Untitled – a short story

Untitled – a short story

untitiledIf there wasn’t any time, then it wasn’t for want of waiting. Waiting first for his alarm clock, the bell that never sounded because the power was cut. They hadn’t thought of that in their disaster planning had they? That a first alert in that early light would bring the panic of over sleep, the confusion of a Monday morning. The careful planning; money, loo roll, clean underwear; all this would be as nothing against Sunday-football-hangover-meets-Monday; the numbness and the dry eyes and the instructions not to use the lifts in the still unfamiliar apartment block.

The sea was calm; no white tops signalled through the windows. There was the routine beginning of yet another Californian sunrise that he’d have photographed and messaged her, despite the sirens and other people’s panic, had his phone not been 5% flat and dying. More pictures and text to add to the stream reaching back to England, the familiar and the strange nesting together, making the bed of a conversation they would have in the early hours of the evening as their days overlapped for an hour; as his day ended and hers began.

Each of the apartment units had a recommended path into the hills. An Emergency Plan; here the locals that told of danger, guarded against anything external or strange; goths and geeks; scorpions and mountain cats; made no distinction between the danger’s extremes; sunburn and mass extinction. Fearing the worst thing with no examination of experience.

He pulled bottled water from his bag, the under-the-bed-bag, in case of earthquake and he remembered then that he was a marshal; had volunteered to headcount at the assembly point. Waited for a second neighbour who went back to check who remained. Nothing; nothing came. The radio told of tremors downtown, here, twenty miles out, nothing. Even the breeze failed to stir the trees, grass cracked under the strain of the early and now unwatered heat.

A half mile walk to the official bus for the evacuation, walking at a stranger’s pace; neither his own usual rush or saunter. He tried to remember the score from the football, struggled to remember who the opposition had been. Who had been out last night? What other desperate, homesick ex-pats? He remembered the text he’d sent her at half time, and a photo of a humming bird at one of the tacky, sugar-solution fuelled, silk flowers in the pots outside; defiantly beautiful all the same. Her response. Their conversation, typed, not spoken, as she avoided work on the other side of the world.

The bus was late, had smelled of stale bodies and rancid food, the last vehicle from the depot. Waited for the driver as he checked them on board, as he struggled with his name, his otherness, his accent. All for nothing; a hangover accelerating nightmare through a July morning.

The school, the emergency shelter in the hills was straight from a story book, a movie image of the American west. They took a roll call of the essentially skilled and discharged him and the others to more sitting, further listening to the radio, holding out for bad news or an all clear. He wrote code in his head and forgot the structures, observed the evacuees as they wished to be away from here and finally, propped against the wall, he dozed.

He woke and acknowledged the specific pain of headache, against the general ache of the day. Wondered whether he’d had the foresight to pack pain relief in the bad-under-the-bed-now-pillow. His searching found, at the bottom of the bag, compressed by days and sleep, his blue sweatshirt that she’d worn last, in Heathrow; the logo softened with washing, the finish far from new.

The all clear wasn’t so long coming in the end.

Miniature – a small story

Miniature – a small story

cakeThe door is open and the sun comes in. Even though it’s raining and you’re running with water and your coat has that wet dog smell; the sun comes in with you because you’re smiling. I’ve no idea what has made you happy for it’s been a long day. The dog, from his corner basket, looks up to source his own scent, lent to you. He’s spent most of the day curled up there, other than a brief walk to buy milk and the papers. Age slows him a little but he’s still determined, half slides, half staggers from his basket, stretches his full length and leaps; hits your chest with his paws; now you’re laughing.

We fill the kitchen, the three of us and the sense of being part of a whole begins to pull me away from my editing. My jumper finds a rough edge to the table and catches on my sleeves as I write. I want to finish this batch; need to get paid. But it’s hopeless; as ever, you are my primary distraction, procrastination and excuse. And yes I’m smiling too.

Clearing my office onto its shelf will only take a moment, papers to file, pens away, laptop stowed. If it were a better day we could sit outside on the step and eat the cake I made yesterday. Here will do though; it’s less far to carry the tea that you begin to make while I make like I’m still working. You don’t speak and I want to hear your news, but you make a play of making me wait. These days and these rituals are the treasure we build together. I make a show of stopping work, roll my shoulders and stretch out my hands.

Your voice is light and warm and dry with humour. You tell me of the railway embankment repaired now after the flooding and the hours you worked in the café; who came in and what their stories were. I tell you of my shift at the centre and the writing that keeps my days rooted.

Before we eat you unwrap a tiny picture; a gift to our house. It’s no more than ten centimetres square, enamel on metal, a little worn. The door in that house stands open, and the sun shines out from where they live too. I am content that there are others as lucky as me.




I Am – a poem

I Am – a poem


A poem; begins in a wood.  A bit dark, a bit abstract. My usual.

I am the balanceI am
that leans towards dark.
This breath you take, begins here;
ends with me now,
within my green lungs.

A leaf scratch,
on your face;
bloody berry drop,
Beauty and love then,
worked as opposites.

I will hold you.
Here you can cry.
No-one sees oblivion arrive,
cutting away days;
like failed grey saplings.

The years compress,
each full dying season.
Rot, soil, seed; root, branch, tree.
The world turns on,
these acres watch. See.

I will hide you;
bury your dead,
offer mist as your sight fails;
a place by the bridge
where sleep is caught.

A rabbit runs free;
you plan to leave.
Without memory all nightmares
are dreams,
lacking reference.

I am the balance,
that leans towards dark.
This breath you take, begins here;
ends with me now,
within my green lungs.

(c) 4 October 2015 Becky Sowray