I was falling, but I never felt myself hit the ground. There was something worrying about that. I could feel the carpet, its fibres pressing against my face, yet I still couldn’t shake the sensation of falling; further still, the ceiling growing ever distant. The air smelt of firework, and cold Novembers, and that bang still rattled in my ears. I managed to drag my hands towards my stomach – it felt like moving underwater – and I held myself together.
Six hours till morning.
Six hours until Joe will arrive to give me my lift to work.
I heard them talking, heard them over the ringing in my ears that the bang had put there. The words were liquid, and fell through my fingers, no matter how much I tried to grasp them, but I could hear the emotions that pulsed underneath. Fear, urgency, excitement. Couldn’t have been that old, the mouths that spilt those words. Young eyes. Dark, darker than the edges of the room were becoming, but still young. Green trainers. The taller one has green trainers. White laces. I have to store the details for the morning. The shorter one has white trainers, white laces. They look new. One shoelace is coming undone.
I need to re-paint the skirting board.
They’re arguing, and the shorter one, the one with the gun, is raising his voice. My teeth taste red. I try to move my feet, but they’re so far away that I can’t reach them. They feel distant. The taller one, the one with green trainers, grabs the holdall and makes for the door. I try to shout out, but I don’t have the breath to push the words free.
My mother’s jewellery is in that holdall.
The shorter one follows, pausing only shortly to turn those dark eyes on me (and I notice then that his hair is bleached, dark roots showing, must remember that for the morning) before running down the stairs and out the door.
I’d found them going through mother’s jewellery. I’d woken hearing noises scratching through the house, and heart hammering I’d crept out of bed to see what was happening. I’d held a vase, which seems ludicrous now, and I’d caught them in the spare room, hands greedily crammed with mother’s jewellery. When she’d died, my brother had got given her car, a dear little runner but useless up hills, and I’d been given her jewellery, amethysts and amber and golden pendants. Jewellery now being weighed in the coarse hands of strangers. An odd noise had escaped me, not quite a shout, not quite a gasp, and they’d spun to face me.
The sound of the gun slammed into me.
The vase is in hundreds of pieces by my head. I’d loved that vase. Still, with some glue, in the morning…
I’d never thought much about breathing. It had always seemed easy, something that just existed beneath thought. Each breath now is laboured in and out of my lungs, sucking air in, forcing it out. The air feels thicker.
I’ve got a dentist’s appointment at three tomorrow. If you don’t give twenty fours hours notice before cancelling, they can get terribly annoyed with you.
My mobile phone is in my bedroom, and the landline is downstairs in the hall. I tried again to use my legs to push my back towards my bedroom, but they refused to move. They clung to the carpet, dead weight. I can smell the carpet. I wish I’d hoovered recently. I’m wearing cold on the outside of my skin, and I can feel it slowly burrowing through to the centre of me. I’ve got to push it out of my mind. Not that many hours till morning.
I like Joe. He has a smile like caramel and summer. He doesn’t know I like him but, one day, he will. Probably one day after too much wine at the office party, but in my head I imagine us to be walking back from work on a hot day, and for the words to just hum on the air, and our eyes to lock, Mills and Boon, pink candyfloss. Win me a big toy at the fairground. Buy me a star. He’ll brush the hair from my eyes, and read me a poem, sing me a song while playing the guitar. My parents will love him, because you can’t help but love that smile, and they’ll tell me how he makes me glow.
“We’ve never seen you happier!”
I forgot to breathe for a while. I must remember to breathe.
I haven’t written a will. Not that I’ve much to leave, everything of worth flying out into the night in a battered Nike holdall (Nike holdall, black with a yellow zip, must remember that for the morning) but I should have really sorted something out. I’d never wanted to though. It’s too much like admitting defeat, admitting that there is an end, and I’d never wanted to do that. I’d never wanted to be old and grey, but I’d never wanted not to be.
Joe is going to find me in this awful nightgown. It’s not long enough to cover any dignity, and Joe will find me all sprawled and ugly and stained with red with everything on display.
If he finds me at all.
I can’t see the ceiling anymore.
I’ve known Joe for nearly two years now. Liked him from the second day. The first day at work, he was new and serious and slightly nervous, but the second day he smiled and that was when I knew. I’ve sent him a couple Valentine's cards now, but I always get Cathy from Human Resources to write them for me, so he can’t recognise the handwriting. One year, I’ll sign it myself.
What would two young boys want with jewellery? I hope if they sell it that they get a decent amount for it. I hope they don’t just treat it like trash. Or, I hope they get pittance for it, so none of this was worthwhile.
It feels like something is pressing down on my chest.
I move my fingers, just to make sure I still can. I feel all disjointed and lost in space, and I’m not quite sure where all the parts of me are. I have to move my fingers to find them. I’m falling slower now, but I can still feel it, still feel gravity tugging at me.
I don’t know if I should sleep or not. My eyes are rolling into my head, and if I do sleep, morning will come quicker. Joe will arrive sooner. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do though. It feels like it is, which almost certainly means that it isn’t.
My stomach hurts now, pain tearing a hole where the numbness was. I think though that if the cold reaches my stomach, the pain will go away. I’m not sure this will be a good thing though either.
I can’t stop my eyes from rolling. Into blackness I head.
There aren’t any dreams here.
“Sally, if you can hear me, I just want you to listen to me. I just need you to hear what I have to say.”
Joe’s voice floated out of the dark, and I held onto that sound. I can’t feel my lips, but I’m sure they are smiling. He found me.
“Sally, I don’t know if you realise this or not, maybe not, but I like you. Okay, more than like. And I’ve never had the courage to tell you, well, not before today, not before now.”
Suck air in, push air out, past smiling lips that I can’t feel.
“And I think you like me too. So, listen Sally, I phoned up work today and I told them you were ill. Said I called round and found you sick, and that you weren’t coming in.”
My reason began to spin.
“I hope you don’t mind. I said I was going to look after you. It’s only a white lie, after all, since I’m going to in a way. I got us tickets to the circus tonight, you’ll love it, there’s a big fair there too with clowns and candyfloss. And I’ve booked us a table at lunchtime at that restaurant by the river. Of course, of course, you can say no…”
Suck air in, push air out…
“Anyway, if you get this message, give me a call back.”
The answer phone beeped to a close.
Gravity let go.
Louise Arnold's short story SOUR will be included in LET THE EVOLUTION BEGIN, the first book from Intrepid Publishing.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
7.22.03 @ 9:21p
Read this and wish you were this good.
7.22.03 @ 10:13p
7.23.03 @ 1:44a
Louise, you need to come to Vegas so I can get a snapshot taken with you to prove I really did know you before you were famous.
Fuck, this is amazing.
7.23.03 @ 10:00a
Awesome. Just awesome!
8.8.03 @ 8:04a
arrrrrrrrrgh! I didn't need goosebumps so early in the morning!
Stupendous, Louise. As usual.
8.10.03 @ 6:24p
I check this site often and most of the time read the new articles… this is only the second I have felt the need to comment on. Amazing story. Your descriptions really enhance the emotion of the character. Awesome choice of perspective. Nicely done.
8.13.03 @ 4:09p
Joe, can the second book be a Louise Arnold compendium? I want more, more, more!