‘Fragments of Memories’

Christmas traditions. Every family has them, good and bad. Mostly bad. I still remember rare moments of unity with my sister, bemoaning our mum’s compulsory photoshoot at the top of the stairs with the two of us holding our stockings.

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I check my watch, 21.43. My pace quickens, the train within reach. Santa and Rudolph lurch toward the carriage ahead of me with arms linked and cases of dark fruits lodged between their free arms. I opt to avoid their particular brand of festivity and nip into the next carriage.

The train doors bleep and a whistle tears through the jovial atmosphere the carriage is wrapped in. The Just before the doors close a mother and son bounce inside. They celebrate their victory with high fives, each sharp inhale followed by a giggle. The train jolts to a start. As they collect themselves they approach me.

“Is it alright if we sit here?”

“Of course!” I answer, moving my briefcase from the table. Unlike any the rest of the year, I don’t grudge them.

I look out the window, catching their reflection against the darkened backdrop, Christmas lights dwindling as we depart the city. My eyes are drawn to the Christmas tree lodged in the boy’s jumper as he tries to rid himself of it, half revealing a Stormtrooper t-shirt underneath. His mum hauls it back down.

“It’s too cold.” She says. The boy crosses his arms.

I recall the battles I had with mum, trying to rid myself of each Christmas jumper. First it was too itchy, then I feigned an allergy. None of the excuses ever successful. Teachers have heard them all. I should have embraced it back then.

Christmas traditions. Every family has them, good and bad. Mostly bad. I still remember rare moments of unity with my sister, bemoaning our mum’s compulsory photoshoot at the top of the stairs with the two of us holding our stockings. It’s fun to look back and see how progressively worse the hangovers got over the years. Although we were ready to declare all-out war when she insisted on videoing us opening presents in our twenties, resisting became part of the theatre of the day. We might have hated it but fighting the camcorder became a fun tradition in itself.

I like to think Mum felt the same about me trying to sneak downstairs to open the presents every twenty minutes from two in the morning onwards. She must have preferred that to me stoating in at two with presents still to wrap. I swear that’s what killed me during the family quiz that my sister started after Christmas dinner. I dread and miss those games.

The carriage slowly empties as we pass each stop, each departure diluting the cheer until it’s time for the last stop. The remnants trickle up to the train door behind me. I resist the urge to assure them of my love for Christmas. My suit doesn’t fit with the dress code of Santa hats, antlers and Christmas jumpers.

After we filter out of the train I pass the boy and his mother as she zips his jacket over his jumper. I smile at the boy.

“Merry Christmas,” he says.

“Merry Christmas,” I reply, “Make the most of it.”

I meander up the winding road to my apartment block, wrestling the key into the lock before it finally turns. My footsteps echo up the staircase, it’s especially cold here. I enter into my apartment, neglecting the big light, opting instead for the lights which strangle the tree hiding in the corner of the room which extend around my window. I check the answer machine as I do every year for a message that doesn’t come. One of my three Christmas traditions. I fetch my Christmas jumper and change into it, making sure to flick the switch that makes the lights attached glow. I open my briefcase and remove the pack of six mince pies. I stick three of them in the microwave and heat them.

Mum used to usher me out the door round to old Mrs Fisher’s house to deliver banana loaf she’d cooked, my reward was taking the brunt of an hour long conversation. It’s the one tradition I can preserve. The microwave dings and I stick them on a plate. There’s no response at the first two doors on my floor, so I leave the pies sitting at the doorstep. They’re probably still out. I can hear Christmas songs from the last door. I knock the door and linger. They probably can’t hear me over the music, so I knock louder. There’s no response. I think I can hear muffled voices as I motion to knock again but I stop. I place the pie at the door.

“Maybe next year”, I say.

‘The Longest Moment’

He thought of she and him, breezing round the coastal roads on his old Gran Royale Bicycle. They installed a second seat at the start of summer and though he opposed the pink; she was the one with the skills. They shared an earbud each, as they listened to the soundtrack of their rural montage. He nearly crashed when he skipped that Switchfoot song in jest, he was unsure what impressed her less but the clasp of her hand on his waist never wavered.

As he lay on the ground now, breathing heavily, he could still feel that hand clenching his hip. His whole body was clenching. He moved his own hand to his side. He winced. He heard Tatsuro Yamashita playing on the earbud which remained intact, the other stricken on the cold concrete his cheek rested against. His mind wandered to her head leaning against his back, listening to Magic Ways.

She would caress him with her black hair as he peddled, nuzzling as they passed the tides which stroked the golden beaches. The gulls glided along beside them, sniping suspicious looks. He liked to think they had a mutual appreciation for the scenery, an understanding that transcended language but they were probably just eyeing up the picnic basket.

He spent all summer in that highlight reel by the sea, maybe he should have gone with her to Uni. He wouldn’t be in this situation if he had, he knew that. It only served to elevate this pain. He could feel trickles of heat sliver over his hands, but his body grew cold.

Fresh from sunbathing the sea massaged her shoulders as she raised her head out of the warm water, sliding her damp hair behind her ear. He placed his hands at her waste and ran his fingers over those stretch marks at her left side, she stood on her tip toes and kissed him. They later laughed at how rude it was for the gulls to pick that moment to pilfer the picnic.

He felt saliva seep down the side of his cheek onto the concrete, escaping his now coarse throat, as he wriggled his brittle bones against the slates. He had once snapped a picture of the cafe tiles for his Instagram, now they were ruined by a growing pool of red.

He recalled Pineapple Sand, how she cast her chair aside and bounced to her feet when they planned their future, selling bicycle decorations made of sea shells out of a camper van. The clock in that coffee shop had a heart shaped time piece. It swung slower now.

The music got quieter. He could make out a woman yelping. He mustered a couple of splutters, warmth splattered across his lips and smothered the dryness in his throat. He could hear sirens.

They lay upon a bed of green, she rested against his bare chest with her hand placed upon his side as clouds gathered on the horizon.

He heard the music no longer, nor the sirens, though they continued to ring. The heart shaped time piece had come to a halt.

‘The Journey’

Olivia noticed a few undesirables further up the bus and placed her bag on the seat next to her.

“First step to avoiding people,” she thought.

The stale cocktail of body odour and fuel stung her nostrils as she pressed back against her seat and scrolled through her Facebook feed.

“The only thing more uneventful than this bus journey,” she thought, looking out the window now at the sun’s dying light playing hide and seek in between buildings that were getting smaller the further the bus went.

The driver’s eyes snared hers through the mirror but she was freed by the ringing of her mobile phone.

“Hey Mum, how are you?”

“Hi love, I’m good thanks. Are you on your way?”

“Yeah I’m on the bus just now, we’ve just stopped at Upperton to let a few people off.”

“Sorry I’m so late. I’ll be home soon, it’s my stop next,” Olivia said.

Her eyes were lured back to the driver’s mirror, his own gaze now distracted.

“Oh good! You know how I worry.”

“It’s okay, the rough one’s just got off the bus,” she said, looking around behind her.

Olivia noticed she was alone now.

“How was your day mum? Tell me about your day. Did you do much? How was work?”

“It wasn’t bad. I did have a minor disagreement with that bastard at work. I’ll save that for when you get home.”

“How was-“

“There’s the dinner ready love, I need to go, see you soon.”

“Mum!”

Olivia continued to hold the phone to her ear. Her eyes coaxed back to the mirror and the leer of the driver.

He smiled.

The bus bounced with the grace of a rhino at a jenga convention. The road crackled below as though they were driving over an ocean bubble wrap. She switched her attentions to the window, greeted by a foreign darkness that smothered seas of what she could only guess were crops.

“D-driver?”

“Driver, is… this the right way?”

“I think so.” He replied.

“I-I don’t recognise it.” She said.

“Well, I’m the one in charge. You’ll have to trust me.”

Olivia abandoned her bag and ran for the back of the bus, crunching her wrists down upon the step, her progress halted by the bus’ breaks, screaming as she pressed to lever herself to her feet. The driver caught hold of her foot and dragged her to the floor once more, she kicked for his chest, she kicked for his balls, she kicked for his face, she kicked for her life.

He roared as his nose spurted blood, Olivia clambered to her feet again and kicked open the emergency door, dropping out of the bus and fleeing into the fields, running at awkward angles until she dropped to her knees.

The crops hissed as the wind harassed them. She bit down on her trembling lip, her forearms numb, fluid dripped from her fingers. Blood or sweat? She couldn’t tell. She heard the driver curse then cover it with laughter but he was far away now and the bus engine had started again. She dare not leave the crops. She was alone.

Olivia slumped over and let her eyes close, joining the darkness around her.

‘What’s yours is mine’

“Maybe they’ll send us more…”

“Comm’s have been dark for months, there’s nobody left.”

“Maybe it was a mistake splitting our supplies.”

“Do I have to take the water?”

“Of course I do, there’s no other option.”

“But he’ll die if I take it…”

“I’ll die if I don’t.”

“I’m taking his water.”

“He’s been stealing my supplies, he’s brought it on himself.”

“It’s not even his anyway. It’s my water.”

‘Tattered man’

Lightning split the sky and the heavens poured, smothering the streets in rain water.

“Could you spare any change, sir? This weather’s foul.”

Adam paused as his father walked on. He looked down upon the tattered man sitting cross legged, eternally rigid, though there was no obvious height difference. Had he not spoken, his exposed existence would have gone unnoticed. From under the remains of a quivering quilt he presented cupped hands.

“Adam! What have we told you?” His father shouted.

Adam closed his eyes and said, “Not for you.”

His father took hold of his wrist, leading Adam away.

***

Adam had always drawn comfort from this kind of weather since he was a child. Never, though, had he grasped the origins he thought born from whipping winds and relentless rain. Whether watching from his bedroom window or listening in bed. After encountering the old man he questioned why, it would be a long time before he could answer it.

Despite the damp the weather delivered, peace enveloped his every thought. Rarely did someone rest as easy under those chaotic skies. Maybe it was the manner the rain rinsed his window as he gripped his duvet, maybe it was the way wind caressed his house. The warring above, outside and distant.

Cocooned in glass and stone, he no longer needed to climb the window ledge as his nights grew longer, still watching whenever the skies decided to battle.

Inside that home were his bed, his clothes, his posters, his TV, an army of musical instruments Aunt Philippa had bought him over the years, and that bland but familiar ceiling. Change on the inside is much more controllable. Outside is disorder, unpredictable but watchable from afar. Knowing this now Adam understood, where the comfort came from.

***

Thunder troubled the skies, scarcely is Adam’s current ceiling ever remain the same and how he longed now for blandness above.

“Any spare change, sir?” He asks.