She pulled the velvet rope and a bell rang again somewhere remote and deep in the hotel’s innards. It was the third time that morning. Still no-one had come to take her order. She felt hungry and hoped someone would arrive soon. She knew she had eaten last night, for the crumbs on the room service tray told her so. However, her stomach felt as though she’d had nothing in days.
She swallowed her medication with a mouthful of leftover wine, picked up the phone, and dialled the front desk. She thought it unusual that it was quiet enough to hear the phone ring all the way downstairs. Usually there were other things. Voices. Some signs of life.
He did not take the shortcut on this woodland road unless the others were all snowed under. While he did not believe in the stories of vengeful spirits that everyone in this single-supermarket town liked to tell, he also did not care to tempt fate.
He turned the beams up high but kept his speed low, for coming off the tarmac would be the worst thing that could happen here. First he passed the beech under which the redhead was buried, and then the creek where the second had been left among the reeds. Locations that had featured in no newspaper or police file. He slowed a little more and checked his fuel. His family were waiting for him at home.
The boy sat in the deepest hours of the night, when the outside air was cool enough to be breathed without a respirator.
Here was the city’s heat sink, where the uniform air conditioners met the ocean. The sea was on its last term of service, lapping against the quiet hot metal, the evaporation seeding clouds like pollen caught on updrafts.
He threw away the photos of his family members here when one died. A face became a brief spark against the hissing steel, until the waves tore the flakes out into the wash. Today, he carried none. He sat on the railings, his mind clear, and counted the stars in the dying sky.
I brush the mints back together and build once more. My towers collapse consistently at the addition of the eighth drop. I repeat it no matter the count of failure. There is something reassuring in doing the same action over and over, knowing the result, its inevitability. A meditation with open eyes.
Beyond the tarnish of my windshield she loads her shopping into the back of her car. More wine than usual. She bought pancakes at the Waffle House, when I used to work there. Now she subsists on boxed mix. I look to the watch she bought me, its hands stopped on a meaningless hour.
The tower falls. She closes her door, looks around. Drives away. I brush the mints back together and build once more.
His apologies felt as if they would be heard by few, but he penned them all the same. A sorry for being present but inattentive, the gaps in his existence, the fruitlessness of a month or more. His attention and efforts had been elsewhere. When not stapled to his teaching desk, words had been written in other books, in other times. He thought that rather than be alone with his thoughts, it had been best to share them. Some of them had even paid to hear what he had to say. Despite the successes, soon enough things would be back to the way they were.
Leaving the lens of fiction aside for just a moment, I would like to thank everyone who has read my little fictions so far. This year is far from the year of cancellations and online learning as the last was, and as such, my time for writing has been lessened. What little I have had has been channeled into a few other avenues rather than this blog, and it would mean a lot to me if you checked them out. Chalk Snow is not dead nor forgotten, but it has proven difficult to find time to fully create, edit, and post a microfiction every day among the other demands of work and family. I hope to get back to more regular writings here soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy my work that has appeared elsewhere:
Stark trees still in hibernation, he turned the lamp down. Flushed the light from the shutters. Drew the locks across the doors. None had found this hideaway yet.
His fingertips found his wards scrawled into the doorframe wood. Hoping they would buy him time, should she return. He had let her in once and still paid for it in lost homes. Self-care had come too late.
He counted the tools on his belt and settled into the armchair to sleep. For another night, he waited for the light of the hearth to wane. Listened for feet on the gravel path.
The skin of her fingertip held together with a clamp, she applied a line of superglue. Took in its scent as it bonded the two halves back together. A dressmaker until the need for dresses died, she had slipped with the knife she was using for her work. Cut off a larger piece than intended. Unfamiliar with the new medium, she’d have to grow accustomed to it soon. Once the glue dried she would start work on the mask again. Any more failures, and she would have to get more material. She crossed her fingers. She cared very little for the tanning process.
The brief summer love now stretching her shirt had him asking questions of himself. Counting the options on his fingers. Am I a provider? Am I capable of unconditional love? Will biology fail them like it has failed me? He turned the weight from one palm to another. Considered the matter objectively.
He broke the action and filed his choice away. As one palm grew lighter, so did his conscience. This course of his had the least amount of pain, in the grand scheme of things. Despite the heat, the metal still felt cold. The hammer clicking back like relief.
“Fuck you, pal,” the old boy spits. His spectacles as wide as his face, accentuating his other frog-like qualities. I bogart my cigarette. Just the three of us. Nothing to stop it getting further out of hand.
“You sit yourself down in a smoking area and then tell me it’s rude to smoke when other people are eating?” I cloud. “Do you go into doctor’s waiting rooms and demand the sick people leave?”
“When to smoke is a choice,” he continues, putting his wife’s coat on her shoulders. She glares an old woman glare. I throw her a wink and drink in the disgust.
“So is your being here,” I say. “And in the cosmic order of things, I was here first.” A deep drag. Maintain the eye contact.
But he doesn’t bite. They leave, throwing curses and middle fingers over their shoulders. I sigh. Put another tally on the notepad. Count the number of tabs left in the box. If someone doesn’t take the bait and swing a punch at me before long, I am never going to get to claim self-defence if the police come calling. A bet is a bet, and this one is going to expire soon. Then I’ll really be in trouble.