph.” 

“Yes? Look, let’s put you…”

“Steph I need to go with her.”

“Mr. Cobb I think you need to sit…”

“I NEED TO GO WITH HER.” I tear myself away from Steph, get up. Jean is coming out in a stretcher. I follow. I dare someone to stop me. Steph doesn’t. For one moment I wonder if I’m going to have a job tomorrow. I make secret pacts with Gods and devils inside my head- my job for her, anything just let her be ok. 

They let me ride in the ambulance. They have all the tubes, and a mask on Jean’s mouth, but her eyes are open. I sit and smile at her like everything is brilliant. As we meander through the roads, siren blaring, my mind snaps back into shape. I realise it’s not so bad. She’s going to be ok. Not like before- she isn’t a complete mess. I hope I didn’t scare anyone. Jean’s arm is cut up, and her brow too, but the paramedics say she’s going to be ok, not much blood loss. Still, I stay. I feel like I’m in a transport, an APC in ‘Nam or something. I tell Jean, and I think she smiles. When the doors finally open it’s as if we’ve teleported. I recognise the hospital. The same one as before, with Jan. I try not to want to throw up. I keep myself at a distance- last time I got in the way a bit. I make sure Jean see’s me. I tell her that her parents are on the way, don’t worry.

Inside they take her into a room, and I have to wait outside it. Fucking Hell. The worst part is the wait. I sit, bent forward, hands on knees. My world becomes the marble tiles of the hospital floor. I think I can see my reflection in it. A dull, shadowy thing, outline visible, details obscured. My mind wanders backwards, against my will. I look up, and there, a painting, of some ludicrous pastoral scene- a fishing boat next to a simple cottage. The amount of green and open space is alien, a thing preserved only in the city parks. I try to focus on the real three-dimensional people instead, the broken people and their families- as if that would help. I am adding to the scene, I suddenly realise. To someone else I am the perfect vision of the desperately concerned- another piece of evidence to prop up some cliched conversation about why they hate hospitals. An extra in someone elses movies, an anecdote. Jean wrote in the third-person, about the widow, whom she called Anna. Austrian, her sons both fought in the Wehrmacht. She talks about her mixture of pride for her boys, the Wehrmacht having a long history, mixed with her discomfort and shame at the nazi war machine. A remarkable thing for a 15-year-old to write. Was I that insightful back then? I do not remember. History blots away the noble traditions of the Wehrmacht, and my teenage years.

Last time they did not let me ride in the ambulance. That haunted me. I know I would not have been able to help, but I doubt I would have gotten in the way. I would not have just been some bystander- silently I harangue the paramedics: I would have helped! Whatever you wanted, I would not have been paralysed by shock, I would have been a man on a mission, I would have helped! Instead I followed, in a taxi, covered in blood. In hindsight the cab driver, it was good of him not to protest. I probably bloodied his passenger seat. Then again was it good of him? Or was it just plain decent- am I expecting people to be selfish by default. Another useless train of thought. My eyes find the clock on the hospital wall. I do not know when this will end. 

I followed in the cab, and at the hospital I took too long to pay the cabbie. So I did not get to see where they took Jan. I went inside, and stuttered to the people there, till someone directed me, to sit. I sat outside the surgery room, or whatever the hell room it is they fix people in and I waited. I remember the blood was so sticky, and thought if I cleaned up, maybe that would be better. That that would help Jan recover. Ah, that’s it then, I remember now. I gripped my hands together and I clenched my eyes shut, and I prayed. Blood stuck hands I whispered, barely letting the words escape into sounds- I know I don’t believe in God but when this is all over maybe he’ll let me come and visit you. I prayed to Jan. I felt such relief after that. Then I waited, so sure, everything would be ok. Till her father came in, a bull of a man shouting clear across the corridor at me. I did not do anything to your daughter sir, I said. It felt like a lie. A large doctor held him back. I don’t know what he would have done to me.

The relief was dispelled by his honest anger. I was afraid again- I was utterly terrified. Then the nurse came out. I don’t remember what she looked like, just her voice, and when she hugged me her cheek was wet. “I’m so sorry.” she said. “She’s gone.” She said. 

I’m out of the chair, and searching for a doctor. I find one. “I’m the girl’s teacher- Jean, that’s her name, what happened to her?” He asks me to wait here, says he will be right back. Wait with the parents he says. The parents. They are here. I’ve never met them before. 

Jean’s father looks so close to my age it’s frightening. Either he looks too young or I’m too old. Her mother has jean’s look, her face and eyes. They are both terrified- a mirror image of my marble reflection. I go up to them and try to explain. 

“I’m so sorry.” I say. 

“It’s not your fault.” Her father says.

The doctor comes back, introduces a nurse. She explains everything. Jean needs some stitches, on her arms, and on her forehead. The hair will cover it up apparently. Just stitches. It’s no big deal. Nothing broken. No permenant damage. I want to cry. The parents go inside. I want to, but it’s fine- I know I’ll see Jean again. So I sit back down, and I start to cry.

A voice, soft, with a French edge says “Hey, why are you crying? The little girl is going to be ok! Promise!” I feel a fool. I look up, it is the nurse. She clasps her hands to her mouth, says “Its…you. I remember you.” I look up at the nurse, the same one who hugged me two years ago, who apologized on behalf of all of reality for Jan. “You have some really bad luck.” She says. Then she starts to apologise, aghast at what she just said. 

I’m dumbstruck. Then I laugh. For some reason she laughs too. I feel like an idiot. I wipe my hand across my eyes, before I realise about the blood stains. “Oh shit…I mean uh…sorry. Oh god!” I try to cover up my blood streaked face.

She’s laughing so hard people are starting to stare. She keeps trying to tell me it’s fine “I’ve seen WAY worse. Here I’ll show you where the tap is.” And we leave the corridor, surrounded by indignant stares, our macabre sketch not quite appropriate. At the nurses station I start to wash my face, and she hangs around. 

The water- It feels baptismal. Between splashes we chat. She doesn’t mention Jan, or the past. I suppose for her, she’s seen more than enough death and pain. After I’m clean we shake hands. 

I stare at her name tag, emblazoned across a distracting chest. “Sorry to bother you like this…Meet.”

She laughs some more. “MIE-EHT. Not meet! Oh my god, first you get blood all over me, then you get my name wrong.” She folds her arms, shakes her head in mock disappointment. I start laughing, we both start laughing. It’s fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know why we’re laughing.

When we stop I look her in the eyes. They are bright blue, and way too optimistic. I hold her gaze for just enough time, and then the words float up inside me, and gush out of my mouth:

“How about I make it up to you. Maybe we can grab some Ice-cream sometime?”


The Date (Part 4 of 5)

Part 1 can be found here.
4

Steph told me not to get too invested. “You can’t save them all.” She said, all mock heroics. Even though I laughed at the melodrama, her words pierced me. I wanted all the kids, even the ones that were obsessed with being cool, to learn. “Every teacher goes through a similar thing.” She told me. Well, at least their was Jean. She really had potential. At first she was shy, but now, her talents were finally beginning to show. She was one hell of a writer- essays and creative stuff, especially for a fifteen year old. I joked with her once, about her eventually becoming a historical fiction writer. The way her eyes lit up- yeah, that was my Robin Williams moment. 

Steph still occasionally flirted with me. I wanted to just stay friends, and I tried to tell her it was nothing against her, till she asked what it was indeed. It was after one particularly difficult class that I told her a bit about Jann. I kept it short, left out the details, till Steph put her hand on mine, and said “How about we talk about this over a drink?” She did not let up, ever. I suppose that works. We went out the next night. I kept telling myself it wasn’t a date. I didn’t want a date.

We went to a jazz bar. Inside I was all to aware of all the dark corners. Most of the light came from these blue strips along the walls, and it gave the whole place this surreal bend. Mirrors framed by dim red bulbs mixed with the strips, warped all the people inside. It reeked of secrets. In another life I never become a teacher, and drink too much in places like these. Steph seemed a bit embarrassed about it. We sat down and she confided in me after ordering. “This place has been around forever. I used to come here years ago.” 

“You grew up in the city?”

“Yes, I know I don’t seem like a local. And you? I just realised I don’t even know your background.”

“No. I moved here, started out somewhere…less crowded.” 

“That explains a lot.” she said.

“What does it explain?”

“Well, like how you’re so sensitive.” She put on her do-or-die smile.

I wilted a bit. She said “Hey, It’s a good thing. Chin up- I think it’s part of what makes you a good teacher.” 

Maybe. Our drinks arrived and we sipped them. The silence felt charged. Eventually Steph said “Your turn. I told you about me, now, tell me about her.” 

Of course she remembered. I tried to deflect the topic. Steph would not relent. I began to get upset. In one rash moment I said, my words edged, “why do you have to pry so much?” Guilt followed. I stuttered apologies at my outburst. She waved them away. “Please. I’ve heard much worse. You have a right to be a bit annoyed. Glad to see you have teeth. You seem so soft on the kids.” I glared at her. Why were we fighting?

She leaned forward, her eyes fierce, “Get angry. It’s ok to be angry. If I threw my drink in your face, for no good reason, you should get angry. Otherwise people will just piss all over you.” My heart was racing. 

“You don’t understand.” I said, uselessly, like a fucking cliché. 

“I understand that you’re too timid.” My mouth clamped shut. I should breathe. There is a roaring sound in my head. Steph’s eyes narrowed, took on airs of concern. I covered my head with my hands. The sound grew. “Sorry.” She said, all of a sudden, her voice high. I don’t want to feel like this. I gaze at the window. The roar is a passing engine, some lunatic in a sports car, careening around the city in his own private fantasy.

Eventually the noise fades. 

Steph follows my gaze. “Lunatics.” She said. 

I’m sitting at a table in a bar where people play Jazz music, across from a woman any sane man would consider beautiful. I have a great job that I like, and friends. The table is made of wood. I am no longer here. Steph is saying things, and I am nodding. Her hand touches mine. She is asking if I am ok. I am not ok. 

And all at once her touch breaks through, and the bar shatters, and tears stream down my face, pathetically. I say “Duck. We both had duck for dinner. With orange sauce. I remember now.” Steph is quiet. I continue to narrate.

“You know what we talked about? Jann asked me a question. She asked me if I had a problem with her being religious. I was disappointed, truth be told. Up till then we were perfectly compatible. The moment she asked me about religion, I began to doubt. This was the part I should lie. I should have told her, hey, no big deal, I believe in God too. Except I don’t. I think God is ridiculous. So after a bit I told her the truth. I remember the exact moment- i just wiped some sauce from my lips. I said to Jann, do you have a problem with me being an atheist? And you know what, she didn’t. That was when I knew, that I was uh…”

Steph’s nails dig into my wrist. “Go on.” She says.

“So. Yeah. So. We go outside, right, and I know it’s a cliché but the sunset is beautiful. We’re walking along the waterfront, you know that main road near the beach? I have my arm around her waist, and she leans into me, and she asks if we can go back to mine. I’m fucking happy you know. Yet, I was also, so arrogant. The atheist thing, I didn’t answer her. So anyway, we stop, and I tell her, Jann- I have a problem with religion. I couldn’t help myself, I just had to. And then her eyes, they clouded over a bit, she looked angry. Or maybe it was just my imagination- hard to tell you know. So uh. Yeah, she said, you know what she said, she said fuck I don’t remember what she said. It seemed kind of condescending. Like, If she was open-minded enough to not care that i was an atheist, that I should at least admit to the possibility that I was wrong, or didn’t know or something.”

I pause. I down my beer.

“Go on.” says Steph.

“I got mad. All self-righteous. It was quiet. I didn’t know if she still wanted to go back to my place. Then all of a sudden we’re about to cross the road, and there’s this yellow sports car, and it freaking zooms towards us. The sound right.”

I’m breathing. Heavily. A silken voice inside my head said says Finish It.

“And Jann steps out onto the road, a bit ahead of me, and….I pull her back. The car squeels, and brakes, and the guy inside curses us as he goes past, and I just lost it, you know? Fuck the whole God thing, he almost killed Jann, so I just ran after this guy, and he slowed down, and I’m yelling and cussing, and I’m just seeing red, and…”

Fucking forgive me.

“What?” Says Steph.

“Jann must have followed, to stop me. Maybe. I’ll never know. I heard a loud bang behind me. Like a door slamming. It was another car. Right into Jann.” I can’t see the table. The whole bar becomes the warped reflections inside those mirror.

I confessed, quickly, finally: “It was like an act of God.”

I breathe out. “She was…so…fucking…ruined. I was yelling, just yelling, and the ambulance came, and I went with her, and I held her bloody fucking hand, and at the hospital even then I thought she’s going to be ok, I’ll be with her no matter what, and then you know they don’t let you inside the room where they do things, so I waited.”

“The whole time I waited I kept thinking I should have said things to her, like i should have said I love you, and one more thing. I thought it up after she was inside.”

“What?” asked Steph.

“I wanted to say to her- Jann, I don’t believe in God, but maybe when this is all over, he’ll let me come and visit you.” And that’s so fucked up because I didn’t know she was dead. I mean, maybe I thought it after. I just don’t know. It’s hard to remember. So yeah. She died. She’s dead. The nurse told me. I remember the nurse cried. I don’t know if they do that all the time. But she cried. I like to think she knew, about me and Jann. One fucking date. Her dad, she came later, and he was so angry at me. He kept saying “What did you do? What did you do to her?” and now I guess it’s because you know, he was like me, grieving, but really, fuck- sometimes…never mind. So, yeah. I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t want to face everyone else in her life. And maybe, maybe I wanted to preserve what I thought we had. For one fucking day.

My face is dry. I wonder what anyone who watches us is thinking. Then I realise, with sudden clarity, that I don’t give the slightest damn.