Four Short Stories About People Falling Into – And/ Or Climbing Out Of – Things, Vol. One

SWEAT, SMOKE, BOVRIL.  The adults have spent all day chopping the wood for the bonfire, heaving great axes to crash into logs.  Sawing, snapping smaller pieces in half with their boots.  Now the bonfire is crackling, great plumes of smoke drifting up into the night sky, illuminated by the flames.  As the fireworks go off, the girl huddles closer to her daddy, presses herself into the coarse material of his coat.  He has been wearing it all day and the smells of his endeavour have worked their way into the fabric.  She inhales deep and pungent breaths that are somehow comforting, presses herself as close as she can.  Once the fireworks have finished fizzing and banging and lighting up the sky, the adults cannot find her anywhere.  They search all around the field and then, when the bonfire has been extinguished they search through that, fearing the worst.  It is only weeks later, when her daddy takes his coat to be dry-cleaned, that she reappears, bright-eyed and sparkling clean.  Years later, a nun stands in the corner of a dizzyingly continental courtyard, watches fireworks explode in the sky and thinks about the smell of sweat, smoke and bovril.

GAS, MILK, CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.  He has been waiting for an opportunity to start a letter in this way and he just so happens to be sitting in the right part of the cafe.  “Hello friend,” he begins, “As I write I am sitting very close to a large quantity of croissants.”  He stares at the word ‘croissants’, very pleased with himself at being able to write it.  He stares so hard that the word begins to go blurry, as if it is charging towards him… and then it is charging towards him and swallowing him whole and before he knows it he has been completely consumed by the word ‘croissant.’  The inside of the word ‘croissant’ looks a lot like a bakery.  He wanders around, examining the croissants, the baguettes, the brioche, but when he looks for the exit he cannot find one.  He realises that he is still carrying the letter to his friend and a pen and so he finds a place to sit down and leans back, resting his head on a pile of muffins.  He avoids looking at the word ‘croissant’ as he does not want to be dragged into the word ‘croissant’ for a second time.  Instead, he turns the piece of paper over and starts to write a list of things he needs to do when he finally gets back home.  ‘Phone the gas company.  Buy some milk.  Get the Christmas decorations down from the loft.’

THE JUMPER AND THE TOASTER.  When he starts to pull on his jumper he is in his bedroom and the jumper is a normal-sized jumper.  Putting the jumper on seems like a simple enough task but once he has his head inside the garment he finds that it is a vast and cavernous expanse and he has to swim through wool for many days until he glimpses the light pouring through the neck of the jumper.  When he finally emerges blinking into the daylight, he is surprised to find that the jumper fits just fine.  A little snug under the arms, but other than that, fine.  He is standing in a street he has never seen before, and there is a suitcase at his feet with a toaster balanced on top.  He puts the toaster under his arm and pulls the suitcase behind him on its wheels.  He needs to find somewhere he recognises so that he can work out what is going on.  He notices that there is a nametag on the jumper, and that the name which is written on it is his name – he thinks it is his name but he is not sure of very much following his adventure inside the jumper.  There is a man making his way down the street towards him, looking confused and accusatory.  The man describes another man that he is looking for, asks if he has seen him.  He shakes his head.  They both look at the toaster under his arm.  The man tells him to not go anywhere, don’t move a muscle, don’t even blink, and once he has issued these instructions the man runs off down the street.  He stands there in his jumper and thinks back to the time he spent in the jumper, all that time swimming forwards through endless wool, tries to remember if he just imagined it or whether he really did see someone there.  Someone keeping to the shadows, another man traversing the woollen space, heading in the opposite direction.

SLEEP, SOUND.  He watches the girl as she sleeps, her head on his chest.  Perfect, he thinks.  Perfect except for-  No, no need to think about that now.  He just watches her, peacefully asleep.  Beautiful, absolutely beautiful, and so serene.  Perfect, except for… there it is.  The strange sound that he has heard on so many nights.  A purring, a kind of cattish mewling.  At first he thought it was coming from outside and so he got out of bed and went to look, but there was no cat out there.  Nothing stray and curled up on the window ledge.  He walked all around the room in search of the source, careful to be quiet and not wake up her perfect sleeping form.  But his investigations had only lead him back to the girl in his bed.  And now that he is lying there, with her head on his chest and that occasional miaow right in his ear, it seems obvious and he feels stupid for looking anywhere else.  By the time the sun begins to rise he has barely slept, all the snatches of slumber he has managed to catch have been interrupted by that sound.  He nudges the girl awake and she opens her eyes slowly and paws at his chest before sitting up, stretching, asking him what time it is.  It’s early, he tells her and apologises.  I’m sorry but I couldn’t sleep, he says.  She shrugs, pushes her arms in the air, stretches out a big wide yawn.  The yawn grows as it goes, her mouth stretching wider and wider, as if she is pushing so many hours of sleep out of herself.  Finally, he sees one tiny paw reaching out, and then a leg and then the cat pokes its head out into the bedroom.  She barely seems to notice as the cat crawls all the way out of her mouth, leaps down onto the bed, and disappears itself away into the breaking morning.


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