She breathed in… and breathed out. She dipped her hands back into the water, feeding through the soap suds – finding the corner of a dish and wiped off some grease and a nugget of meat. Of course Louise Bruce was happy enough that her son had gone to the effort to cook everyone food. But no one took the slightest bit of notice that she didn’t actually eat meat. Then again they probably didn’t care. Still, she was on holiday. Time to recuperate energy, meditate on thoughts that escape most of the day to day life, resurrect relaxation and every other factor that had become alien.
The Turkish night air crept in from the open window behind her shoulder. Through the window some boats distantly bobbed up and down on the Aegean Sea, fresh scratches on the rental car glistened beneath the moonlight, a costly memento from the days mishaps. If she’d glanced out at that point she would have noticed her son Michael wandering back up the hill from wherever he’d been and if she’d looked even closer, she would have seen her two other sons in the football court – Joel Bruce trying to score some drugs off locals, whilst his brother Toby Bruce stood there with his back turned wanting to have no part in the matter.
The glass door at the front of the holiday flat slid open and Michael walked in. He’d left royally pissed off and wherever he went the walk seemed to have calmed him down. Looking slightly embarrassed he unfolded the sofa bed and slumped into it. His mother simply smiled back at him and triumphantly drained the sink, retrieving, rereading and revising her most recently compiled to-do list:
-Check toilet paper supplies.
-Find postcard for Diane.
-Call rental car company.
It was a good job she was on holiday or she’d have been bored stiff. She needed work to appreciate the time off. How people didn’t work, was something she couldn’t fathom. Louise reached for her lukewarm cup of tea, with a desire to read something, a book ideally, a paperback – the obligatory kind that people read on holiday. It was the only time she read these days. She’d been surprised to see that Michael had packed a book – Captains of Sinking Ships; it was funny to see what passed as the written word these days. James Joyce, Faye Weldon those were wordsmiths, Louise concluded. But there was nothing of the sort there.
Louise tried to kill time, pacing back and forth across the brown tiles. Not that it made much difference, but Louise hated being alone for long. She didn’t understand and pitied anyone who said they were happy and single. It was how she’d put up with her family as long as she had. Fear and endurance. Though in a few moments that would make a rare and brief change.
Louise slid back the glass door and stepped outside – adjusting to the heat of the night. She looked out as the headlights from another taxi drew up to the complex. Louise waited, expecting it to unload the next inseparable couple, happy family on the homestretch of another fore-filling evening, or another outfit of lads on tour as they stepped out, puking up their cherry alcopops. It wasn’t how she imagined but her first guess was closest. The taxi briefly waited before sounding the horn. Eventually two girls – twins, cordially walked up to it dragging their baggage along the ground as their mother stopped at the front and made it clear she had time to check her make up against the light from the car, whilst her husband walked behind her and double checked a piece of paper – flight documents possibly. The girls got inside as the hubby took one last look at the scenery. Enveloped in that aroma of chargrilled food and warmed tarmac, Louise squinted her eyes at the figure.
“Donald…” Louise said.
Louise watched as the taxi suddenly churned up some gravel from beneath it and froze as she heard a smash from downstairs, realizing that one of the men in her life had returned. She looked like someone caught doing something they shouldn’t have been. And with all the awe of a post-holiday romance she watched the taxi depart. For that one moment the mosquitos serenaded themselves around her and she stood there feeling things that she thought had long gone.
The taxi became a warm blip on the horizon. It seemed a little too much and she thought about Donald as more than a name or time, and of the mental purgatories of old lovers. The night had suddenly painted a defining stillness to everything else. She felt a tear slide from her chin as she stared back inside to see her husband trying to pick up shards of broken glass looking a little mystified. Louise opened the door, put on a smile and joined in. A few more nights passed and the holiday was over.
Life wouldn’t wait and back home, Louise went to work and carried on with her other job, as mother and wife. Louise’s mother-in-law moved in with her laundry list of complaints too, as her sons and husband spent many a night holding rounds of ping-pong competitions, whilst Louise drew closer and closer to a breaking point. That holiday, she’d known it had been Donald. She’d been sure. Yet, she didn’t follow it up, or question it. in all the years since they’d last seen each other, not once had she even thought she’d seen him – she was good like that, ignoring things, not letting them plague her mind. Or had been. Of course she loved her family and what not, but what if that could have been her? She thought of her sons, Toby with his heart set on becoming an actor, Michael who spent his time at war with the world when not trying to get by packing dog food. As for the other, Joel, she really wasn’t too sure what he actually did. Then there was her husband, that ordinary man she loved, but somehow never really knew. To her, deep down they were all equally doomed, not that she’d ever mention anything. Not her style.
The brief and unexpected excitement of her holiday had caused Louise’s mind to start digging out many thing she’d waved goodbye to. Growing, the visions came back in installments, most so during times of leisure – staring at the television set, or bedroom ceiling. She’d leave the room, close her eyes and start to recollect.
* * *
As the sound of the needle pressed against the wax, she was twenty years old again, her flesh reforming, still in the wondrous days of art school, as she walked through the incense smoke and around the quarters of Donald’s flat.
“…For me it’s not just the health aspect that draws me to vegetarianism. I mean it’s funny, I hear all these people saying how much they love animals, yet, there they are exploiting them, funding their unscheduled demise, if not at the hands of some man dressed as a clown, stuffing their faces, hoping to keep them lazy, stupid and submissive!”
Louise stood there listening, enthralled by Donald’s passion.
“It’s people like my bloody dad that really annoy me with the, we’ve been eating meat forever argument. In terms of some primitive cavemen scratching his balls, chasing a chicken around his cave then maybe, yes. But – with that same analogy do you think that’s how humans are supposed to survive? Picking up their meals in some pretty, plastic box, that the supermarkets and businessmen have folded up behind factory doors? Is that the way we’re supposed to be, relying on frozen poultry, trawlers, slaughter houses? Not me.” continued Donald, not that Louise was really listening anymore.
She drew her hand through her hair and watched Donald. To her it felt like she was part of something, like Donald was the second coming. His love for animals, the anti-war protests, his paintings – whatever they were actually of – his ability to captivate her like no other, the evenings he’d recite the poetry of James Joyce to her, the ballads he’d perform on his bongo drums. But at that moment she was most surprised on how someone’s dietary choice could have made her so wet.
She stepped up to Donald and fixed her chin on the back of his shoulder and narrowed her eyes with a sense of warmth, with this given knowledge that one day, years from then – if she’d make it, she’d look back at herself at how perfect and safe that one moment had been. A rare moment, as if she was bookmarking it and smiling at a future self. Donald then turned around and shoved his tongue down her throat, which startled her, but she still went along with the act and grabbed his balls, as she started to undress, before Donald dragged her back down to the carpet. Louise then smacked her head on the side of the coffee table, knocking a paint can clean off as it trickled down on them from the side whilst they were rolling around the carpet. Then smearing the odd piece of paint across their hands and knees, Donald proceeded to slowly mount her.
A night that seemed so long ago. Louise could visualize it still – the pair of them, covered in drying paint and body fluids, Donald finally wrapping his coat over them as they looked out of the window at the night sky – branches of the beech tree swaying outside, across the street a billboard for the soon to be built shopping centre illuminated glared back at them. Both of them young and broke with everything and nothing to worry about.
* * *
Louise finished regurgitating sentiments for a moment – it was a long time ago. And eight days from that same night, she broke up with Donald and met Charlie Bruce. Charlie and Donald had finished school in the same year, but Charlie was everything Donald wasn’t, simple, and on a clear and promising path to achievable plans. Deep down Louise was also beginning to loathe the realities of the starving artist routine and found herself longing for the security that she couldn’t feel without money – it’s what it all came down to and she had none of it. She quit art school and was soon pregnant with Charlie’s offspring.
Now back in that future Louise stared at the clock. She didn’t normally have any problems sleeping and she couldn’t hear a sound from the others. But compulsion convinced her to head to her old bureau and look inside – alongside the bills and legal documents, there was a small and dusty pile of her diaries from over the years. She’d stopped writing them years back when that future finally arrived and over the following years scarcely looked at them too, not wanting to disturb anything. The boys had been born and she resisted thinking about any other life. Though as they started to leave, so did her sense of identity. Life outside motherhood had become alien. And it was only a matter of time until they were all gone. Most days it was just her waiting for Charlie to get back anyway. It wasn’t even apparent as to why anymore.
Louise didn’t really run. She didn’t leave a note. She just walked. There was no real precept other than she was doing something, that she wished she’d done before. She grabbed her bag, locked the door and got the night bus. The only other people riding the bus were a couple that she could hear groaning from the back seat as if a pre-warning from some sort of ghost of Christmas past. Ironically in the back page of her diary, was a Christmas card from Donald, she’d found it there waiting for her one December morning and kept it hidden. It said very little other than he’d moved to town and thought he’d spotted her on her drive; he’d half forgotten that she was even from the place until he’d thought he’d seen her and sent the card hoping it was the case. He left an address at the bottom and suggested meeting up in the following year, to see each other again after all that time. Louise wasn’t too sure if it was one of Donald’s, but the card looked hand made too. Her reply had taken some time, but there she was, riding bus 24A, finally with a written reply on a greeting card some woman had pressured her into buying ages ago. She’d found a purpose for it after all. Still, nothing would happen. If something happened she’d tell Charlie straight away, but nothing would happen.
As her stop approached she reread the address. Donald’s house was two roads up from the stop. Louise got off the bus and started walking through the night. If she was quick enough she could post the card and get bus 12 back home. They were both spoken for and not even Louise knew what she expected to come from any of this. But she’d left her phone number on the postcard and was going to see what came of it. It was just two old friends meeting up.
The walk to Donald’s house was brief and Louise paused for a moment, before she tried to think of what she’d say, if Donald, or Donald’s wife – actually spotted her outside their house. The gate let off a sharp creak as she opened it, which prompted to make her to move twice as quickly and nervously – almost twisting her ankle on a toy doll that had been left outside. She made it to the welcome mat. A second later a security light with a hoard of dead insects inside its casing, beamed on. Illuminated she pulled out the greeting card and shoved it through the letter box, managing to drop her mobile phone against the floor as she did.
From inside the door, Louise heard the lock click. The door then opened and a middle aged Thai looking woman wearing a robe and matching slippers looked down at Louise questioningly.
Louise stood up, clutching the pieces of her mobile phone and searched for something to say.
“I… Sorry, I just meant to drop something off, I was walking past… I didn’t mean to disturb you…” Louise said.
“Huh?Who are you? What’s this?” The woman asked picking up the greeting card. Louise blushed and looked like she might break.
“Oh… That’s a card, um I sent it to Donald, you see I used to know him ages ago… I was passing by…”
“Who?” The woman said, shaking her head back and forth.
“Donald Stamner,” Louise said adamantly.
“No, Donald Stamner here! I live here with my husband and my daughter! We’ve lived here for two years!” the woman said shaking her head “Are you drunk? Why are you posting things now anyway?” The woman asked, still not satisfied.
“No… And …I don’t know,” Louise said.
The woman shook her head again and closed the door, partially, “Donald does not live here, okay? Go home,” The woman shouted, threw Louise’s card outside and slammed the door.
Louise stayed there and considered double-checking the address, but it had been an answer enough. She picked the greeting card up from the floor and slowly walked back to the gate. The security light switched itself off.
By this point any curiosity or excitement had worn off. Louise sat at the bus stop for a few minutes, before a cold wind rattled the bus stop and convinced her to keep moving. She walked for a further fifteen minutes, before finding somewhere to rest. It was a greasy spoon cafe, not Louise’s ideal choice, but for five minutes it would beat being outside. She heaved open the front door and walked inside.
Louise went straight to the till behind which a man looking half asleep himself, handed her a menu. She asked for a coffee, then was surprised to see that they offered a Vegetarian full English breakfast. Things had changed. She ordered one and sat down.
She took a cup of coffee and sat down. The food came out just as swiftly and a Polish sounding waitress handed her the plate. Louise forced a smile, picked up the fork, tore open the veggie sausage and drank some more coffee. Yawning she took in her surroundings. Almost soberingly an early morning re-run of the television show Quantum Leap, played in the background. As Louise peered across the room, she could see that the other customers consisted of a disgruntled elderly looking man, who sat staring into his coffee cup and another man a couple of seats away, grinning with a few strands of dreadlocked hair and piss stains down his trousers. He grinned at her, she didn’t quite know what to do. But for once, she wasn’t that bothered. It was a transition of day and night. It wouldn’t be too long till the early birds rose and the others were left to stagger back.
In some ways the evening had been liberating for Louise, but mostly it had been humiliating and she sat there feeling tired and stupid. But as she looking around the room, the future had arrived for them all. Life wound on and was lived until it couldn’t. There was no cinematic happy ever. Love could be overpowering, ridiculous, liberating and stressful. It was great, but there were many hidden horrors to relationships, when it came down to it; it was a lot of hard work. Sometimes the best thing you could do was to leave it. Maybe it hadn’t even been Donald. Maybe it had been much more of a waste of time than she’d thought. Maybe she deserved it. She probably did deserve it, she thought. Louise imagined herself if things had been different and it had been her that Donald had the daughters with, maybe she’d have understood daughters more, but she didn’t really want to trace it any further. Her children had left home, she’d spent so much time as a mother it was hard to be little else, she’d searched to find purpose elsewhere. Charlie worked too much. She told herself that she probably had a lot of life left to live, that was a reasonable enough thought too. It was adjusting, again. She and Donald could cross again, in some shopping aisle or bar, even if he was even alive. Until then she’d make note to check the obituaries. But finally, she didn’t really know him anymore, anyway.
Louise took a bite of some fried mushrooms, but didn’t feel like more after that and began to think about what was going to happen next. She had work in a few hours. She wanted to be next to Charlie, in bed ready to wake up for another new day. But then again maybe, she’d think of something to say. Who had to even know? It wasn’t like her to do things like this; she could make up some story. They’d probably not even notice though.
Outside dawn was breaking and Louise left. She stood at the bus stop for a bit longer before giving up on the idea. It was getting a bit warmer and she started to walk. She came up to a set of flats and passed the second of the yellow bricked block as an old woman stared at her from inside, looking like she’d been waiting for someone to pass. Louise kept walking.
Unsure whether to head to work or home, she’d passed continued along the path, feeling somewhat disorientated. She took a deep breath and trying to force her tired eyes open, stared up through the autumn branches as the birds started to sing. Further above, a plane tore through the sky. She guessed that it had probably taken off from Gatwick, and she started to imagine all the people inside, wondering about where they were going and how quickly the time had gone since her last holiday. Something told her that she could have really done with a holiday.
Louise kept walking. The whole thing had been insignificant and of course it was, that was why it had left such it bitter taste in her mouth, why it stung as it did, why she’d tried to fight for such importance, significance, she confessed to herself.
She stopped, bit her lip and tried to search the sky for the plane, but couldn’t see it. Slowly she breathed in… and breathed out. She closed her eyes, as her lip quivered. She had a new to-do list in her head.
Gwil James Thomas is 24 Years old and currently lives in Brighton, England. His stories have appeared in Muingbeing Magazine, Mint Magazine, Cynic Online Magazine,Perhaps I’m wrong About The World and More Noize: The Worst Fanzine in The World. His novel Captains of Sinking Ships was recently published by Kenton Publishing.
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