Laddered


You stare out the window from your mattress on the floor. You have been living on this mattress, with this window, for three months. You feel the freezing wind coming through the crack between the window and the floor every day as you wake up and still, you haven’t plugged it up with a towel or a t-shirt. Even that much effort feels like a statement of ownership, of permanence. You haven’t put all your books away yet, and you won’t. You refuse to believe that this is home now.

Across the street, through the grimy glass – the place was filthy when you got here and you barely cleaned it – you can see a face peering out of another window. There is a fire-escape ladder beside their window, not the old New York kind of wrought-iron staircase but an actual ladder. You assume it just leads up to the same boring old roof as the one outside your window does. But wouldn’t it be something – you think this as you finally begin to make yourself vertical – wouldn’t it be just something if that ladder went up to her apartment?

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Discarded [Flash Fiction]

Discarding his jumper, Professor Bradley P. Lawrence did a few push-ups in his office. He remembered the exercise classes he used to go to with friends, back in the 80s, when it was all the rage to “feel the burn”. He missed those days, not because he particularly liked exercising (he didn’t) but because he had been fit and it hadn’t seemed to take so much effort. Now his lifestyle was too sedentary, his doctor said he needed to cut down on the red meat, and his body didn’t seem to belong to him. Those weren’t his white hairs on his chest, those weren’t his fingers that were so puffy and red every time he came in from the cold, and it definitely wasn’t his stomach that was jutting over his pants. Somebody else, some alien being, had performed on operation on him (he was sometimes almost certain of this, in his worst moments at the corner pub) over the years, replacing his body parts with those of his uncle’s.
He had a picture of his uncle that he kept in his desk drawer and took out whenever he was expecting distinguished visitors. He had smashed the glass against the wall once, in a fit of rage, and had never replaced it. He hoped it wasn’t too noticeable. Nobody had yet remarked on it yet, anyway. It was the kind of thing most visitors, if they were indeed distinguished, wouldn’t do.
After five vigorous push-ups, he felt he’d done quite enough exercise. He lay on the floor of his office, resting, and looked around. It was a marvelous view, one that he hadn’t seen since he’d slept with one of his students many years ago, and then he’d been far to absorbed in impressing her while simultaneously trying to enjoy the experience, and hadn’t particularly taken notice of his surroundings. He did so now. The light fell very nicely on the little rug he kept in front of his easy chair. There was a lot of dust beneath his desk that he ought to clean up.
A glint beneath a bookcase caught his attention and he shimmied forward and stretched his arm out to reach under it and see what it was. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a piece of glass. It must have been there since he’d broken his uncle’s picture. He turned the glass fragment over and over between his fingers, until it cut him and he had to get up to find a plaster to put on his hand.

Held Breath

“Breathe in, deeply, to a slow count of four. Hold your breath for another count of four. Let it out, slowly, gently, to a count of eight, so that every gasp of air in your lungs is let out. This way you’re cleansing yourself, letting out all the dirt and old air that’s been in your lungs for a while.” – Yoga teacher

“Breathe with both your mouth and your nose, and feel the air going into your stomach, your diaphragm and your chest. Good. Now hold it and feel the air inside you. All that air, and the power to keep it inside, that’s all the air you can sing with. You can hold a note for longer if you control your breathing this way.” – Vocal coach

“Oh, this came out blurry. Look, let’s try again, and try holding your breath when you click down.” – Friend, on photography

“Huh, yeah right. Don’t hold your breath, it’s never going to happen.” – Character in a nightmare

***

It feels like I’m always holding my breath, waiting for something or other. Soon, the waiting, the holding pattern, the in-between-time will be over. Soon I’ll be able to let the air out and take another breath.

An Exercise

I’ve been researching some writing exercises the past few days and trying to find the time to really work on one. I randomly picked one from a random website – I’ve lost which one it was, or I would post the link – and decided to work on it at work today. I always use the down time between phone calls from customers for scribbling, but more often than not I’m just nattering away about nothing in particular. Today, however, I had a goal.

The writing exercise was simple – there was a picture of a boy sliding down a water slide, and the instructions were to write about the boy: who he is, where he is, what he was doing before and after the picture, etc. I didn’t actually have the picture with me at work, but I could remember it pretty well. For some reason, this ended up being the result – I didn’t follow the instructions very well, but I got an idea and went with it.

A picture frame hangs on a wall, the only ornament in the whole dreary living room. The picture, whose colors are perfectly bright and cheerful in comparison to the gray walls, is a photograph of a boy. The boy is grinning widely, and is featured mid-slide on a wild looking water ride – he’s wearing a bright orange swim-suit and upon closer inspection, you could say that he is laughing more than grinning. In fact, you can almost hear the delightful peals of laughter as you look at the photo.

So the balding man that lived in this room felt – as if the boy in the photograph was constantly laughing at him. So many times the man had tried to take the photo off the wall, and yet, again and again, he could not bring himself to do it.

And so, the man lived out his life, jumping from one hated job to another, never happy with the person that he had become. All his days, the boy laughed in his wooden frame, reminding the man of the boy he had been: so full of hope and happiness. The future had seemed endless then, opportunities just waiting right around the bend. Sometimes, when the man lay in bed late at night, he could admit to himself that the reason he never took that old photograph off the wall was that he needed to remind himself how he had squandered his opportunities, how he had wasted his life. And yet, by day, he never changed a thing, and the laughing boy that he had been shined out of the picture frame forever more, while the man he was dwindled in body and in spirit as the days passed.

Even to himself, the man never managed to explain why he didn’t change a thing. Perhaps he lived in the boy in the picture on the wall rather than in his reality; perhaps he just didn’t know how to change; perhaps he didn’t want to change really; and perhaps, just perhaps, there was no one there who cared enough to help him change. Who knows?

A Thousand Words: So Much More Than A Picture

Three in the morning, the lit hands of the clock tell you. You glance down, uncaring. For why should you care? Nothing in the world is more important right now than the hero, the heroine, the man in the cloak or the maiden in distress. Nothing is more important than the dragon atacking the village or the homely man begging for food. Nothing at all.

You inhale the smell of the pages, the new white pages. Sometimes they’re old, dusty, crinkly, yellow pages. Those are the best. They smell like memories, they smell of thunderstorms and late nights and train-rides and parks. Those pages are a life unto themselves, wrapping in them so many words, so many emotions and stories.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Surely not. A picture could never come close to the feeling of reading a four page description of a landscape or a dinner table or an outfit. A picture cannot encompass the feelings of a desperate man or stranded woman or a wounded soldier.

Three in the morning, the lit hands of the clock tell you. You sigh, happily. As long as there are books in the world, you can be at peace.