What The Eye Doesn’t See

Ok I’ll get my excuses in early, I’ve been tied up with another (very cool) writing contest and the deadlines clashed, my story for that sucked all the emotional energy out of me and so this effort for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction competition was a bit, well… meh.

But I’ve gotten in the habit of posting NYC submissions, so despite the embarrassment here it is as submitted. The prompt was a romance featuring an emergency room and a mop.

 

What the Eye Doesn’t See

In the aftermath of a death the feelings of four hospital workers come out into the open.

 

 

 

Marco

 

There was blood all over the floor. Marco wheeled the bucket in, pushing against the long handle of the mop. Superbugs had changed the game from a simple swipe of the mop to a process of infection control. He didn’t mind. It lifted his work from the lowly domain of the janitor to something that had meaning and consequences.

 

It also meant he could spend time working around the slumbering Dr Arden. She was slouched in a plastic chair, still in blood spattered scrubs, in a corner of the room. A stray hair fell across her face. He itched to brush it away, but his hands weren’t clean.

 

Her life had real meaning and she threw herself into it. The maintenance office gossip had her dedication as the cause of her divorce. Marco shook his head at that. The desire to do things well mattered.

 

Quietly, taking care not to disturb her, Marco wheeled the bucket of bloody water away and began the spiral of disinfectants.

 

***

 

Jeanette

 

Someone had left study books under the lip of the desk. With reception quiet now the grieving family were gone Jeanette flipped it open, idly going through the pages of tables and charts. It was some night study course. She sighed. Another person with false dreams of making a better life.

 

She looked down the hall to where Marco was busy cleaning. He had no such absurd ambitions. He had been in the same job for years, methodical and precise; kind of attractive too. What was not to like? Neither of them were young anymore and he was a steady guy. She had flirted with him a couple of times but she guessed he was shy, he hadn’t really noticed.

 

That was a good thing, she decided. Less likely to mess around. He was considerate too, working with care around the Dragon so he would not wake her. Jeannette would have to make a move. Time was passing them both by.

 

He seemed to sense her looking, which made her blush and turn back to the book. Behind her the coffee machine hissed and clanked. She looked over her shoulder and suppressed a groan. Anthony, one of the paramedics, was ogling her. There was a perfectly good coffee machine by the ambulance park, but he insisted on coming all the way over here with the excuse the coffee was better.

 

He would want to talk, and there was no work she could hide behind. She stared at the book, hoping he would go away.

 

***

 

Anthony

 

He’d brought in the gusher. Running beside the gurney keeping pressure on the wound he’d twisted his ankle and run through the pain. No one had noticed. His next call out had been a false alarm, the passing time had not been enough for the boy.

 

At least it was Jeanette’s shift on reception, and at this time of night no one else was around. A little playful banter would go down well with his coffee and shake the gloom of a life lost.

 

Jeanette seemed to be engrossed in a book. He put the coffee cup on the counter and peered over to see what it was. The contents made no sense to him. “Management on the horizon Jeannie?”

 

She gave him the mock scowl he found so endearing and pushed the book away. “It’s not my book. Why are you hanging around here anyway?”

 

“Just came over for the best coffee and smile in town.”

 

She took a swipe at his coffee cup. He whisked it away before she could connect. “You’ve got your coffee. You can whistle for the smile.” The coffee splashed over the edge of the paper cup and onto his hand. Anthony yelped and dropped it. “And now you’ve got neither.”

 

He backed away, heading for an empty cubicle and a sink. Marco was cleaning up down the hall. Running cold water over his scalded hand he called “Marco, spillage in reception.”

 

***

 

Elspeth

 

A shout jerked her awake. She looked around, trying to place herself. She had sat down for just a moment when the boy had been wheeled away, and from the looks of things she had fallen asleep. Elspeth took a couple of deep breaths. There was nothing more she could have done.

 

There was a cleaner busy in the room, he gave her a shy smile and she responded with a tired one of her own before standing up and trying to ease the stiffness in her neck. She needed a shower and fresh scrubs to see out the rest of the night. Most of all she needed coffee.

 

Anthony was drying his hands on a paper towel as she got to reception, and there was coffee all over the floor. “What happened to you?”

 

He shrugged “A little accident.”

 

She shook her head in disbelief. “You can pull a boy out of a gang war, but you can’t hold a coffee cup?”

 

“Just clumsy, I guess.” His tone turned sombre. “I heard we lost him.”

 

She bristled, the boy’s loss was hers alone to bear, but she’d seen Anthony hobble on a bad ankle beside the gurney and couldn’t turn her anger on him. She looked back down the hall; she had tracked bloody footprints across the floor. “Hey,” she called out to the cleaner. “Deal with this already.” She kicked off her soiled shoes and stalked off.

 

***

 

Marco hurried over with his disinfectant floor wipes. Jeanette leaned forward over the desk and whispered. “She had no right to talk to you that way.”

 

Anthony watched her closely, realising in that instant where her interest lay.

 

Marco gave her a friendly smile. “It OK, it’s my job to clean up.” He looked over to where Elspeth stood by the coffee machine. Anthony read his expression as well and backed away around the spilled coffee. There was no way he was getting involved in this mess.

 

END

 

If you are interested in my writing please check out more here

Advertisements

Never Enough Time to Talk

Two brothers discover their parents’ secrets and rediscover a childhood obsession, which brings them closer together following the death of their father.

Never Enough Time to Talk

The book dropped back into the pile with a dull thud, a cloud of dust rose up. I saw David’s shoulders slump, but when he looked at me he had a half smile. “I think every library and charity shop in the county has a copy.” He pointed at the boxes littering the garage, “What am I supposed to do with all of these?” Amid the mementoes of our father’s life there were boxes and boxes of books; copies of David’s unsold book.

It had been something of a sore point between us. Dad had bought up all the remaindered stock, certain his younger son would make it one day. But this wasn’t the time to dredge up the past. I changed the subject.

“How’s the new one coming along?”

“OK, it’s getting there.” There was a brittle edge to his smile; he turned away so I could not see his face.

I kicked myself inside. Every subject between us was a potential minefield. David had given up a secure job writing features for The Courier to go freelance and write his second book on the side. After the failure of the first one it seemed an indulgence to me. We hadn’t fought over it. We’d given up fighting when we were boys, but he knew how I felt.

“Dad was helping me with it. I think that surprised us both.”

I laughed at that, a sudden involuntary bark. Dad had condemned us both as agents of the bourgeoisie, one son an accountant and the other a journalist aspiring to be a writer. But he did it trying to hide a smile.

I had been pressed and cajoled and supported to make something of myself, to be the working class dream of a professional, even though he bemoaned his son becoming a lickspittle savant. He’d condemned David’s book as heroin for the masses and then bought all the unsold copies.

“Old socialists never die,” David quoted, “they just join the great march in the sky.” We finished it together.

My laughter died and there was nothing else to say. The silence stretched uncomfortably, like swallowing against a collar done up too tight. Still in our dark suits and ties we puttered around the dusty garage, aimlessly peering into boxes and taking things off the shelves, avoiding one another.

I popped the clasps of an old leather suitcase and found a beautiful wooden box, there were four crystal glasses inside, a wedding gift from Mum’s parents. We’d seen them once before, but there had never been an occasion special enough to use them. I was about to say something about them to David, but the words stuck in my throat. It didn’t matter what I said, it would choke me on the way out. I put the glasses away where I had found them, and the words dissolved inside me.

In the end, of course, he was my little brother and we were all that was left to each other. Steeling myself I spoke up. “I’ll get a brew on, do you fancy one?”

He nodded. “Tea bags are in the cupboard over the kettle. Milkman’s been, it’s in the fridge.”

I bit back the comment that he had already made himself at home, in the small house Dad had left to him alone. It wasn’t the time, it was never the time.

The kitchen was uncomfortably bare. Unlike the old house, which had Mum’s care and pride written on every surface, this was a man’s place. Mug tree, kettle, toaster, microwave. Dad had sold the old place after Mum died, and moved here. It had two bedrooms and a garage for all his memories and all of David’s books. He lived off the pension he had campaigned to save, and the little money he made from moving into a smaller house.

I’d not been here often. The train from London took a couple of hours and my job ran to long hours. I’d helped him move in and sent money to get the place redecorated; it was a rare instance where my insistence had overcome his pride. It looked like he had been frugal. Everything seemed clean but without colour or extravagance.

The noise of the kettle interrupted my thoughts. I hunted around for some biscuits and then took a tray into the living room. It was as uncluttered as the rest of the house. There were just two pictures on the mantelpiece, one of mum and one of two boys on bicycles, old enough that the colour had faded. “James 6, David 4” was written in neat script on the reverse.

At least the TV was modern. I’d had it delivered when the analogue signal was switched off and the twenty year old monster that had perched in the corner of our home just would not work any more. There was an old VCR, and underneath it something that made me stop. The shape was achingly familiar, but it took me a moment to put a name to it. It was our old Atari game console.

I sank down beside it and ran my hands over the greying plastic in wonder. Dad had kept it. Of course he had, he kept everything. David must have fished it out of the garage. We’d been on it all the time as kids. It had arrived as a Christmas present one year, and we spent all day every day until school started glued to the TV and the controllers.  The games were lame compared to modern ones, but back then we were hooked. There was nothing quite like getting your name on the leaderboard. By the time we had stopped using it I had a clean sweep of everything. The three permitted letters in the top ten of every game read JAM. Once in a while David had been able to sneak a DAV or two on, but in the end I had always won out. Then, all of a sudden, it was boring. We had homework and music and all the other distractions of later childhood.

It was an obsession that burned and then winked out in a year. Dad had seen the lesson in it, “You’ve got to learn to stick at things, boys.” He led that by example, a working man and an agitator, until he had to retire and his legs would not carry him around any more.

I freed the Atari’s joysticks from the tangle of wires. The huge cartridge for Asteroids was still plugged in. It took a moment of fiddling to get it going, but it was actually surprisingly simple. David must have fired it up to see if it still worked.

The title sequence zig zagged across the screen, I had to press the connector in to get the picture to stay still, but once it had settled it didn’t move again. Tinny digital music filled the room. I flicked through the menu, part of me wanting to feel the thrill seeing my name on the leaderboard again.

He’d been playing! The first three letters of his name filled the screen. I felt annoyed at him for the pettiness, and then annoyed at myself for taking it personally. The screen hazed across and I fiddled with the connector to sharpen it. That was when I realised they weren’t all David. Scattered in between his name some of the high scores read DAD.

David surprised me when he spoke up from the doorway. “He couldn’t move much by the end. But his fingers were OK and his mind was sharp right up to the last moments.” He came in and sat on the sofa. There was a large folder full of papers in his hand, he smoothed the buff surface unnecessarily. I could see his hand was shaking. “He was hooked on it once I got him started. We’d play, and he’d talk. Then when he was resting I’d write it all up.”

He opened the folder. There were sheets of his own scrawly handwriting inside, some yellowing typed letters, and several photographs. He flicked through them, and then picked out a photo to show me. Mum and Dad on their wedding day. Freed from the folder the edges began to curl up a little. He held them down with his trembling fingers.

I took the picture from him. We’d not seen that beaming smile on Mum’s face for an age. She had gone suffering from dementia, unable to recognise any of us, and Dad holding on to her hand, heartbroken. He’d not talked about her to us. The house had fallen silent of the one voice that kept us all talking to each other.

“I left The Courier to come and write his story. I wanted to know about the days after the War when Grandad came back; and all the stories about the marches and strikes and protests.” He shuffled through the folder some more. He held up a newspaper clipping from the seventies with Dad’s face a blurry smudge in one corner. “I wanted to know about him, and Mum.” He pulled out another piece of paper, the colour of tea and covered in decorative writing. “There was more to Mum than we knew.”

It was a birth certificate. I couldn’t make sense of it, the flourishes in the writing made it difficult to read. I could see my mother’s name in the middle, but the familiar maiden name I thought I knew was suffixed by other, grander names. Her parents, the grandparents I had never met, were Lord and Lady. My eyes were blurring and the names were incomprehensible.

David was still talking. I tried to take in the words because I could not read at all. “Her parents never approved, but they let her go her own way. Mum and Dad wanted to tell us, it was just never the right time. They wanted us to make our own way first. Then Mum got ill. Dad said there just didn’t seem to be the words after that.” There were more papers. He pulled out a fresher one, creamy, thick paper. “He wanted to tell you first because of this.” I took the paper from him numbly, but did not look at it. “We had an uncle, he died without children.”

I understood. Through the shock and the grief I understood, and it did not matter. There was a greater, more pressing truth beneath the veneer of titles. A truth our father had spent his life trying to teach us to see. Mum had given up everything, wealth, privilege, comfort, for a hard life with the man she loved. He in his turn had watched himself slip from her mind, as she slipped out of his life. He taught us to measure people by what they became, by how they behaved, not where they began.

David was crying. A fat tear fell on the open pages. My gaze was fixed on that wedding photo, the broad smile of a young man in a hat and suit. I saw the shadows of that smile in the mirror every morning, I could turn my head and see the stubborn chin reprised in my brother beside me.

In the end it did not matter whether there was time to talk. I thought I was the one for doing things, the one who had made something of himself. David had proved me wrong, he’d done something extraordinary, almost as extraordinary as Mum leaving everything she knew for Dad. He’d come here to see out Dad’s last days, to keep him company, and preserve the memory of those two precious lives.

The tinny music was still playing, a nonsensical counterpoint to our loss. Our loss. Until that moment we hadn’t shared it. I gave him back the photo and the papers, and squeezed his forearm. My hand was trembling too. “Tea’s getting cold.”

He nodded, and then gestured to the Atari. “Fancy a game?”

END

My Amazon Author Page

Above is my round 2 entry to the 2014 NYC Midnight Short Story Competition

No Son of Mine

My second round story in this years NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition – for the edification of fellow NYCers and the enjoyment of all. This version is as submitted, with no further edits, I’ll post the feedback when it comes in.

 

The set up was a Crime Caper involving a waterfall and a toothbrush, with a 1000 word limit.

 

 

No Son of Mine

 Stolen gems and exploding plumbing bring an estranged father and son back together.

 

 

 

No Son of Mine

 

Five years had passed since I had last seen Dad this close up. I’d seen him from a distance of course: on the news the day he was arrested, across the courtroom during his trial, and from the street outside when they bundled him into the van to put him behind bars.

 

The judge had made parole conditional on Dad giving up his stash of stolen cash and gems. Dad knew he could never enjoy it, that when he did eventually get out every step would be dogged by police and villains alike, but he wouldn’t give it up.

 

The last time we were together he had disowned me. The hurt from his words “You’re no son of mine” echoed down the years. Papers had flown behind the words. They held my entry details to university to study Chemical Engineering. I had to get on my knees to gather them as they drifted to the floor rather than make a dignified exit. On a neat pile on the kitchen table was the other offer letter, the one I wouldn’t be taking up: law school. We stopped talking that day. A week later I went to university and that was it.

 

Mum had backed me. Dad always said she spoiled me, that her indulgence would be the ruin of us all. Not his thieving, not his lust for danger, not his disregard for other people’s property. Mum told me to give him time, Dad would come round.

 

Dad used to say I had inherited his intelligence, the fine analytical mind that saw possibilities where others only saw problems. He’d wanted that mind trained as a lawyer to save him from prison. He knew he’d get caught one day, and that with the swathe he had cut through the rich and powerful there was not a lawyer who would give him a fair run at a defence.

 

If Dad was clever, Mum was wise. “I know your old man, I know him better than he knows himself” she told me, “And there’s nothing that will stop them locking him up, so follow your heart son.” Of course she was devilish clever too, which we would only appreciate years later.

 

True enough here he was in jail and I was talking to him through an inch of glass.

 

“How are you?”

 

“OK. I don’t cause trouble so they’ve given me some privileges.”

 

“I heard. I brought you some things.” I gestured to the guard who was making his way through the security doors with a cardboard box. There was a woven blanket inside, a couple of books, and a toothbrush. The guard had checked everything without comment.

 

“So what are you up to these days?”

 

“Plumbing.”

 

He sat back in his chair in shock. “Plumbing? You spent three years in university to become a pipe strangler?” He sighed. “You could have been anything you wanted.” Fortunately the box landed beside him to stop a reprise of our last argument.

 

Dad picked the toothbrush out of the box. Turning it over in his hands, thinking about the last time he had seen it. I’d retrieved it from Mum’s old house on Statton Street, the one we never went to after her father died, which was slowly falling into disrepair and dereliction. It turned out Dad had been there frequently.

 

“It was all about plumbing in the end.” I explained. He looked at the toothbrush for a long time before he looked up. I think the wetness in his eyes was pride; everyone had looked, but I had found his stash. “It’s all about plumbing now as well,” I went on. “I’ve marked some passages in the books that you should read.”

 

When I left they let him carry the box back to his cell.

 

*                                        *                                  *

 

The old thrill was back when I walked to my cell. I dropped on the steel bed and put my feet up. In the box were two John Grisham novels. The cheeky sod had given me books about lawyers. They both smelled odd.

 

The cipher was a simple one and I read through his instructions carefully before I sat up. There was a nylon filament in the thick wool of the blanket. I began unravelling.

 

After lights out I took the pages I had carefully torn from the books. The first pair were slapped on the wall with a little water. My prison issue sheets went over my mouth as smoke rose in stinking puffs. My regular blanket was draped over the bars of my cell so the smoke would not escape and trigger the smoke alarms.

 

When the smoke died down a little I could see a small hole. A few swift kicks on the weakened mortar exposed the cavity between the walls. A thick water pipe ran up the cavity to the storage tanks on the roof. A second pair of papers did for the outside wall. I kicked the bricks out of that too before playing out the filament and wrapping the sheets round it to protect my hands.

 

I slipped the toothbrush into my pocket and wriggled feet first out of the two holes in the walls. All about plumbing he’d said, and how could I resist? I stuck all the remaining pages to the pipe on the side facing into the prison.

 

It erupted when I was halfway down the wall, and the shockwave nearly made me lose my grip. I held on, imagining the full force of water in the six inch pipe sweeping through my cell. I had been on level three; it would be pouring through the bars and arcing across the atrium. A waterfall as my parting gift, and chaos to cover my escape. As I dropped to the ground a car engine started nearby and an old BMW rolled up.

 

I sat down in the passenger seat and smiled at my boy. “Plumbing, eh?”

 

“Plumbing,” he replied.

 

“Well, lucky for me you’re your mother’s son.”

 

End

If you are interested in more of my writing please check out my book: Image and Other Stories