Hey folks, this is a short story I wrote for my Creative Writing Folio in English recently, any feedback would be great (but copying won't be very well recived) as I am thinking of trying to write a book of short stories.
By the way, apologies if this is too British; I can't help it I was born this way.
For a moment the hand froze on the alarm clock. Not daring to move lest it disturb the cosy silence that followed. A pair of bleary eyes poked out from the cover, crowned by an ever–enlarging forehead and the sorry looking remains of what were once proud, golden locks, now bearing a closer resemblance to a skin condition.
A low groan came out from beneath the sheets the man rubbed his eyes and began to sit up, cracking almost every joint simultaneously. Then, as he rested on his elbows, a thought came to him: what’s the bloody point anyway? Why should I, they can’t make me. And he lay back down, savouring the passive recklessness of it all, a lazy revolution. He slowly began to slip back into the sleepy feeling. Ha, he thought with the strange logic of the half asleep, I’ve won, I’m going to stay here all day and nothing’s going to stop me.
However, this luxury was soon forgotten as a movement to his right heralded the drowsy voice of the woman next to him.
“Go to work, dear, I need some sleep.”
Slowly, unwillingly, achingly the man heaved himself up from the bed and made the short, daunting walk to the bathroom across the sea of beige that was his bedroom, limping with both feet on the cold floorboards, every action so engraved into his psyche that he barely noticed he was moving at all. As he switched on the shaver his brain spluttered into action.
Ok, first things first, he thought, name?
Don’t want to think about it.
On the chair.
Once he was finished he slowly turned off the shaver to look at the woman he had spent the last twenty years of his life with-Anne. Why he bothered to share the same bed with her anymore he could not say. Probably force of habit; there wasn’t any other reason to. Anything like that had stopped pretty abruptly after their second child.
The ravages of age had not missed her either. Once she was a buxom, cheerful brunet in her twenties with a sharp mind. Now she was a rotund grey, dour woman of “a certain age” with a dulled mind but sharp tongue. Both their minds had dulled: hers due to a life of homecare, childcare and Coronation Street; his as a result of spending every working hour counting other people’s money and every hour at home counting his own. He often felt sorry for her having to live like that; he was sure she felt the same about him. Henry sometimes even felt guilty that he had somehow done this to her; then he would look at himself and sigh at his arrogance, how could he have helped her if he couldn’t even help himself.
Henry often wondered if any of his workmates were also in a marriage in which both participants were rather embarrassed of each other. For their sake he hoped they weren’t; for his sake he hoped they were.
He stared at himself in the mirror a newly shaven middle-aged accountant, comfortably doe-eyed, all shiny and ready for another productive day contributing to the economy. Everything he’d been told he wanted to be.
Disgusted, he turned away. With a groan he tugged his trousers on, sucking in his stress-induced paunch to do the button up. The shirt and tie soon followed. Sometimes, for fun, he would change the routine and put his shirt on first; once he had, without thinking, tried to put his tie on first. Any more excitement than that and my head may just explode, he thought dryly.
Sleepily, he made his way downstairs and made himself a mug of tasteless coffee. As long as it had caffeine in it, he really didn’t care; the mantra of the office worker. He opened the curtains then turned to make himself a bowl of…something wheaty and good for his heart, the name of which was invariably something along the lines of “Wheata-Crunch” or “Cruncha-Wheat”, definitely something involving a significant amount of “crunchiness” and an equally copious amount of “wheatiness”, whatever that is; it still tasted like the box it came in, which itself was recyclable as was declared in large, showy letters on the side of the box, just to show that companies care too. After working with them for as long as he, Henry had come to the conclusion that companies only care if there is a chance of their losing money.
As he ate, Henry looked out at the dreary, cloudy day onto the street he had occupied for a decade and a half. He looked with contempt at the medium-sized houses with their medium-sized gardens and their reasonable distances between them and their pebbledash walls and their stylish B&Q garden furniture their owners bought in the last day of the sale, and oh what a find they were, half price as well!
He looked along the rows of red-roofed buildings; each individualised by their inhabitants, yet all contrived to look exactly the same. How he hated this place. The boastful, snobby neighbours who just couldn’t resist telling him how well little Timothy was doing at St. Whatever’s School for Social Advancement; and how are your children doing Henry? Mostly smoking pot, discussing the overthrow of capitalism and living somewhere where they could forget that they ever inhabited this hell-hole, he thought, and yours are exactly the same, though you’d never admit it.
He always felt slightly ashamed when he talked about his children. It was not that he was embarrassed that his son was now living as a writer in a loft in London. Neither was he embarrassed that his daughter had dropped her law degree in order to go to Art College. He was ashamed because he was jealous. He was ashamed because his children were living the life he’d always wanted. He was ashamed because he’d left Anne to bring up the children, that he couldn’t have been a positive influence on their lives, not even a negative influence, just a vague presence; the bloke who bought the milk. Now they barely talked to him. He grimaced as he saw a family leaving on the school run, all shiny.
He hated the executive husbands and the executive wives, with their little executive children, who would go on about how their sanctimonious recycling was going whilst sporting tennis gear made in a sweat-shop in Indonesia and driving around in their oh-so practical people carriers that made their own little hole in the ozone layer wherever they went. It made him so depressed, he could cry. Quietly, he got up to brush his teeth.
But there was no time to cry, he thought as he scrubbed the wheaty goodness out of his teeth: washing his mouth out, he needed to leave. He needed to leave in order to go to work. He needed to go to work in order to make money. He needed the money to pay off his mortgage. He needed to pay off his mortgage in order to buy more furniture from Ikea.
He now knew why they always left out a small, but incredibly important tool in those self assembly packs; it was a big joke on the people who buy them. He knew this because if he worked at the Ikea factory he’d do the exact same thing just to spite people like himself.
Sheer force of habit led him out of the door, suitably jacketed and shod, towards his car. The gleaming silver did nothing to hide its faceless quality; like his suit, Henry could be anyone or no one in it.
He unlocked it with a servile little peep of his key and got in, briefcase in back seat as ordained by universal law. He turned the key in the ignition. He turned it again. The car made an unhealthy noise. With a heavy sigh he reclaimed his briefcase and got out of the car, he would have to take the bus.
Frankly, he preferred taking the bus, he liked being around people who weren’t like him, but in his work, it was the done thing to get a car. You couldn’t be accepted unless you were contributing to global warming. As he plodded along to the stop up the road he stared fixatedly at the ground, daydreaming. He knew where he lived but he still chose to not accept it as reality, it comforted him.
As he walked, he heard a sound; a car, nothing out of the ordinary with that, but there was something about it that turned his head. An ordinary, yellow hatchback was coming over the hill ahead of him. But it was not the car or its garish paint-job that had grabbed his attention; it was the sounds that were coming out of the vehicle’s CD player. It was music, familiar music. A beautiful, melodic, powerful guitar piece was playing. Henry knew this song. He knew this song because he had bought the record when it came out in 1979; this was the record that had inspired him to save up the money he got from his part-time job at a newsagent’s and buy a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar. This was the record that had inspired him to spend the next two years religiously practicing chords when he should have been writing essays. This was the record that had inspired him to set up his band, to write his first song, to cut his thumb open doing an impressive windmill during a concert in an old warehouse and keep on playing. He still carried the scar.
In his mind he saw the beautiful entwining ribbons of music that came out of the car, wrapping themselves around him; he was there again, the cheering crowd, the euphoria, the sweat, the blood, the reality of it. He saw himself as he was then, barely out of his teens, but more of a man than he was now. He saw the music that he heard, the music that had been the soundtrack to his adolescence, the music that he had written and played all those years ago.
He saw himself on that stage again playing those obsessively rehearsed chords. In his mind’s eye he could see the music: he could see it as great waves of colour and fire, electricity and light, passion and feeling, flying forth from the instruments, the weeping guitar, the omnipresent, throbbing bass, the eclectic, crashing, pounding drums. When that music was playing there was no school, no exams, no stress, nothing but the sound and the feeling. It was more than music, it was a religious experience.
For a moment he allowed himself to stop and just feel the sound, hear the sound, see the sound; he lifted his head up to the sky and closed his eyes, rapt. He raised his hands in front of him and moved them like he was conducting the music, a simple smile spread across his face.
And then it was gone. He was no longer Henry, the musician, the artist; he was Henry, the meek, overworked, overweight, and middle-aged man in the grey suit. He let his hands drop, his expression returned to default.
The car drove away down the hill and the driver gave him a funny look. The moment was over.
Wait, what was that look the driver gave me? He thought. How could he listen to that…that more-than-music and not understand? How could he be so cold as to not be affected? How dare he listen to that and not fully appreciate?! How dare he. In his mind’s eye, Henry saw the man idly pick the C.D out of his rack at home without a thought. Without feeling. No one cares anymore, he thought.
Henry looked out across the road where the car had been with a sudden glare of anger and let himself savour that memory to show the driver how to treat music of that calibre properly…and to remember-he had to remember-his life, the experience he’d almost forgotten. He had to remember what it felt like to be alive.
As his eyes began to refocus, he remembered the reason he was outside. There it was the bus stop, the great monument to the dedicated commuter. It stood, like a sentinel, a great guardian of suburban dominance. You’re here now, it said, and you’ll never leave. Its pompous self-importance brought a dry smile to Henry’s lips. From the sublime to the ridiculous, he thought. With the music still echoing in his ears he strode across the road.
Then he heard another noise, at first, his buzzing mind thought it might be more music, he so wished it to be that music again. But it wasn’t, it was like the car, but louder, more ferocious. This was not a beautiful sound. This was the snarling of a wild beast. It did not just growl, it roared, and it roared at him. Every beat of the engine seeming to spit his name:
Henry, Henry, Henry, Henry, Henry.
Blearily confused for a moment he turned to look. There was a bus, a huge double-decker monster charging at him. It was as if the life he had momentarily left in his rapture had noticed this divergence; he had not conformed. This could not be allowed. He could not be allowed to experience this again, it was a dangerous influence. His life had seen his feelings; he had to be punished.
At this point, time slowed down for Henry Radcliffe. He was surprised at his clarity of thought. Ok, he thought, there is a large bus hurtling towards me at, I’d guess about fifty miles an hour, the driver appears to have lost control, there is nothing I can do to step out of the way.
Then he remembered the yellow car and the song, and a sudden realisation came to him. He had stopped caring. That moment would be the highlight of his day, his week possibly even the rest of his life. He didn’t have that record anymore and he’d probably never get round to buying it; he had sold his guitar years ago. He thought this and he saw how sad it was, he saw how sad his life was. He saw how he hated his house, his wife, his neighbours, his job, he saw how he hated every single aspect of his life and what he had become and he realised, I’m about to die, and I don’t care.
He thought, hearing that song was probably the best experience I’ve had in a decade. I can’t be bothered anymore. I can’t be bothered with my job, I can’t be bothered with retiring on a comfortable pension, I can’t be bothered dying helpless and lonely in some nursing home with nothing in my life I can be proud of, I can’t be bothered being the only one around me that thinks like I do. It’s just too much. There’s nothing I can do.
Then he thought: I hope Anne wasn’t planning a roast tonight, it’d be a terrible waste.
* * *
The next day the newspapers would report it as a tragic accident. The driver was drunk, lost control of the bus and husband and father-of-two Mr Henry Radcliffe was frozen with fear and was hit full force by the vehicle, he was taken to hospital but his family was told that there was nothing they could do…
Henry knew this, he could see it. Or rather he could feel it, or hear it, he wasn’t sure; he could just sense it. The world was displayed before him with this new perception and he was being moved through it by what he could only describe as instinct. There was no way he could tell where he was going, everything seemed to be jumbled up, at first he would be passing a hazy Tower of London, then a street in India, then the wastes of Siberia, all seamlessly, like they were connected in some way. It felt just like the music, there was so much colour and light and warmth – he was enraptured by all that he saw. Suddenly he felt his attention drawn towards a certain house; he couldn’t tell where it was, just a place in the suburbs somewhere, but he got a sense of something from it, like something was coming. Henry was being drawn towards others – two others, and such strong emotion he felt it himself – and he suddenly knew where he was going, he was heading towards life; the creation of life. Another chance. And then he felt happy.