The city was in chaos. Half the roads had been blocked off, and the rest were tilting at crazy angles, so that people had to cling to the tarmac to stop themselves from falling off. Some of them wore crampons attached to their foreheads and arms like tephillim. Scaffolding sprouted from cracks in the footpaths, unpurposed for construction, just free-standing frameworks of platforms and poles, climbing nowhere.
And people were dropping dead, too, in the middle of the street, just like that, like nothing – one minute they were crawling along with the rest of us, and the next they’d collapsed and rolled off into oblivion. No-one could catch them: we were all too busy trying to hang on to the ground that had become the sky.
It was still Friday. I went to the café we always went to, even though I knew you wouldn’t be there, just in case you were. I ordered coffee in a language I no longer understood. It was around then that letters, numbers, faces, toppled off the grid, until the grid itself unravelled, Cartesian co-ordinates scattering like shrapnel. For a while I tried to chase them, clinging to the treble-clef-curlicues of numbers as they slid along their anamorphic staves, imagining I could restore reason through chanted calculations: this many minutes, hours, days, I have stolen with my half-breath, this many heartbeats , at eighty per minute, you have missed out, since your death; this many days, weeks, months, years, till I last as long as you did, and then
– the countdown begins again, until –
Until I saw that all this piecing together and patterning was as futile as the stranded scaffolding outside. The tales I tried to tell were nothing but treacherous sieves, trapping incidental dregs, while all life drained away. And I could not bear to speak of you, to pin you with petrified memories, a butterfly crucified on a display tray, until a breath of air should crumble it to dust. To speak was to exhale you. So I sat still instead and drank my coffee, waiting for Friday to end. It didn’t.
It was around then, too, that I started losing things. When I opened my wallet to pay for the coffee I discovered I had lost my Tesco clubcard, a five-pound note, and a snapshot of us in front of Brighton pavilion. Since you died I have lost: two gloves, each from a different pair, each for the left hand; a pebble from a beach in Liguria; my keys; my job at the Little Chef; a Bible (King James version); a fountain pen; my birthday (along with Christmas, Bastille Day, Lughnasa, Mardi Gras, and all other celebrations or commemorations of events real or imagined); most of my hair; and a snow-globe paperweight from a town I have never visited.
To even it out, I started to buy. At the supermarket first, taking all the special offers, stocking up on Lucozade Sport, Old El Paso Enchilada Kits and Lenor Pure Fresh Fabric Conditioner. And when I had no room left, I bought virtual commodities, shares in Celtic F.C. and online roulette spins. I sponsored senile donkeys and orphaned baby otters; whole galaxies of medium wattage stars are named for me and you. And when I had no money left, I bought loans, at 9%, 48.8%, 1272% APR, the numbers no longer mattered, they made no sense at all.
Mr. Madden from human resources arranged for your funeral to be held in the conference suite of the Holiday Inn. He gave your eulogy as a PowerPoint presentation. I thought he would show slides of you, scenes from your life, but he had brought the wrong flash drive with him, and instead we watched clips of films by the Coen Brothers, with the face of Nicholas Cage superimposed over every frame. Your mother cried.
It’s still Friday.
Other people have learnt to live with the tilt of the ground, and they walk upright now, but I still crawl with my belly pressed to the earth.
About the Contributor
A Scattering - Christopher Reid
More from Issue Eight:
- Calendar Girls by Max Wilkinson
- Mushroom Speed Boosts by Ben Reynolds
- Sestina by Imogen Russell Williams
- Under the Maple Roots by Joshua Bealson
- Snow, Sunday, Late February by James O’Neill
- Not Waving, but Washing by Tabitha Siklos
- Kites by Ben Gwalchmai
- A tribute to austerity by Sanmeet Kaur
- Something like the beginning of love by Olga Dermott-Bond
- Why is it Called a Thunderstorm, When it’s the Lightning That Kills You? by Katt Thompson
- My Greenland Halibut by Amanda Oosthuizen
- Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by Emma Venables