Out of the Doorway

supermarket-507295_960_720Jem let the heat of the shop wrap around her like a blanket. She stared at the rows of bright packets. Saliva filled her mouth.

“Have a nice evening!” The door swished as the customer left. Jem’s fingers caressed warm metal in the pocket of her jeans.

Coins. But not enough.

She headed for the door. Claws of cold air reached out to claim her as it opened.

“Did you forget something?”

Fingers gripped her arm, pulled her round.

Three packets of fig rolls fell from underneath her jacket, thudding softly as they landed, one after the other, on the linoleum.

“Cat got your tongue, eh? God, I’m so sick of you lot. Bloody freeloaders, think you can come here and just help yourself to everything.”

Jem kept her eyes down, letting the words wash over her head, like a wave. Hold your breath. Stay calm.

“I’m calling the police.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone.

“No,” she looked up. “Please.” Not that. “I’m– I’m sorry.” She looked up, pleading.

“Oh, so you speak English, eh? Well that’s something!” The shopkeeper peered at her. “Here, how old’re you?”

Jem didn’t answer. His mouth was hidden by a huge, ginger beard, but his eyes had a touch of kindness around the edges. She was short, and skinny, and it was a long time since her face had seen makeup. With luck…

“Oh for chrissakes. When’d you last eat?” He shook his head. “I’m too soft, that’s my problem. Here,” he picked up one of the packets and thrust it at her. “They’ll be damaged, anyway. Now get out of my shop.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Jem, blinking. She stepped into the night before he could change his mind.

#

“Haha, lookit this guy, Jem.” Her friend, Kev, rubbed his hands together, more out of habit than of any hope of generating warmth.

Jem squinted across the road where a bearded man was running, huffing and puffing. A yellow light blinked in the distance.

“E’s missed that cab,” said Kev. “He’ll be lucky now, this time of day.”

“Yeah,” muttered Jem, watching as the man leant against a lamppost and reached into his back pocket for his phone.

“What a muppet! Now he’s dropped his mobile!”

Instinct had her legs moving before her brain registered what was happening. The man was lying on the pavement by the time she got there.

“Shit, he’s had a heart attack. Kev, call an ambulance!” Jem thrust the dropped phone at Kev as she started chest compressions. A black chuckle bubbled up as she remembered her army instructor’s advice: ‘Use Another One Bites The Dust by Queen for the right rhythm. Keep it in your head, though.’

“Why’d you care? He’s probably a gonner. As if he’d give a fig for one of us.”

“JUST DO IT!”

She heard Kev mutter something, but then, a few seconds later, she also heard him say ‘ambulance’.

“He did give a fig,” she muttered, between presses.


Author’s notes

A story inspired by Aesop’s Fable of The Lion and the Mouse. It also seems appropriate, given current events, to remember the importance of a little compassion.

© Kat Day 2017

There’s a monster in my house

old-clockThere’s a monster in my house. I see its shadow flicker under the door. It smells of sweet, and must, and life. It trickles its detritus into corners and along shelves. Sometimes, as we eat our breakfast porridge, or walk on bright, autumn leaves, or drink hot, steaming tea it seems very far away. I think we are safe. But then I blink. Cherry blossom drifts like snow. The monster has been again. Tick. Tock.


Author’s notes
This is another piece of micro fiction written for Paragraph Planet. Entirely coincidentally, but rather aptly, it was featured on their website on my youngest child’s first birthday. There’s nothing like a first birthday to make you wonder where the last twelve months could possibly have gone!


© Kat Day 2016

Hidden

 

dinosaurWhen he looked, it wasn’t there.

The plastic hangers in Olly’s wardrobe squeaked along the metal rail as he pushed them back and forth.

He screwed up his nose. In amongst the usual smells of pinewood and clean laundry was something else. It reminded him of the greenhouse on a hot day, and honey, and dust.

‘Mum! MUM!’

She appeared in the doorway. ‘What’s the matter, Olly?’

‘I can’t find my red t-shirt!’

‘Oh,’ she touched her face, eyes darting upwards. ‘Isn’t it in the wardrobe?’

‘No!’

She chewed her lip. ‘I’ll look in the airing cupboard.’

He watched her head up the stairs to the top floor. He picked up his T-Rex and stomped it around his room for a few minutes, then followed.

‘No, I haven’t.’

Mum was talking on her phone. He sat down on the stairs just out of sight. His fingers caressed the bumpy surface of the small, plastic dinosaur.

‘He might’ve said something to Peter–’

Below, the front door clattered. Olly dropped the toy and hurtled down the one and a half flights of stairs to the hallway. ‘Dad! You’re home early!’

His father slipped his mobile into his pocket, then swept Olly into his arms. His breath was thick and sweet. ‘Where’s Mummy, sport?’

‘She’s upstairs, looking for my t-shirt.’

‘Okay, kiddo. Go and find that book we were reading yesterday. I’ll be down in a bit.’

He put his son back on his feet and started up the stairs.

Olly walked into the front room. He heard his mother say ‘Peter!’ and someone must’ve dropped something, because there was a thump. It probably wasn’t anything important though, because he didn’t hear anything else. Olly thought about the book. He was sure they’d left it on the coffee table.

But when he looked, it wasn’t there.


Author’s notes
This was written in response to a challenge to write a 300-word story that both started, and ended, with the words “when he looked, it wasn’t there”. I came up with the idea of a parent ‘putting something away’ while their child wasn’t there (as I was tidying some old bits of artwork ‘away’ in the bin) and then asked myself for a more dramatic reason for a child’s things to be packed away.


© Kat Day 2016

Two-faced

Quarry“You bloody idiot!”

I plucked at my sodden jeans and glared at the red BMW as it disappeared into the distance. Muddy water trickled into my wellington boot. Buster tipped his head to one side, gave me a doggy grin, and then shook himself.

“Get away!” I ordered. I frowned and looked up at the sky, where the sun had just emerged from bruised clouds. I rubbed at my thigh. The old wound ached when it was cold.

Buster gave me an expectant look. “Oh, all right,” I said. “I’ll dry. Come on, boy!”

We veered to the left, away from the road and into a narrow strip of trees. The smell of leaf mould filled my nostrils. I picked up a large, fallen branch and let the damp, coarse bark slap against my palm. The weight was comforting.

I didn’t throw it for Buster. It was too big, and anyway, you shouldn’t give dogs sticks.

The trees opened out to the edge of the quarry, the stepped rock of the opposite wall making me think of an amphitheatre. I imagined a violent battle in the bottom of the basin, where now a pool of calm, green-blue water sat. I could almost hear the cheers and smell the sweat and dust. I could almost taste coppery blood in the air. I held the branch high and let out a roar.

Buster gave me a puzzled look, then ran down the rocky path and cocked his leg against a sapling.

I followed him, scuffing my feet, kicking up dust and gravel.

Something caught my eye. I squatted, dug my fingers into the coarse dirt and yanked. I pushed the grime away from the surface of the small object with my thumbnail. A coin, made of dark metal, stamped with a horned figure on one side, a winged one on the reverse. Strange.

My thigh complained again at the squatting position. Self-defence, they said. I never actually touched her; she put a kitchen knife in my thigh. How is that fair?

I straightened up, leaning on the branch for support, and dropped the coin into my jacket pocket

#

            “Buster! Heel!” I hissed, looking through the trees towards the road. He trotted obediently to my side.

A woman in black, high-heeled shoes was talking loudly into a mobile phone while she stared at the front driver’s wheel of her car. A red BMW.

“It’s the car from earlier,” I murmured, grinning. “She must’ve got a flat on her way back.” My hand slipped into my pocket and found the coin I’d picked up.

I flipped it in my fingers. The surface felt oddly warm. My eyes drifted to the heavy branch in my other hand. I’d been leaning on it, like a staff.

Buster let out a soft wuff.

The woman stabbed at the screen of her phone and thrust it into her handbag, shaking her head.

I made a decision.

“Flat tyre?” I said, stepping into view. “Would you like some help?”


Author’s notes:

The challenge with this story was to stick to 500 words, and it is EXACTLY 500. So on that basis alone, I’m quite proud of it! I rather enjoyed the slightly sinister, thriller-like atmosphere, although it does feel more like a prologue than a full story (but come on, 500 words!) Hints of the supernatural crept in, too. I might pick this one up again some day…


© Kat Day 2016

Breaking the Ice

Ice skater

I sit on a moulded plastic chair, watching skaters on the ice. Some are slow and stumbling, others lean gracefully, crossing their boots over one another as they circle the rink. Laughter and squeals fill the chilly air.

The cold is making my left thigh ache.

And my knee. Which is odd, really, since it’s not there anymore.

A man wearing a red sweatshirt printed with the rink logo skates towards me and stops gracefully.

“Hi! I’m Lewis,” he says, extending his hand. His cold grip is firm yet gentle.

“Cassidy.” I smile and waggle my left foot, or rather, the prosthetic where my foot was. A white ice-skating boot is secured to the metal extruding from flesh-coloured plastic. “Everyone calls me Hopalong.”

His brow creases slightly. “You know,” I add, “after the guy in the films?” He nods and clomps onto the rubber floor, boots clumsy off the ice, and sits next to me as I babble about old cowboy movies. I’d rather chatter than risk the dreaded sympathy.

“We just have to wait for my colleague over there,” he gestures to the ice when I finally pause for breath. “So, what’s your aim for today?”

“Oh, you know, I miss the hospital,” I say with a sideways glance. “Figured if I break something I’d get to go back.”

He chuckles. “We’ll try and avoid that, if that’s ok. My boss doesn’t like it if we have to get the ambulance in. The paperwork’s a nuisance.”

“Shame,” I say with mock disappointment. “In that case, I suppose I’d just like to move on ice again. I played hockey as a kid.”

“Brilliant! We’ll get you whizzing about in no time.” He pauses and glances towards the rink. “What do you do when you’re not here?”

“I’m in the–” I stop, thinking of the sealed envelope sitting on the table at home. Why bother opening it? I know what’s inside.

“I used to be in the army,” I say.

“Ah. Is that how…?”

“Yes.”

“Here you go, Lewis!” calls another red-sweatshirted helper, pushing what looks like a bright yellow Zimmer frame towards us. It slides across the ice and bumps against the barrier.

“It looks a bit like the bottom of a Dalek,” I say, glad of the distraction. “Got a sink plunger?”

“Hah! Yes! Perhaps we’ll change your nickname to Davros, eh?” Lewis grins. “Right, put your gloves on. We don’t want to take any chances with your fingers!”

I do as I’m told, and he stands up and offers me his arm. I almost refuse the help out of habit. Then I remember not to be an idiot.

Thirty minutes later my session is over. I sit back down on the plastic seat, feeling exhilarated. Somehow the muscle memory was still there, even if some of the muscles weren’t.

My left thigh is still aching, but now it’s the pleasing burn of exertion.

And I still hear squeals and laughter, but now they’re in my head.


Author’s notes:

This is another general fiction story which was written in response to a challenge to write an ‘uplifting’ story that included some potentially sad elements. 


© Kat Day 2016

WALY

WALY image          “Time for elevenses!” said Gran, reaching for the battered, silver jubilee biscuit tin. The image of that blue and red tin is lodged in my memory, because when Gran took the lid off there, taped to the inside, was a little piece of paper saying WALY. It was the first time I remember seeing those letters.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing.

She smiled and stuffed the piece of paper in the front pocket of her daisy-covered apron. “Never you mind,” she said, waving the tin under my nose.

The next time I was in the garage with Granddad. He’d built it himself; the dusty concrete floor had a slightly uneven texture and every wall and surface was decorated with things that might ‘come in handy’. Rays of bright sunshine crept in from the open doors and scattered off millions of tiny dust motes. I played with a bit of blue nylon rope attached to one of the metal beams, watching Granddad as he tucked a pencil stub behind his ear and unfolded his wooden workbench.

There it was, written on the surface in chalk. WALY.

“I saw that in the biscuit tin!” I said.

He just laughed, picked up a cloth and rubbed it out.

#

         I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, especially after my parents divorced. Over the years I saw WALY in all kinds of places. Written on a bathroom mirror so that it appeared when the room filled with steam, drawn with a finger in the mud on the back of Granddad’s car and once, memorably, actually mown into the large lawn, in front of the old summer house.

“Mum, what does WALY mean?” I asked one day. The question was fresh in my mind; I’d spotted the letters on a piece of paper tucked into the band of Granddad’s brown trilby just as I was leaving.

She’d picked me up in her white Peugeot. It smelled faintly of petrol, and the windscreen wipers squeaked rhythmically as they wiped away fresh batches of late summer raindrops.

“Wally?” she asked, her eyes fixed on the road.

“No, the letters, W A L Y. I’ve seen them lots at Gran and Granddad’s, but when I ask them what they mean, they never answer.”

“I’ve no idea.” She wiped the corner of her eye as she stopped at a junction, the indicator ticking loudly.

“But–”

“Shhh, I’m trying to concentrate,” she said, her head turning right and left, searching for a gap. A battered transit van let us out. She waved a hand at the driver. “Shall we get Chinese for tea?” she asked. The thought of sweet and sour pork balls instantly replaced all thoughts of WALY in my mind. I didn’t ask again.

#

         The wind grew chillier and the sunlight dwindled as that year trundled on. I sat on the overstuffed brown sofa in Gran and Granddad’s front room one evening, feet curled under me, staring at the battered paperback that I was supposed to be reading for school. The words danced in front of my eyes and stubbornly refused to move into my brain; instead I found myself hypnotised by Gran’s knitting needles, clacking together and jiggling the pink wool that hung from them. Granddad had folded his newspaper into a square and was sucking on a pen.

“Three down: 1974 song by Dolly Parton,” he said.

Gran smiled. I could never work out the crossword clues, but she always could. I wasn’t sure if it just happened that she knew all the clues he didn’t, or whether he deliberately saved some for her to answer.

“More than one word, is it?” she asked.

“Five, the first one is ‘I’.”

“Get away with you.”

Granddad chuckled, and then started to cough; a nasty, wet, hacking sound.

“You need to give up that pipe,” said Gran, knitting needles falling silent. I never saw Granddad smoking, but his clothes often had the sweet smell of pipe smoke.

“Don’t–” he coughed again. “Don’t fuss.”

“I will fuss,” she said, pushing herself out of her chair and heading for the kitchen. “Have you made that doctor’s appointment?”

He shook his head, the light glinting off his bald patch.

She handed him a glass of water, her blue eyes fixed on his. “Do it tomorrow, please. Do it for me.”

#

         Christmas came. Mum and I went to Gran and Granddad’s. I sat at the table, wondering if I could possibly squeeze another After Eight in on top of the huge lunch of turkey and roast potatoes. I looked across at Granddad. It suddenly struck me how different he looked to everyone else. While we were all red-cheeked and overfed, his red jumper hung loose on his frame and the dark circles under his eyes looked almost like bruises. He said he’d do the washing up. Gran told him to sit down. I watched him write WALY in the gravy on his plate with his finger.

#

         January bought scatterings of snow, enough one day to close my school. After a morning of building a rather skinny snowman, Mum called me back in and gave me some steaming soup. She looked at me across the kitchen table, chewing her bottom lip.

“I have to tell you something,” she said with too-bright eyes. “Granddad might not be with us for much longer. He loves us, though.” She took a deep breath. “He’ll always love us.”

#

         Leaves began to reappear on the trees, and the frozen air was gradually softened by hints of grass. I got off the bus that I’d caught from school, and stared at the daffodils growing in the verge. Behind them, the imposing grey walls of the hospital reached up into the sky.

I walked though long corridors, full of the sounds of rattling trolleys and the smells of plastic and disinfectant, and arrived at Granddad’s bed to find him writing furiously.

“Where’s Gran?” I asked.

“I sent her to the coffee machine,” he said, “shh, I’m writing a letter. I don’t want her to see it.” I watched him write ALY at the bottom.

“Where’s the ‘W’?” I asked.

He just folded the paper up and asked me what I’d been doing at school.

#

         He died three weeks later. Mum helped with everything that needed to be done. I stayed out of the way, feeling numb. I can’t remember exactly when it was that I found Gran reading the letter, but it had been a while. She wasn’t crying. Maybe the tears had run out by then.

I didn’t know what to say or what to do.

“Gran, what’s WALY?” I blurted, “and why did Granddad only put ALY on that letter?”

She gave me a fierce smile. “Have you never worked it out?”

“No,” I admitted.

She smiled again, gentler this time. “He always loved me,” she said.


Author’s Notes:
This started out as a 500-word piece of flash fiction, which was later expanded into something a little more substantial. It’s not my usual fantasy/sci-fi theme, but I was rather pleased with the way I’ve (I hope) conveyed the emotions. 


© Kat Day 2016