Very Short Stories
May didn’t seem to believe in time. Not that she’d have put it like that, if you asked her. Likely she’d have looked at you with that eye-brow raised, lip slightly curled kind of face on her, before getting on with what she was doing.
She was always doing something.
When I say she didn’t believe in time, I suppose what I really mean is that she only believed in the present. She never seemed to think about the future, or at least I never heard her mention it –except for maybe what she planned on doing with the potatoes when she’d finished digging them, or what time she’d bring the chickens in.
And when she spoke about the past – only ever if someone else brought it up – it was with a kind of detached humour, as though she was reciting a story that really belonged to someone else, to amuse a child.
She always made me feel like a child, thinking back.
Alice nods and nods, but really she zoned out a while ago. She’s not hearing the words, just the sounds they make – undulations in pitch, rhythm, texture.
Warm and well fed after a day out walking in the cold, she’s comfortable in a sleepy kind of way, tucked up in her armchair.
Facing her are the older couple (Dan and Margaret, she thinks they said), sharing a small sofa. They’re not exactly squeezed on, but Dan’s having to lean over the edge to find space for the sweeping gestures he makes with his arms when emphasizing a point – which is often.
Margaret is more relaxed, or more tense; it’s difficult to tell.
She’s much quieter, but every so often she moves to touch his arm with her free hand – Alice assumes to tell him he’s talking too much, let someone else speak.
Each time he waves her off, seeming vaguely irritated and almost amused – as if to say, don’t be so silly.
Alice smiles. They’re funny, she thinks. And he’s so enthusiastic; she realises she’s charmed by his child-like excitement, whatever it is he’s saying.
He’s doing it again; not letting anyone get a word in edgeways. Alright for them – they haven’t heard all this before. But me: I could scream.
Why won’t he stop? He must realise it’s rude to just keep taking like that. What is he even saying? It’s some pointless description of a train journey he once went on. It’s not even a proper story – if they’re hoping for a punch-line, there isn’t one.
Except there is, I suppose. They’ll fill that in later, laughing, exaggerating. Someone will do an impression of him, and then they’ll all think, “Oh god, his poor wife – but she was even duller, didn’t even speak. Who on earth invited them?”
And all I can do is stand here, screaming inside, trying not to let the disgust show on my face. When they catch my eye, I have to smile somehow, as if all this is fine.
I don’t think I can do this, not tonight.
It’d been her idea to have the barbecue, but Susan can’t remember now why she’d been so keen.
She picks up another of the brownies – a corner piece; she likes the chewy edges. No one else seems to have touched them.
Pete tramps in, carrying the last of the dirty plates from outside, and hovers uncertainly in the doorway. She shoves the brownie into her mouth, and plunges her hands into the tepid washing-up water, nodding at him to dump his load.
“Aha, thanks.” He smiles guiltily before escaping into the lounge, where the others are shrieking with laughter over something, or nothing.
Susan feels drained. She fills the draining board, checks all the usable leftovers are in the fridge, and pokes her head out into the corridor.
I can’t face any more. I’ll sneak upstairs; they probably won’t even notice. Or I’ll say I had a headache. Which actually, I kind of do.
She wakes up hours later to a quiet house.
“That was great,” Pete says. “We must do it again. Everyone loved your brownies, by the way.”
“Someone called while you were out. They said, Can I speak to Miss Wood? I said no, certainly not, and put the phone down.”
“Well, they got your name wrong didn’t they? You’re a Mrs, not Miss. And it was a withheld number. Anyway, they haven’t called back.”
“One of those telesales people. On a Saturday as well. They never stop, do they?”
“Just doing their job I suppose. I don’t mind really. Sometimes they’re quite nice. Unless I’m out in the garden and I’ve rushed back inside to get the phone.”
“Shall I put the kettle on?”
People think she’s a nervous traveller, but she’s not.
In fact, she’s always loved travelling backwards on trains. Others don’t like it; they say it makes them feel funny. But given a choice, Clare would always opt for the backwards-looking view.
It’s much more soothing, she thinks, like watching the past slowly disappear, or drifting backwards into the future; she seems to remember hearing about a culture where they view time like that. It sounded strange to her at the time.
She hates any delays, not because she’s worried about being late, but because they disrupt the flow, stop her being able to relax. Even if it’s just a regular stop, with passengers getting on and off, she can’t settle back in her seat until she feels the tug of movement starting up again.
There was this church near where she lived – you had to go past it on the train to get there. It was just an ordinary little church, like most villages have, but it had this big cross outside, all lit up in neon.
It was always there, but I could never get used to it. Some days it just looked odd, other days I think it reminded me of a scene from one of those low-budget horror films… Not that I really watch them.
Anyway, next to the church was an allotment, and that always looked wrong to me as well. I think because I expected it to be a graveyard, and it did sort of look like one if you just glanced at it. But then you realised the things coming out of the ground weren’t gravestones, they were little sheds and fences.
Maybe there was a graveyard on the other side of the church, I don’t know.