Four stories of mine have been longlisted for this year’s Fish Flash Fiction Prize.
It wasn’t a chasm, or even a fog, that separated her from her past, Laura reflected on the train journey to the reunion. It was something more substantial, though somehow less tangible. Angela would no doubt find a word for it when they met. She would probably feel the same.
Twenty-five years ago they had studied English together, last seeing one another the day they’d collected their degree results. And what had become of her since then she had barely ever wondered. Life had taken over, its mazy river sweeping her seaward, and she’d come ashore another person. Career, husband, children and divorce divided her now from her university days … Memory was a curious thing, she felt. Without it you were almost nothing, yet with it you might be tethered to a self that was no longer you … A few moments stood clear in the mind, like stills from an old movie, but the rest had receded into a dim, shuttered corner labelled ‘Someone Else’. Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina remained more part of Laura than the ‘her’ of 1983, whom she could only view as some sort of emigrated cousin … Was that the function of memory – the function, at least, of its loss: to distance you from former selves? Perhaps rebirth was impossible otherwise.
How many ‘hers’ had there been? she wondered. How many Lauras?
The carriage rattled from side to side as it pulled into the station. Angela was waiting on the platform, reliable as ever. Familiar blue eyes penetrated Laura’s – her ‘psychic stare’, they used to call it. The smile was genuine.
“You haven’t changed a bit, girl.”
Laura gazed back at her, adrift for a moment. She pictured herself swimming naked up a stream, stopping here and there to collect lost mementoes … a seashell her daughter had found on a beach in Cyprus … a fountain pen from her first job … cufflinks she’d once given her husband … the pendant she’d worn – and lost – the first night she drank wine … one of her son’s milk teeth … a plastic fairy she had treasured as a child … her mother’s butterfly hair-grip …
“Is there a wine bar nearby?” she asked.
“Just around the corner,” said Angela.
“Do they serve cocktails?”
“Why?” Angela seemed puzzled.
Laura smiled. “I feel like me again.”
The lift in Building Six had broken down. Richard Wilmot arrived on level nineteen soaked and breathing hard. He staggered out of the stairwell and into Room 147.
“I’ve just come from Storage Unit 75,” he announced, panting, resting his weight against on the counter. “They’ve lost my head.”
“Would you mind not leaning on my clipboard, sir,” the man on duty requested. “You’re making it all wet.”
“Yes, sorry, I fell in the canal.”
“Hmm,” said the man doubtfully. “Then why do you stink of chlorine?”
“I fell in the atrium water feature too.”
“Right. And what about the other smell? – the, er, pong?”
“Dog mess from the towpath.”
“And the scratches on your hands?”
“Thorn bushes, down by the …” Richard Wilmot cut himself short. “Listen, have you got my head or not?”
“Well can you tell me what it looks like, sir?”
“What the hell do you think it looks like? It’s roundish, sort of football-sized, with two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth, and some fluffy stuff on top called hair.”
“Sir, do please try to remain calm. I’ll just check the list.” There was a sound of pages flapping as the man leafed through the sheets on his clipboard. “No,” he declared after half a minute or so, “we don’t appear to have anything of that description.”
“Tell me, sir, is it unclaimed?”
“Of course it’s bloody unclaimed, otherwise I wouldn’t be here!”
“Ah, there’s your problem, you see. We had a sale of all unclaimed goods at the weekend. Raised seven hundred pounds for Save the Whale.”
“So there’s nothing left? Nothing on your list?”
“Er,” he flicked through the clipboard papers again. “That would appear to be the case, sir, yes.”
“Right, I’ve had enough of this. I’d like to make a formal complaint.”
“No problem, sir.”
“You’ll want the Complaints Department.”
“Which is where exactly?”
The man set his clipboard on the counter.
“Next to Storage Unit 75,” he announced merrily. “Good luck, sir.”
“There’s been a mistake,” said the man clutching the cube-shaped package under his arm.
“You again?” said the girl behind desk. “What’s the matter? Didn’t it fit?”
“It fit just fine,” the man informed her, locating the desk with his spare arm and laying the box on top. “Problem is, it’s not mine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I could tell as soon as I looked in the mirror. This one’s black, and mine’s white.”
“Oh, I remember you. You’re Mr Wilmot, right?”
“I’m most of him,” replied the man. “Minus the head.”
“Let’s have a look,” said the girl, her voice rising as she approached to inspect the package. “Hmm. It says ‘Wilmot’ on the label.”
“I don’t care what it says on the label! You’ve given me the wrong head.”
“There’s no need to take that tone, Mr Wilmot. Now remind me, what’s your first name?”
“Richard,” the man said impatiently.
“Ah, well there’s your problem, see.”
“No, I do not see! I haven’t got a head, remember?”
“Mr Wilmot, if you persist in this manner I’m afraid I shall have to refuse to continue dealing with you.” The girl picked up the package and placed it behind her desk. “According to the label,” she explained, “this one belongs to a Mr Gary Wilmot. You should have checked the name when you collected it.”
“How?” the man asked, pointing to the space where his head used to be.
“It’s the collector’s responsibility,” she informed him. “The ‘how’ is none of my concern.”
“Listen, Miss whatever-your-name-is –”
“Dishrag,” she chimed. “Anne Dishrag.”
“Well, Miss Dishrag, I’ve a good mind to register a formal complaint about your attitude. Now what’s happened to my head?”
“I’ll check the list,” said the girl, shuffling papers. “Tum-ti-tum.” She scratched her head. “No. We’ve no record of it.”
“But I deposited it here two weeks ago.”
“Not according to our records, Mr Wilmot.” She sounded bored now. “You could always try Lost Property.”
“Thanks,” he said sourly. “And where’s that?”
“Which is where?”
“Take the third door on the left,” she told him, “go all the way to the end of the corridor, down five flights of stairs, out of the building, and across the car park until you reach the main road. On the other side of that you’ll find the canal. Follow the towpath to the right, avoiding the thorn bushes, until you come to the footbridge, which is rather icy this time of year, and on the far bank you’ll see – or not see – Building Six. Room 147 is on level nineteen.” The phone on her desk began to ring. “Mind out for the water feature in the atrium,” she said as she lifted the receiver.
[this is Part 3 of a four-part story - Part 4 appeared a week later]