just as I reach it
it explodes into a thousand shards
it rains down
just as I reach it
it explodes into a thousand shards
it rains down
of getting hurt
a little magic
into their lives
it’s hard to leave
they’re a little addicted
to the light
We are like flowers
whose stems have tangled
somewhere in the middle
but still on our own paths
growing up and up and up
Coffee and conversations. Laughs and tears. I access human interaction, while wiping down drink stains, crumbs, and fingerprints. I also have access to many cups of cold beverages. I dispose of them in bins, standing around the perimeter of the shop, which everyone can access themselves.
….‘Maybe we are technology. We’re machinery of a different kind, made of organic matter rather than plastic and motherboards.’ The students pack their books into their bags, and get up to leave. Thankfully, they put their cups into the bin. I wipe the spot they sat in, next to the window.
….A man, one of the regulars, possibly a writer, sits further along the window table, reading through his scribbles in a brown book. Our eyes meet momentarily, then he continues to read the hieroglyphics. I could be the next major character in his work. Several customers sit alone, reading novels or typing into their tablets, sipping away at their coffee.
….I go over to the area where the clean napkins and packs of sugar are stacked. Crystalline granules create a constellation on the wooden surface, before my cloth swoops down to destroy it.
….Two women sit close by, a younger one and an older one.
….‘This is serious. How do you think it’ll go?’ says the older woman.
….‘Well, it’s in an hour. I just hope it all works out.’ The younger woman clasps her fingers around her cup, like a clamshell.
….I get some more napkins out of the cupboard below, and refill the holder.
….‘I’m sure it will. You’ve dressed well for it. Everything starts with appearances.’
….‘What if it’s a no? No one can help if it’s a no. It’ll be over. Not even my good shoes will save me, despite what people say.’ The younger woman closes her eyes and begins to take some deep breaths for a few seconds.
….The older woman looks around, probably checking if anyone is listening. She sees me. ‘Could I get one of those, please?’ she asks. I smile, handing her a napkin. She turns back to the other woman. ‘Dear, you’re being a little dramatic now.’
….The younger woman becomes quiet, probably on the verge of tears. Talk about coffee shop drama. She picks up her handbag, and gets up. ‘I think it’s time I made my way there,’ she says.
….The older woman sits there, drinking the rest of her coffee. The other woman left her cup on the table.
….Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around. It’s Thomas. He flashes a grin at me. ‘Are you going to stand there all day, gaping at stupid packets of sugar?’
….‘Hello to you, too. I wasn’t gaping.’
….‘Honey, you should just work here full-time and you can stare at all the sugar you want,’ he teases.
….I take my apron off, and get my jacket from the back. I say bye to everyone still working their shifts. I make my way to the door, grabbing the cup left behind by the woman and throw it away.
….As I walk away from the shop, I see the younger woman waiting at the bus stop, on the other side of the road. I continue walking, another stranger on the street.
The curtain came down.
….Light was restored in the auditorium, and the low humming in the air dissolved into chatter and the shuffling of people moving from their seats. The swinging, double doors brought the smell of popcorn and sugary sweetness through them. Katherine took in a deep breath, letting her tastebuds revel in a sugar crazed frenzy.
….She turned to face James, who gripped his armrests tightly. In his chair, he seemed to be bracing himself inside a NASA rocket ship, ready to take off.
….‘How did you like that?’ Katherine asked. James seemed to snap out of his little rocket ship role-play, become reanimated, and adjusted the beanie on his head. He took in a deep breath. Katherine waited.
….‘Yeah. That was something.’
….‘We’ve had this conversation, James. If you don’t like theatre, then you don’t have to come.’ She waved her hands towards the stage, ‘I have friends who would love to come and watch this.’
….‘Don’t see the problem here, Kat. You’re always saying “try something new” – so here I am, trying something new.’
….She took a mirror out of her clutch bag, flashed her teeth in it, then brushed the blond hairs framing her face with her fingers. James’s phone beeped beside her.
….An elderly couple sat in the row in front of them, chuckling vivaciously, enjoying a wonderful evening together at the theatre.
….She armed herself with her Chanel lipstick and began recoating her lips in a fresh layer of colour. Satisfied, she put everything back into her bag, and sat limply in her chair.
….Now, the elderly couple leaned closer to one another, probably chatting intensely about the play.
….‘So… what did you make of the strong female cast? I love seeing powerful women on stage,’ Katherine said.
….James’s phone beeped again. The screen of death appeared on his iPhone. Score: 45. His thumb hovered over the play again button.
….‘You can score higher than that, James,’ she said.
….‘Yeah, almost beat my high score.’
….‘The one I set.’ Katherine stared at him. ‘The female cast?’
….‘They were good… Weren’t women always powerful?’ he asked, picking at his phone case with his fingernail.
….If they were, the world wouldn’t be this way. Katherine fiddled with her fingers, as he scanned her face. He sat back, and faced the stage.
….‘When’s all this going to be over?’ he said.
….‘I’m beginning to ask the same question myself.’
….She sighed. Katherine pointed to James’s phone. He flashed the screen at her.
….‘The play begins in about ten minutes, or so,’ she said.
….‘Oh. Want a drink?’
….Katherine shook her head in response.
….‘Then I’m off.’ Like a NASA rocket, he blasted off, down the aisle, and out the double doors. The flow of people moving in and out through them sent wafts of warm air flying around the room.
….Alone, Katherine glanced around the auditorium. She repeated the mirror checking routine again: hair, teeth, and lipstick. The elderly couple continued their deep conversation. She leaned forward in her chair.
….‘But, the whole concept of acting is quite peculiar, don’t you think?’ the old woman said, pushing her gold-rimmed spectacles up her nose. ‘We watch actors perform the real in a fake setting.’
….The man contemplated this, rubbing his beard.
….Katherine picked her mirror up, again. It reflected everything behind her – rows and rows of seats going up like a set of stairs. The people at the top scurried around like ants, zigzagging across the rows.
….‘What’s fake? Us or them?’ she whispered.
….James plopped down into his chair, a cup of ice cream in his hands. She dropped the mirror on the floor.
….‘Hey, where’s my ice cream?’ She pouted. James licked his tiny spoon.
….‘You didn’t say you wanted any.’
….‘You asked if I wanted a drink!’ Several heads turned to look at her.
….Light faded from the auditorium, and the curtain lifted up. The double doors stopped swinging, and a hush fell over the audience. Katherine shuffled around in her chair, trying to locate the mirror. James poked her arm.
….‘Shh, it’s starting again,’ he said, then continued to lick ice cream off the spoon.
Story number two from the City of Echoes collection
Law fumbled with his keys, as he locked the door to his flat. Down the corridor, the building’s cleaner, Ember, paused from her work in his presence, briefly looking up from the floor that would never look clean. Every morning the low buzzing and humming of her Henry would fill the corridors, as the rest of the building’s residents began to stir from their sleep. Her movements and rattling, floor by floor, had become a constant in the background noise. She was a kind of security: she existed within the fabric of the walls, peeling corridors and stained carpets. She would still be here long after she was meant to be gone.
….And so would the big black bins downstairs, with their mountain of junk growing outside, rather than inside, of them. Black bags, on the mountain’s side, slouched against the ground, gutted open, oozing intestinal household waste and drugs. Sometimes Ember would sift through the junkyard, before leaving it in a state more or less the same as when she had first got there.
….‘Good mornin’, Mr. Law,’ she said, after a few seconds. She had that edge in her voice that was present in all the teenagers living on the council estate across the road. Law was thankful he could speak like a decent Londoner. His cheeks flushed at having standing too long outside his door and having an observer watch his battle with the lock.
….Law went to Costa, and got himself a cup of filter coffee and buttery crumpets. He sat down with his journal, by the shop window, and flicked through the pages. He reminisced on the days he spent wandering the city and its streets.
….Once he took a walk through Hyde Park. The grass was tall in some places, so he stepped carefully, to avoid finding himself stuck knee deep in it. Sometimes he stood still and watched as the wind blew across it, creating ripples and waves, like a breathing ocean, or a Mexican wave. The soft rippling effect looked like it was emanating from a source – a point where a stone entered the water in a pond.
….This choreography repeated itself over and over again. These actions in nature were copies of one another: the grass behaved like water in the wind, and not like grass at all.
….Everyone seemed to be around that day. Like a river, they cascaded past him on the footpath. They moved beyond him, beyond his vision… beyond his page.
….Law devoured his crumpets, and continued reading through several pages of his journal.
….At Marylebone Station, schools of people emerged from London’s tunnel network, and deposited themselves at the top of the escalator in regular intervals. It was another repetitious occurrence in the city. A cycle, a pattern, just like the ripples in the grass. London lived and breathed the same way everyday, in a constant loop: churning people out of the ground and transporting them on boxes with wheels.
….Law drank the rest of his coffee, and left Costa. He decided to take the Tube around the city.
….On the Tube, he stood his back up against the glass, opposite the rows of seats, and watched people shuffling around in the door windows. Some of their heads elongated and stretched out, as the window curved inward around the top. A couple sat silently for a while. They seemed bored in each other’s company.
….Every few minutes, the lady fixed her short hair in a little mirror, and checked her teeth. Her male counterpart spread his arms and legs out to his comfort, invading the space of other Londoners sitting near them.
….They dressed well. The lady dressed formally, wearing an expensive looking coat, giving off the impression she had just walked out of her office, in Canary Wharf. The man, on the other hand, dressed casual, opting for a coordinated theme: white t-shirt, black biker jacket, black trousers, and white Nikes. A beanie sat on his head, with a curl of brown hair styled up at the front.
….In the window, Law imitated the man, pushing his hair to the side with his fingers. But, his straight hair fell flat and he gave up.
….Law consulted a diagram of the London Underground, next to an advertisement about popular TV box sets, that the whole nation was buying. He used a pointed finger to trace out several train routes. Then, he hopped off of the Tube at the next station.
The shiny, tall buildings, in Canary Wharf, loomed over Law. Light tickled on the surface of these buildings, like a sunset on the ocean. The city was empty here, at this time, save for a few people. The lone clacking of someone’s heel on the pavement bounced in the air, on the dome entrance of the station, and on the glass that held J. P. Morgan together. There was something about an abandoned city that was appealing.
….Law stood there, letting the echoes – sounds, reflections, copies that radiated from their source – float around in his head. The clacking faded away. Then it all clicked. He took out his journal, and drew circles and spirals that collided into each other. In the centre of them, he wrote:
….We’re all echoes in this city. We pass and go through life, leaving a tiny trace of ourselves behind when we’re gone.
Law got back to his building in the early hours of the next day. In the lift, he found a black hat on the floor, and put it on his head. He adjusted the hat, as he approached his front door.
….Down the corridor, a door creaked open. Ember came out. She walked towards him, as he fumbled with his keys and lock.
….‘Goodnight,’ she whispered, as she went past. Law tasted the alcohol in her breath. The lift doors opened, and she seemed to disappear into the walls of the building.
….As he entered his flat, Law pictured Ember with her Henry, rattling and humming, floor by floor, as the rest of the residents began to wake up, just as he began to fall asleep.
Thank you for reaching the end of this story! I feel like I’ve achieved so much by writing it. It’s the first story of four that I wrote for an assignment – the whole collection is called City of Echoes. The next story will be up next week – stay tuned! x
As I walked down Old Marylebone Road, a flicker to my right caught my attention. It was the reflection of cars zooming across the glass windows of a building, on the reflected road. I stopped, and turned to face it. Eyes stared back out at me, watching me with an expressionless face.
….Taxis and vans raced past behind the staring girl. The wind created by the passing vehicles tickled my skin and played with the jacket of the girl in the glass. Footsteps approached from my left and faded away on my right. People walked past the girl in the glass, only seeing what was in front of them: pavement or a smartphone, or the girl standing in their way.
….A life parallel to the one I lived flickered in this glass, like a movie. But it was real. I tucked some hair behind my ear and the girl opposite did the same. In a minute this girl would be out of my view, going about with her life on the other side of the glass and the building.
….She walked with me now, ready to continue her day just as I was. When I passed the building and turned back, she was gone, just as I predicted. But the cars and buses kept on racing, back and forth down the road.
Racing under the Moon’s shadow
while owls whisper to the leaves,
and Midnight’s rabbits work work work
Nature’s garden weeps,
from time to time and time again:
whispering to her darlings
grow, grow, grow…
Then the magical beans prosper
and defend their mighty ground
where the rabbits and owls can lie peacefully.
You can hear Midnight’s garden
Souls converging to one:
beat, beat, beat