Short Stories

Alan has twice been highly commended and published in the Momaya Annual Review, most recently with The Bird Organ (2013).

 

Freeze/Thaw

 

Mrs Owen has taken to sleeping on her back again because she thinks it makes her dream better. Mr Owen, who had become accustomed to spooning in bed, is a little put out by this because where once there was a warm and yielding niche for his knees there is now a rigid bony leg and he can't find anywhere to put his hands. He's compensating by rolling onto his other side, turning his back to the dreamer, and thus another little gap grows between them. The Mrs, Karen, is oblivious - she lies there facing the sky and awaits the onslaught of visions, memories, world changing ideas. This was a habit of hers as a student - the untaxing schedule allowed her an hour or so in the afternoon to lie on her creaky dorm bed, close her eyes and open her mind to the cosmos. Anyone watching would have said she was taking an afternoon nap, but it wasn't quite that: not quite meditation either, something unique and personal and much missed. Of course, back then she was single and the bed was so noisy that it wasn't much use for anything else, but she's been trying to recapture, lately, things which made her happy as a younger woman.

Mr Owen, Kevin, does not really think dreams are important. Over breakfast Karen will try and raise the subject. A night of wild dreams has left her breathless - she was a swan, she was at the centre of a whirlwind of autumn leaves, she was drifting through a house which could communicate with her. "I had the most amazing dreams last night," she will say, to which Kevin replies "I had a weird dream last night. I was walking down the road and this fella came up to me and gave me a hat! Just a normal hat. How random is that? By the way, don't forget to phone your folks today to find out what time they're coming." And that is the end of the dream conversation. A year or two of this had robbed her of her own interest in dreams, and it's that which she's grabbing back now.

Lying there. It's pitch black, would be even if the curtains were open on this moonless October night, and her head feels light and ready. Nerve ends tingle as her breath slows, swirling patterns behind her eyelids start to coalesce into something, something, the rushing of blood in her ears becomes mumbling, voices. Here it comes, here it comes… Close enough to ignore the commotion in bed next to her as Kevin rolls over, but not close enough to ignore him as he rises to his elbows and says: "You're snoring, darling."

Next morning they're both up before the radio alarm clicks into action so there's no-one in the room to turn it off: it sings away to itself in the dark. Mr and Mrs are in the kitchen listening to the same music on a different radio, eating toast, drinking tea. Outside the wind is battering the house and not a hint of daylight has breached the horizon. "Miserable day," says Kevin. "Mmmm," replies the wife.

The news comes on. "Bloody shocking," says Karen. "Aye, well," says the husband.

Out the door and on their separate ways in their separate cars. Two cars in the Owen household, two cars, no kids, not even a cat. Mr Owen is on his way to the school, to work. He teaches geography to teenagers. "Rainwater," he tells them today, "seeps into cracks in the rock face. When it freezes, it expands, causing the crack to widen so that, when it melts, it can seep down even further. So what happens when it freezes again?" A few hands go up.

Karen works at a nursery school and today is little Thomas's birthday. The children have helium balloons. "Don't they look lovely?" she asks them, wanting them to appreciate the treat. "Hold on tight to them now, or they'll float away and you won't get them back!"

Then back through the rain, pulling in to the home straight one after the other. A flash of the headlights from Karen provokes a backward glance and raised hand from Kevin, then they're into the driveway seconds apart and out into the wind. A kiss.

"How was your day?"

"Fine. Yours?"

"Aye, fine." Keys jangle in Kevin's hand as they climb the front steps together.

But suddenly -

stop.

There is something in the way. There is an object blocking their front door.

There, on the very last step, is a wicker Moses basket, a blanket bundle visible within. Karen's heart almost stops. "Jesus," breathes her husband, and in that second their separate paths evaporate and they are one; the world has hatched an impossible problem and they, together, are a solution.

Karen drops to her knees in front of the basket and, breath held and hands a-tremble, she reaches for the rain soaked blankets. There's no sound coming from the basket, what if…   She can't seem to move properly, she can't see inside, can't decide what to move or touch. Kevin steps in gently beside her and in one smooth movement he scoops the bundle out of the basket and into his arms.

It is a bundle of wet blankets. Nothing more. Karen and Kevin look at each other, frozen, then look into the empty basket, but their brains can't make sense of the absence of what they had both instantly imagined. A noise comes out of Karen's throat, a choked laugh or a sob and she says "What the hell is this? Who's done this?" Kevin is looking round, scanning the ground for traces. "What if there was a baby when the basket was left here?" he asks. "We need to call the police." He's still cradling the blankets in his arms, and it's still raining.

They phone the police, of course, who arrive in a van with an Alsatian in the back but there's no scent of a baby and no reports of missing infants, so the police note the details and leave again.

Karen and Kevin are alone in the house. They've barely spoken but not in the usual way, they haven't had to confirm that their thoughts are identical. Kevin puts the kettle on then joins his wife on the couch, both still as the kettle boils and pings itself off. He rises to make tea but she stops him, looks into his eyes and bursts into tears. They embrace and they hold each other till the last light is gone from the sky. The wind outside has blown itself out and the rain has stopped, there are stars in the sky.

In the corner of the living room, the wicker basket sits empty of everything but possibilities, and the blankets dry by the radiator.

Contact:  Alan can be contacted for bookings or commissions, at:  48 Catherine Street, Gatehouse of Fleet DG7 2JB   alanmcclure70@hotmail.com   Tel: 07496181254

 

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