Oxygen

March 12, 2017 § 10 Comments

 

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‘Pilgrim,’ she whispered. ‘Do you think death is the end of everything?’

‘Can’t hear you. Hang on while I make this hole bigger.’

‘But hey,’ Tina continued. ‘I shan’t be going anywhere for a while. And neither will you.’ She brushed away a tear.

Pilgrim pulled the ski out of the air hole and wriggled around to face her. ‘What did you say?’

‘Forget it. Doesn’t matter.’

‘How do you know my name?’

‘The instructor pointed you out the other day. He said Search and Rescue found the colour of your suit the easiest to spot in the snow. What the hell are we going to do?’

‘Well, I’ve done the first thing, so we won’t run out of oxygen. Now we need to dig ourselves out.’

‘How can you be so calm? What if we can’t get out?’

Pilgrim heaved himself into the full lotus position, closed his eyes and put his palms together.

‘Hey. Get real!’ she sneered, staring at him in disbelief. ‘You’re not actually praying are you?’

‘Kind of,’ he said. ‘I won’t be long.’

Tina fidgeted then maneuvered into something like a half lotus. She put her palms together too and waited. But nothing happened – so she rummaged in her backpack and pulled out a cigarette. ‘You don’t mind, do you? In the circumstances, and all that.’

‘Close your eyes and empty your mind,’ he said gently.

‘Can’t,’ she said, flicking open her lighter.

‘OK, if you can’t, look at the daylight coming from the air hole and concentrate on that instead. And by the way, you’re using up oxygen with that lighter.’

Tina shrugged and snapped it shut. She stared at the air hole, but all she could think about was frostbite and dying. ‘I’m freezing and I can’t concentrate.’

‘Ok,’ said Pilgrim, opening his eyes. ‘Time to dig. Are you afraid of dying then?’ he asked, as he scraped away at the snow with the ski.

‘Hell! So you did hear what I said. Actually I’m shit scared.’

‘Why?’

‘How should I know? Maybe I’m frightened it’s going to hurt. Maybe I’m frightened of what comes afterwards.’

‘What does come afterwards then?’

‘Going to hell, I suppose. The Bible says unbelievers go to Hades when they die, and then they go to hell or the Lake Of Fire. John 3:36. See. I’m not that ignorant. I’m not a Christian, so that’s where I’m heading next, right?’

He carried on digging. ‘I’m listening.’

‘Can’t say I’ve ever needed to give it any thought,’ she continued. ‘I work all hours in the City. Too busy earning the next crust for that shiny yellow 911.’ Tina smirked. ‘Actually Pilgrim, I don’t think anything happens to us when we die. When the body wears out, that’s it. Finito. Curtains.’

‘So why are you frightened of going to hell if it’s not going to happen?’

‘Because maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong.’

‘About what?’

‘About there being a god of course.’ Tina stopped digging and lay on her back. ‘Gimme a break.’

‘Half an hour more, then we’ll stop.’

‘I’m stopping for five, then I’ll make the air hole bigger,’ she said. ‘It looks like it might be closing up.’

‘Could be it’s just getting dark,’ suggested Pilgrim.

‘Can you hear that rumbling?’ shrieked Tina. ‘Shit! Another avalanche.’

‘Come here,’ he said, putting his arms around her shoulders. He was whispering to himself. He was praying again.Then the rumbling stopped. ‘We’re safe for now.’

‘So, you’re a Christian, then?’ she asked.

‘Not any more.’

‘But weren’t you praying just now?’

‘Not exactly. I was reciting a mantra.’

‘Well, what are you then?’

‘Suppose I’m a kind of Buddhist.’

‘Aren’t they the guys who believe in karma? Like if you do something bad, you’re born again as a dung beetle or something? Yeah, I remember now. In Tibet they chop you up and feed you to the vultures. Sky burial. Saw it on the telly. Gross.’

‘I know it sounds bad to you, but the ground is frozen solid in Tibet – it isn’t possible to have earth burials.’

‘Couldn’t they just burn the bodies and chuck them in the river like the Hindus?’

‘No,’ said Pilgrim gently. ‘That would pollute the water, and in any case there are hardly any trees in Tibet.’

‘But giving your granny’s remains to the vultures. That’s just disgusting.’

‘Vultures are sacred there. The body is given as an offering.’

‘But isn’t the body sacred, too?’

Pilgrim explained that Buddhists believed it was just a vessel for the soul, and when it had worn out and was no longer needed, it should be put to good use rather than wasted.

‘So what do you think happens when you die?’ asked Tina.

‘The soul is born again into a new body.’

‘Sounds cool,’ said Tina.’ So however much I drink or overdo the coke, it doesn’t matter because I’ll always get a new body, right?’

Pilgrim nodded his head gently. ‘Kind of.’

‘So that’s why you’re not afraid of dying then.’

‘We need to dig some more,’ he said.

‘My boyfriend’s going to be wondering where I am.’

‘He wasn’t on the slopes when the avalanche happened?’

‘No, he was sleeping off a serious hangover.’

She talked about their privileged lifestyle. The fast cars, the holidays, the parties. ‘And  what about you,’ she asked. ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’

‘I’ve never had one.’

‘Never. How old are you?’

‘Twenty eight. It just never happened. I like my own company and I don’t meet new people much.’

‘What about work. Don’t you meet girls there?’

‘It isn’t that sort of place. I work in British Rail’s Complaints Department so most people are looking for a scapegoat rather than a friend.’

Pilgrim stopped digging and knelt beside her. ‘I need to close my eyes for ten. Just ten. Maybe you could check the air hole.’

‘If we get close, we can keep each other warm,’ she suggested, as she shuffled up and laid her head on his shoulder. ‘You’re shy, aren’t you?’

‘Um, I suppose I must be.’

What’s your favourite thing in the world?’

‘Easy. Going places on my bike and reading. And yours?’

‘Easy,’ she said, closing her eyes. ‘Sex.’

‘I never had the opportunity,’ replied Pilgrim sitting bolt upright. ‘We better get digging again.’

‘Yes, I suppose we should. In a minute, OK?’ And she held out her arms. ‘I still feel really sleepy.’

‘Mmm, me too. Did you check the air hole? We might be running low on oxygen.’

Tina yawned. ‘I’ll do it in a minute. Pilgrim?’

‘Mmm?’ He barely whispered.

‘What’s the most important thing to you in the world?’

‘Being happy. And you?’

‘Same, I guess.’

Pilgrim shivered. ‘I am suddenly so, so cold.’

‘And me. I could sleep forever.’

And they lay down in the snow, curled themselves around one another, and went to sleep.

 

~

image courtesy NDTV

 

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Yellow

March 8, 2017 § 21 Comments

Part of a novel which turned into a very short story…

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            She used to say if I really wanted something to happen I should draw a picture of it, close my eyes and wish. So after he died I drew her holding hands with him by the sea. I concentrated on their faces, flushing their cheeks, filling their eyes with light and turning the corners of their mouths into smiles. I made each picture different because it made the magic stronger. Some had blue skies, others grey, and some had the cloudy stripes of a moon rising from the sea. I drew yellow suns, and grey thunderstorms, and rainbows arcing over their heads. I always made the sand yellow because that was my favourite colour.

I wished and wished but the spell didn’t work, so I drew every day until my table overflowed. One day the wind blew through the open window and scattered my wishes over the bedroom floor. I left them where they fell. After a while the pictures looked old and worn out. They curled at the edges and turned yellow.

Each night I traced the shape of my parents on the windowpane with my fingertips, and then knelt by my bed, my hands in supplication. But still my father didn’t come back. I got frightened of the dark after that.

            When she wasn’t sleeping, my mother wandered around the house. She poked her head into dusty corners, pulled open drawers and examined cupboards. She became a hunter. But when I asked her what she was looking for she said she didn’t know.

Soon her voice went away, and the edges of her body disappeared like the smudged shadows I made when I rubbed the charcoal off my paper with my fingers.

            Our days grew still and colourless, and the house took on the faded dullness of a thing aged before its time. My mother let the range go out and the kitchen grew icy cold, facing in on its own depths like a cave. The mirrors, the windows, and the silver teapot with the dented spout no longer glittered when the sun cast its light. Even the flower garden, so beloved by my mother, began to sink back into the earth.

            I held images of our past deep inside my head. They were safe there, protected from the misery that filled our house. But they made me feel disconnected. The kitchen had once been a place of warmth where squares of sunlight slanted through the window onto the scrubbed table. My mother used to butter my toast with the old silver knife. She scraped a curl from the yellow roll wrapped in grease proof paper, spreading the butter so thickly it leaked onto my plate. Then there was my father’s kiss on her cheek, and the lightness of her laugh as she brushed him away. But the eggs I remembered most of all: almost green in their grassy yellowness. I cracked one open every morning and watched the yoke slither down the outside of the eggcup.

            My bedroom filled with drawings, so I spread into the kitchen. Soon a pile of paper grew on the table. The chickens hid their eggs in the bushes and there were no eggs for breakfast. That was when her sister came. On the first day Maria wore a cheesecloth dress the colour of the sun. She cleaned and cooked and made the house shiny and gave it back its sharp edges.

I drew a picture of a celandine and gave it to my mother. The weak spring light struggled through the window, and she pressed her face against the pane until it grew misty with her breath. Then she began to cry, and taking the scissors, went to the garden and came back with a single celandine. She put it in an eggcup on the windowsill.

The next day I drew a crocus. Again my mother took the scissors, and this time returned with a bunch of the yellow flowers. She arranged them in a glass of water and took them to her room.

‘And now she refuses to come out,’ sighed Maria. ‘But at least she says she’s hungry.’

Soon the daffodils came, but after a week I stopped drawing them. ‘It isn’t working,’ I told Maria. ‘The more she picks, the more she weeps. ‘What shall we do?

            ‘Nothing,’ replied Maria. ‘Look what she’s done to the house. She’s filling it with yellow flowers.’

‘But she’s getting sadder and sadder.’

‘No,’ said Maria. ‘That’s not what she’s doing. She’s found the tears she never cried, and now she’s using them all up.’

My mother filled more teacups with crocuses and celandines and put them on the windowsills. After they were over she filled jugs with daffodils and narcissi, and draped branches of forsythia over the inglenook. But still she wept.

I gathered the drawings from my room and the kitchen table. ‘I want you to burn these please,’ I said.

‘Why?’ Maria asked.

‘I think she doesn’t need them anymore.’

Maria shook her head and smiled.

‘Where is she?’ I asked.

‘Busy,’ she replied. ‘Look.’ She pointed through the open window to the garden. My mother was digging. Every few minutes she stopped to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.

‘But she’s not fine,’ I said. ‘She’s crying.’

‘Listen,’ said Maria. ‘When she’s not crying, she’s singing.’

*

Thanks For The Award!

January 1, 2014 § 14 Comments

Congratulations to my dear friend Jess

on receiving the Readers Appreciation Award –

and thank you for passing it onto me!

I found Jess’s blog quite by accident. Although I am not a Christian, I found her site both fascinating and convivial. It’s a unique and dynamic platform enabling people with widely diverse Christian and spiritual backgrounds to learn from, and about, one another. Check it out on All Along the Watchtower.

Awards are like electronic ‘hugs’. They say ‘I care and appreciate what you’re doing’, and most of us like cuddles from time to time. Being appreciated, and perhaps even understood as a fiction writer, is so important. Filling a blank page with stuff that exists entirely in my head is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also one of the most rewarding. That is why WordPress is so special as a platform for unpublished writers like myself. It was a great surprise to me that anyone would want to read my fiction, and an even greater surprise that after three months blogging I have had  9000 views and accrued over a hundred followers. Small beginnings for the fledgling story teller – but to me, this is indeed a success!

Thank you to all my friends who follow this blog and who have helped create a unique community full of support and inspiration.

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 The ‘rules’ for this award are pretty much like all the others:

1. Use the award logo in the post.

2. Link to whoever nominated you.

3. Write ten bits of information about yourself.

4. Nominate fellow bloggers: in this case you will be relieved to know it is just three.

5. Tell the nominees what you’ve done!

So, ten things about me:

1. I’m learning to play the Viol da Gamba. It makes one of the most beautiful, melancholic sounds on the planet when I’m not making it squeak.

2. I gave up smoking six months ago and I’m not going back.

3. I used to be a pilot and now I’m terrified of flying…

4. I’m very, very nosey. I listen to other peoples conversations and turn them into stories.

5. If I were only allowed books from one country to take with me to a desert island, they would be written by Irish writers.

6. I don’t like parties or small talk. I prefer to curl up on the sofa with a book and someone I love.

7. I like being cold, and have the windows open in winter.

8. I dislike shopping unless it’s on the Internet.

9. Being creative – in whatever way – keeps me healthy.

10. I hardly ever finish reading a novel and am often disappointed by them.

And now the hard bit, as there are dozens of talented, inspiring bloggers I would like to nominate.

The three I have chosen are:

Prospero’s Island for the unique and graceful way this blogger views the world and his island through his fiction;

The Velvet Rocket is a fascinating travelogue with great photos, offering an insightful look into other cultures; and

Bookish Nature: a nature blog with a fine narrative and beautiful photos. A hive of information on literature about the natural world.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. x

Don’t Forget To Breathe: Part Two

November 25, 2013 § 2 Comments

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Tabitha lived off her great aunt’s inheritance and didn’t know what to do with herself. But one day – perhaps by coincidence, perhaps simply by accident – she discovered something that allowed her to get closer to her obsession – the aeroplane.

‘I’m taking flying lessons,’ she announced to her husband over dinner.

‘Whatever for?’ he asked, gulping down his second glass of Verve Cliquot Rose Reserve 1985.

‘It means I’ll get a better view of the clouds, silly.’

‘That’s nice my love,’ he said, finishing the bottle. ‘Delicious. I must order some more 1985 tomorrow.’ Tabitha slid the flying logbook off the table and sat on it. He really wasn’t in the slightly bit interested.

Tabitha’s idea of heaven was no longer a new pair of Manolo Blahniks – it was gliding between her beloved clouds as her wingtips glittered like sparklers in the sunlight. But her instructor was no ordinary man: he taught her how to land on them. ‘Saves on the landing fees,’ he said. He found a cloud with a flat top and Tabitha set up the approach path. Playing with the throttle settings, she let the flaps down fifteen degrees or so to get her angle of descent right, then flew along the top pretending it was a runway. Then flaps up, full power on, and the take off was in the bag. If she messed up the landing she disappeared into the cloud and came out the other side with dewdrops on her wings. Flying was like being in a magic place – rather like a mystical experience, she decided – and she soon grew silent and sullen and didn’t want to land.

And so…

November 24, 2013 § 6 Comments

reading

A short story…can be held in the mind all in one piece. It’s less like a building than a fiendish device. Every bit of it must be cunningly made and crafted to fit together perfectly and without waste so it can perform its task with absolute precision. That purpose might be to move the reader to tears or wonder, to awaken the conscience, to console, to gladden, or to enlighten. But each short story has one chief purpose, and every sentence, phrase, and word is crafted to achieve that end. The ideal short story is like a knife–strongly made, well balanced, and with an absolute minimum of moving parts.

 – Michael Swanwick

 

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