First the alarm rings in its noisy and ephemeral way. Then there’s relaxing in a bed still warm from the night’s sleep, and also stretching. Stretching is good. Outside the morning birds are a wild orchestra, singing from the trees and bushes and telephone poles.
The coffee smells strong and pungent and the cup is gently warm. Breakfast is oats, boiled with raisins and cinnamon. The raisins swell; they’re a juicy, sweet contrast to the oats’s bland stolidness.
The morning jog is quick because work is calling. The air is fresh and the park empty — why do runners not seem to enjoy the morning flowers and the smell of dew on the grass? The jog is invigorating, and the hot shower that follows more refreshing than the coffee was.
But that isn’t how things are. The alarm rings and you — through force of will — climb out of bed (where the warmth no longer holds any attraction). The coffee is just coffee. It tastes bitter but you drink it because it’s familiar and habitual. You have no energy to exercise, and truly you never had the time. What’d you been thinking: it makes the morning a mad rush to eat and wash and dress. Enough with it. But it’s already been a few days since you’ve stopped exercising and it’s not something you think about any more. Now the only thing left is to wonder if she’s woken up yet. If she misses you. And you know this:
She is waking, and she might be thinking of you, but she doesn’t miss you.
This is a story about a writer trying to tell a story about writing. She gets advice from many different characters which causes her to constantly change the story until there is nothing left of it – it’s “gone”.
“Object became subject” is a clever play on words. “The delete key was the scalpel” felt a bit clunky, though.
I like the meta-meta vibes! It made my head hurt, but in a good way. I must admit I didn’t get it on the first couple of reads (again!).
I really liked “sense in absence” and “redeemed through revisions”
I wasn’t sure about using real people (us!) as characters though. It distracts from the story a bit, and it may be a bit too personal? I note my “character” didn’t get the story either!
Parfles, this is quite fun but a little too gimmicky to really work? I also worry that it would not work outside of this forum – it requires too much familiarity with the characters to make sense to outsiders.
Having said that, it’s a fun exploration of the power of a writer and the destructive obsession with perfection rings very familiar. I don’t see the “delete key” sentence River mentions though – have you been editing this or am I missing something?
This is tight and very beautiful, almost like a poem. From the other’s comments I assume you have edited this a lot since they’ve read it – this is a pity, as the current version is very obscure and I would have liked to see the previous one. I thought we weren’t doing editing – please confirm?
Hi – story not showing up for me?
Richard stood proudly before the full length mirror. Unlike him, it was plain and unadorned where is hung behind the bathroom door. Unlike some, he could get into trouble if he felt without a final check of his appearance, it was very important all the time but especially today. Today he stood making sure it was all perfect. He would make them proud. He gave his appearance a final once over in his mind –
Shoes – black, standard issue, buffed and polished; laces, new and taut. Socks – black, new, folded down once. Pants – new, pressed to a crease, firm blue with clean white stripe. Belt – old, black leather, polished, buffed steel buckle. Shirt – crisp, white and starched, all buttons accounted for. Jacket – dress, pressed, firm blue with clean white stripe; brass button – polished front and cuffs; lapel – embroidered insignia free of loose strands, Star of Bravery, gold strip for surviving the war; epaulette – brushed, stripe of rank Colonel. Peaked cap – polished and starched. Lastly, face – clean shaven, no hint of bruising, composed.
He had had his hair cut but no one would see under his cap but he would know. Today had to be perfect because it was not perfect at all. Richard didn’t know if he could be perfect when his friends were lying in the ground. No gold strip on the lapel for them. They were gone, and today he would stand in the cloudless sky as the rain fell down his face.
The scene is set; the actors in their places. The room is over-filled – witness the grubby legs dangling from rafters, where their youthful owners have found an excellent view of the proceedings. A gentle hum of excitement pervades the space. If we examine the crowd, three oddly still figures catch our attention.
Mabel Sherman is dressed in her Sunday-best; a painfully patterned (though thankfully faded with time) summer dress, and an elaborate straw bonnet artfully decorated with cherries and hyacinths. She sits very upright and stares straight ahead, the only external sign of her inner turmoil a handkerchief that she twists compulsively in her lap.
Beside her and in contrast, Jack Sherman is weeping quietly and unashamedly, tears sliding down his face like the streams of new rain on a desert-floor. He has also dressed for the occasion, wearing his only suit and well-polished shoes.
Elizabeth Harwood lounges casually, seeming relaxed and comfortable. Her trouser-suit is unrumpled despite the heat. She has a slight smile on her perfectly made-up face. Only her eyes betray the truth behind the insouciance: they are hard and glittering with a combination of triumph, anger and grief.
All three protagonists share the same intense focus. The object of their interest follows convention and occupies a raised position at one end of the barn. It is solemnly attended by no less than five persons in black suits and collars. One of these now raises his voice and his hand: “Going, going, gone.” The gavel slams down, “Self-portrait by Susan Sherman sold to Mrs Elizabeth Harwood.”
To understand the significance of this scene, we must investigate events commencing fifty years before the auction. Let us begin.
The ground is still scarred from the launch – baked earth and glassy sand, blackened and skeletal trees. In the end, panicking, the ships took off from wherever they could. This used to be a park. On the edges of the scar the grass is straggling back, poisoned-yellow.
It would never have worked, of course, if there had been more than a few million of us left. There was plenty of space for me, if I’d wanted to go; we built to excess like we’ve always done, everything going into the ships so we could flee the wasted planet like the crime scene it was. We’d killed the birds, by that stage. The ships took the zoos’ stocks of DNA, but we won’t see a tiger again.
We couldn’t all have stayed – not enough air or water or food for even our tiny remnant of population. If the ships succeed it’s only because they made their rendezvous with the comet and stole its massive core of water ice. We had no ice left: the polar caps went decades ago.
The joke’s on them, though. Crammed into the metal hulls, they can’t be sure they’ll ever find a new home to vandalise, even if we deserved it. I, and the few dozen like me who stayed, have had it no harder; scant air and water, enough food to cover the time it took for the plants to re-grow from the piles of bones. But for us, now the skies are clear, the temperatures dropping; the other morning the rain was almost clean. The sparrows, hardiest of human-adapted birds, are back, just a few, but chirping cheerfully. Today, on the edge of the scar, a daisy has opened its yellow face to the sun.
I like this world a lot more with its people gone.
I’m not an eloquent man but I was asked to tell my First Day story because it is quite different to that of the other remainers. It’s not about that one traumatic moment at 6:47am, instead my story only starts mid-morning.
I was hungover; very hungover. I woke slowly, reluctantly. I thought it was a Sunday at first because there was no traffic noise; then suddenly, painfully I realised I was late for work.
Very slowly I found some aspirin; took it; almost threw up; and decided to phone in sick. My boss’s phone just rang endlessly. Strange; but I was more concerned about the absence of coffee.
I had to get coffee.
Outdoors it was too bright; driving was hellish. At least the roads were quiet, no traffic until I got to the corner shop where some idiot had left his car idling in the middle of the road. I parked behind him and I walked into the store slowly; trying to control my nausea; to aisle four: hot drinks and sugar. For some reason someone had scattered two sets of clothes all over this aisle – shoes, socks, underwear – even a handbag. I knew I wasn’t really awake yet but I was beginning to get the feeling something very odd was up.
It was only when I got to the till that I finally grasped what had been eluding me. The cashier’s glasses were lying on her keyboard and her crumpled pile of clothing on her chair with a pair of stockings trailing down to the neatly placed shoes. There was no one here, no one anywhere I had been in fact: they were all gone.
I really wished I wasn’t so hungover.
I tug down on my night-watchman’s peaked hat to make it sit more snugly on my head, and wriggle a little inside my jacket. It doesn’t quite fit. I stop at a mirror and give myself a quick once-over: ID card; torch; night stick; taser. All present and correct. I tug at my collar and scratch my neck under my shirt. Should’ve washed it first.
Stop fidgeting, I tell myself. I walk briskly down the corridor towards the next stop on my route: ‘The Pharoah’s Vase.’ It’s only on display here for two weeks, and even that took months of pleading by the Director of the museum.
I round the corner and almost jump in shock: the vase is gone! The case is intact, untouched. How? Who? When? I don’t hear any alarms. Was the vase moved? I didn’t hear anything about it. The rest of the display is still here, boards and all.
Was someone here before me? My client will not be happy. Not happy at all.
I’ve got to get out of here, quickly. I start to cross the room, heading towards my safe exit at the rear of the building. A man in a worn trench coat steps out from the shadows. Behind him, half a dozen constables.
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist this one,” he laughs. “We’ve been waiting for you since half past five.” He lights a cigarette. “It’s over.” He gestures at the constable holding the cuffs to come and get me.
“Three years of chasing and you haven’t caught me yet, Inspector.” I reach into my pocket and brace myself for the flash. “And you won’t tonight.”