Outside her apartment, the world seemed louder than usual. The cars beeping and pedestrians shouting, newspaper sellers and children crying, the drone, the murmur, the constant. She couldn’t tell if the pills had kicked in or not. She tried not to think about her face as she walked to the metro station, heels clattering on the pavement.
Just one hour, then I can go home. I can go to the hospital. I can have a drink, take something stronger, forget this. Forget about me.
Passing through the barriers, her face was beginning to hurt. A steady, low throb, as if her body was battling to be heard, her blood fighting its way through the ceramic wall, nerves kicking back into life.
By the time she sat down on the train, the pain was incredible. She clenched her knee to stop from crying out. Nobody was looking at her, nobody noticed as her lip shook and her foot started tapping on the floor.
The interview. What would she say? How would they look at her? How could she hope to get a job when she looked like this? Falling away. Thoughts – going to school, meeting people, losing contact, having a birthday party, growing older, leaving home, having sex, watching home videos, family members dying, children walking around in circles and a steady voice throughout. A friendly voice, a voice that commanded respect and obedience. A voice saying – Greenfield Street, Next Stop.
The shapes around her – the people, just shapes, just commuters, just obstacles – bustled against her and ignored her and fought to escape the train first, briefcases crashing into shins and grunted apologies.
The stream of humanity slithered up the escalator and Sarah was among them, within them, inside them. It was like, she thought to herself through the pain, it was like a pilgrimage, but the holy site, the temple or the shrine was just an illusion. Just a scrap of paper trampled into the ground, a pound sign, a dollar.
She didn’t notice the tiny piece of face drift to the floor as the pain subsided. She didn’t hear it crack under the feet of the horde.
The breeze outside the escalator rustled her hair, but she couldn’t feel it on her skin. The sky was grey; exactly the same shade as the building in front of her.
This was it. This was where she was meant to be, the place of the appointment, the building she belonged in. This was where she had to be.
© Copyright David J Marriott all rights reserved.
Get a Life
This wasn’t what she wanted at all! Rosie fidgeted miserably. The curtains. They even got the curtains wrong. The sofa – she guessed she should start calling it a settee now – was beige. Not cream, beige.
As the car pulled up outside, Rosie realised she was fixating again. Her fingers were toying with the hem of the (horrible) armchair. She could hear voices now. What if they got him wrong too? What if he was a drunk, violent, short, obese… or even worse, political? She reached to the table in front of her (mahogany, for a coffee table? Really?) and took a gulp from her glass of water.
Of course, it wasn’t that bad… it was beautiful out here, away from the city. It reminded her of a distant childhood she could barely remember, before everything became about selling, buying, selling and buying again. She had found it difficult to picture the countryside, and she realised that she couldn’t separate her own memories from the many, many adverts for country retreats, holidays or retirement homes. And the Get a Life commercial.
She heard about it from a friend first. It was big in America, but it hadn’t arrived here yet. Of course, it would. Everything crept over. Then, months later, she saw the first advert on the TranSys. Tired of being alone? She was. Wasn’t everyone? All alone together in their streaming masses, jostling with the next sad, desperate being on the daily commute. Rosie couldn’t remember her parents. She remembered the war, but she tried not to think about it. Afterwards, things were different. Something that was once a matter of choice became a matter of fact. You accepted your reality because it was better than the alternative.
She often wondered what life was like for her mother and father. How did they meet? How did anyone meet back then? You couldn’t scan someone’s chip in a bar to check out their MeProfile. How did they find out about each other?
Get a Life was different. There was real mystery here. Okay, she was entering her choices into a computer, and the computer would pair her up with someone… but she couldn’t see this person, and he couldn’t see her. He could be anyone.
Sometimes she wished (afterwards) that she’d been able to cheat, somehow. Instead of being honest, she could have lied. Her perfect partner was a demigod with billowing blonde hair, bronzed chest, sensitive, powerful, kind and strong. Except, of course, she couldn’t cheat. She couldn’t lie – the computer could read her too well.
And so, she had red curtains instead of rose, and a beige sof- settee instead of cream. As the door opened, she realised that the man the machine had chosen for her was, at least outwardly, not that bad after all.
© Copyright David J Marriott all rights reserved.
They sent me to cover the murders on a sleepy Summer afternoon, late July. The city was squatting in the heat, the air melting or seeming to melt, the dust rising. Driving through the streets under an all-too-blue sky, I watched the people as they watched me. Children peering out from beneath verandas, five or six years old. Boys firing toy guns at imaginary foes, girls playing on mobile phones. Elderly men, women sitting out on chairs in the sun with their best broad-brimmed hats, all watching me as I passed through.
The city was a conglomerate; a collection of cities sewn into one, of different cultures and moments in the collective memory. It seemed to me at that time that there was an innocence about the place, a child’s purpose, a combined ambition. Everyone wanted to pull together, get out of the recession. The poor people, they wanted that too, we were told.
Around me, as the car slowed I could certainly feel something. I don’t know what it was, but I felt as if I was a stranger riding into a mid-western village in nineteenth-century America. I almost expected to see a saloon with a grim-faced sheriff staggering out to meet me, a little worse for drink.
I had the address scrawled on a page torn out of a book. My editor didn’t have much respect for books, but he thought the page in question would be relevant to the investigation. Then he wrote all over it. I didn’t have a GPS so I had to do this the old-fashioned way. 7A The Elm Arches, Mr. Chirstofer Schardt. Clutching the paper over the steering wheel, I squinted into the sun, trying to make out the tiny sign on the nearest tower block.
Even with my glasses, I couldn’t read the damn thing. I’d have to get out. I couldn’t tell if it was a bad neighbourhood – everyone looked too lazy in the tropical weather to be a threat, but it was a company car and I didn’t want anything to happen to it. I got out anyway, almost bumping into a shabby fellow in a thick, winter coat. His eyes didn’t meet mine; he was lost in some other world.
The tower block turned out to be the right one. It was turning into that sort of day, as if the universe couldn’t be bothered to make things difficult. It made a nice change from how things usually are. Climbing the steps, I remember an odd smell – it would accompany the other locations in my investigation – something akin to pondweed, rotten vegetation or stagnant water. It was hard to place and unsettled me.
The walls were covered in the usual graffiti, faded now. It was as though that time had been and gone – youthful rebellion – and the world had resigned itself to a stony reality. Bits of mortar, brick, flaking paint and cigarette ends crunched under my shoes. Even without my suit jacket I felt overdressed for the occasion. I didn’t see a single other being on my ascent to the seventh floor; I heard no thumping bass music or shouted arguments. I couldn’t smell any culinary aromas through the stench of decaying plant life.
I knocked on the door, firmly, three times. It wasn’t hard to find, the first along the corridor. I sensed, from the other doors along the passageway a lifelessness. I knew, somehow, that these apartments had been abandoned for years. When the door of 7A opened, creaking inwards, I jumped slightly.
“Jack Stirgan, from the Daily Spokesman,” I said, offering a hand.
It was an old woman – somehow beyond elderly – her eyes blinking in the gloom, measuring me, trying to remember.
“You called,” I said, “about the, erm, the passing of your husband.”
She smiled, thin lips. “Yes, but he didn’t pass. He was killed, you know. Come in.”