Late style arrives when you realise that you are: competent enough to write those things you wanted to write when you were twenty five; impatient enough to have one more go at going all the way; angry enough not to allow anyone else to persuade you to do something else. At the same time late […]
I have a new story titled ‘New Traffic Patterns May Emerge’ in Short Fiction magazine. This is how it starts:
Sally is a worried tiger because they are late. Her mother drives round the block and when they return Sally spies the perfect space — right outside the old church hall — but they cannot stop. When they come round again a dirty white van has taken the space, and this seems unfair, it was theirs. But then a parked car eases out and everything is fine.
Injuries, break ups, deaths of friends: these were normal, awful life events that Chris could have managed. If they’d happened over several years he might have coped. But it had been a year of four funerals and a poisoned cat. His flat had been burgled; his car stolen; he’d been punched in the face by a stranger. He had been a witness to his mother’s slow unmaking. She no longer knew his name. She lived, and she did not.
He had never cried as much, been so unable to sleep, and yet he was not depressed. He sometimes wished he were. There were pills for that, and therapy, the notion of a path that wound back to health. What he felt seemed permanent.
When Sally bursts through the double doors a tall girl squeals her name. All heads turn; they gather round; her tiger make up is praised.
‘I’ll see you later,’ her mother says. ‘Mrs Gray will bring you home.’
The sea of children parts for Lucas. He is wearing black jeans and a blue shirt with a green wool tie. On his head an orange paper crown has slightly split. Before Sally can say, ‘Happy Birthday’ he has launched into the breathless, delighted speech only she evokes.
“It’s the last one I saved it for you it’s like mine do you like it?’
She takes the hat. She’d prefer green. ‘It’s lovely,’ she says.
Lucas bows and offers her his arm, and in this childish, gallant way, the party begins. Fifty years later, as he walks through an airport, one of the lights will drop from the ceiling and miss him by only a foot.
‘You look beautiful,’ he says and then the music starts. Sally can’t see where it’s coming from, knows only that it’s getting louder and keeps changing its mind.
The traffic is bad: the bus lurches; there is no momentum. But Chris is in no hurry. Being on the bus is no worse than being at work. In both he only watches things appear and vanish. At work these are mostly words on a screen, and though it is his hand that cuts and pastes, he is not involved.
He sees broken glass, a damaged car, policemen standing still. Then the traffic starts to flow and when he arrives at the offices of Conflict Resolution he is barely late. It is a small office of only six people, and yet only Adam answers when he says, ‘Good morning’. He sits down and turns on his computer and soon the moving begins. He fixes bad text, but more arrives, as it always will.
‘Did you see the Botswana piece?’ says Adam. ‘That was a war crime. He used about ten commas per sentence.’
He nods and Adam makes a sound of disgust; for the next half an hour no one speaks. They click and type and maybe, in some small way, help to resolve conflict. He really has no idea. What was a passion is now a job he watches himself do. Even poor, jaded Adam is more engaged than that. After his kidnap, and his escape, he’ll do his job much better.
is the title of my new story in North Words Now. You can get the whole issue here. It’s free!