Short Fiction - Post It

A little short fiction for you today. It's been a while. 

Day 1,826

As soon as I wake up, I can tell that the mist has cleared. Alone in my bed, in the gloom behind my  curtains, I can immediately sense the quality of my unaccustomed focus. My vision is clear, my hearing acutely tuned to the solitary blackbird outside. I stare at the ceiling and wonder. This kind of thing never happens of its own accord anymore. Something must be driving my new-found clarity.

But what?

It comes to me. Easter Thursday. Money Day.

The laptop on the kitchen table is always on. That makes it sluggish and inefficient but who am I to judge? Even in its unfit state, it will still bring up my bank account in a matter of minutes. As the hard disk chunders I run a simple sum in my head. One thousand, that was a given, and then another three hundred for the mishaps of the past calendar year. Not much, but not bad for a ten-year-retired guy whose pension had not done anything close to what it had said it would do.

The bank screen coalesces in front of me. There is no new payment. That is annoying, for sure, but it is slightly worrying too. Stationery Joe is like clockwork. He never misses Money Day, and he never works the payment out wrong.

The post box outside my front door is empty. It is quite normal that there was no post. But there is always something, isn’t there? Almost always. Today there is nothing at all and that too is annoying but slightly worrying.

I check around inside my head. The mist remains very thin on the ground. Clarity is good. But how long has it been since this was the case? How many days has it been since I clearly acknowledged what was, or was not, inside my letterbox? Had it been a day, a month, a week for Christ’s sake?

It is time for me to go and find out.

Day 1

Stationery Joe was standing motionless out on the street side of my hedge. I could see him there as I clipped away on the garden side. He was in profile and his big roman nose made him look like De Gaulle in crosshairs, like in the film. I clipped a little more and hoped he would just walk on.

“Morning.”

I stopped clipping. Stationery Joe might have been my next-door neighbour but that had never made him my friend. When we had living wives, we were always standoffish with each other at best. An occasional nod if there was no other way around it. We were never fully at war but there had certainly been disagreements. The overhanging tree, the scattered bin. Now it was just him and me, me and him. I had gone to his wife’s funeral the week before, as he had come to mine some years ago. We had both stood at our respective gravesides and we had both turned up afterward to eat each other’s hotel soup. Then we went home to our respective houses and said no more about it.

“Morning,” he said again. “Can I come around?”

He walked around the hedge and onto my property. He stood there on my grass in his purple cardigan. He looked old. I guessed I looked the same.

“I’ll cut to it,” he said, “I want you to do something for me.”

I had come this far without saying a word and didn’t see any need to change the arrangement now.

“Can I get some kind of a response? Just so I know that you’re in there.”

“I’m in here.”

“I have a mortal fear,” he said, and then he said nothing else.

I waited. Nothing.

“We all have those,” I said.

“I have a mortal fear that I will die inside my house, and nobody will find me until it’s too late.”

“You’ll be dead. How will it be too late?”

“My fear is that I won’t be found before corruption has taken me.”

This was one of the reasons he annoyed me so deeply. I mean, who says things like, “until corruption has taken me.”

“I won’t look in on you, if that’s what you’re asking” I said, “I’m not taking on any new commitments.”

“I don’t want that,” he said, almost scoffing, “fuckin’ last thing I’d want.”

“What do you want then? This hedge won’t clip itself.”

It was the kind of a conversation that had to have a little speech somewhere in it. Stationery Joe delivered it then, on my grass, the dew moistening his shoes.

“After I closed the shop, I brought a lot of office stuff home with me. I have thousands of those yellow sticky note thing in a box.”

“Post-its.”

“I know what they’re called.”

“Good for you.

“What I want to do is to post one of those yellow sticky things into your post box there every morning. Early, before you even get up.”

“And?”

“And, if there’s ever a day I don’t post one, you come and knock on my door and if I don’t come out, you call the police.”

“That’s it?”

“Will you do it?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I have enough on my plate.”

“You have nothing on your plate, and you know it.”

“Why should I do it? One good reason.”

“Today is Holy Thursday.”

“And?”

“If you do this, next Holy Thursday, I will lodge one thousand euro in your bank account, you can send me the number.”

“It’s not much.”

“It’s literally money for nothing and it will let me sleep at night.”

“And you’ll leave me alone and not be coming round standing in my hedge.”

“I’ll leave you alone.”

Day 2

Not much in the post. A new offer for high-speed broadband. A bill from the Gas Company. A futile chase for a TV license.

And one yellow post it sticky note. I roll it up and put it in the bin.

Day 686

It took him all of five minutes to open the door, but I knew he wasn’t dead as soon as I had rung the bell. I could hear him inside, shuffling and coughing. I could see his silhouette inching up the hall. He fumbled with the latch and finally hauled it open.

“You’re not dead then.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t get round with the thing. I have a really- “

“I’m not doing this anymore. I‘m out.”

“I miss one day…”

“I can’t be your nanny.”

“One hundred euro.”

“What?”

“For every one day I miss, I’ll add one hundred euro to the pot.”

I thought about it.

“All right then,” I said, “but don’t miss too many.”

“I won’t.”

Day 1,826

The police officer is young. There’s an older one too but he’s standing back, letting the young one control the scene. It’s cold at Stationery Joe’s front door, it catches the wind. He put the door on the wrong wall. I could have told him that when he was building but we were never on those kinds of terms.

The kid policeman has his phone out and he’s taking notes with it. Hardly Morse.

“So, you haven’t seen Mr.… Joe in several days?”

“I haven’t seen him in months, but I knew he was all right until…”

“Until?”

“A little while ago. I’m not sure exactly. I’ve been unwell.”

The kid detective turns to the older guy.

“Do we get a warrant?”

“Just open it up.”

I thought they’d have some kind of master key, some lock-picking tools. Not the case. The younger guy stands back and plants his boot hard, as high on the door jamb as he can go. One shot, the door flies open, the lock housing all splintered to hell.

Nobody runs out to see what all the commotion is. Nobody crawls.

The older guard nods to the open door.

“Go on in,” he says to his young partner, “See what’s what. We’ll wait out here.”

It is a blooding. All three of us can tell. The young guard looks hesitant.

“Should I-?”

“Just go in. It’ll be fine.”

He goes in. Suddenly brave and unflinching. An act. He comes out again, forty seconds later, expectedly pale.

“He’s in his bed.”

“And?”

“He’s dead.”

“Are you sure?” The senior guy says. “did you check a pulse?”

The younger guy almost laughs. “He’s dead all right.”

“Make the call so.”

The young guard eases past me. It’s not my business but I can’t help but ask.

“In there…”

“Yes?”

“Does he seem… peaceful?”

The young guy stares at me.

“I wouldn’t like to say,” he says, then he adds, “Funny thing.”

“What?”

“Blank post it notes.”

“What about them?”

“He has four of them, stuck to his face.”

Finding Some Home Truths in Superpower Wishes

On Friday evening, my elder son John was coming home for the weekend, so I drove to the train station at around nine pm in order to be ready to meet the 9.20 train. I like being a little early. I can stroll up and down the empty platform a couple of times and be in place when the train arrives. John always sends a text from Manulla Junction, which is the next stop up the track, so I know when he’s five minutes out. Manulla Junction may be the only train station in the world that you cannot depart from on foot. You have to get a train out. But that’s just a by-the-by.

When I know the train is due, I leave the platform and go out to wait in the car park area outside the station entrance. A lot of people get off the train and I like to try to stay out of the way. But I don’t like to spend too much time waiting in the car park because it tends to give me a problem. And that, friends, is mostly what today’s post is about.

Lots of cars come to collect their people from the train and there are lots of car parking spaces for them. But lots of people don’t want to use the car parking spaces provided. They want to be as close to the entrance as they can be. They want a minimum stay and a quick exit as soon as the arriving loved one is safely installed in the passenger seat. They want to have it easy, and they don’t give much a shit about what they do in order to have it that way.

You know where I’m going with this. You know me well enough by now, coming and going from here, reading this stuff. You know what comes next.

People park in the disabled spaces.

There are a number of disabled spaces right in front of the station entrance. I should use a better name for them. Universally accessible spaces. I’m just guilty of trying to get my point across in the simplest words possible. They’re not necessarily the best words to use. Sorry about that.

Lots of people park up nice. Of course they do. Lots of people are nice. But a startling number of people don’t. They back up and reverse into an accessible space and they leave their motor running because, in their heads, that makes it a little more okay. I’m pretty sure that I can see inside their heads. It’s not rocket science. I can hear their justification. “I’m only staying for a minute.” “I’m not even leaving the car.” “If a disabled person comes along, I will move straight away.” “It’s only until the train comes.”

Yeah, Nimrod, the spaces are only really any use when the train comes. Disabled people don’t want to come to the station in the middle of the day to admire the automatic ticket machine and drink a flask of milky coffee they prepared earlier. They want to have their space when the train is coming or going, just like you do. Except they need the space, and you bloody don’t.

On Friday evening, I got the Manulla Junction text and moved reluctantly to the front entrance. Miraculously there was a vacant accessible space right there in front of me. Not for long though. A low, black, heavily customised car pulled up and reversed in. The young adult who was driving it left the motor running and the oversized exhaust growled and leaked corrosive gas out onto where I was standing. Shit music blared from the open window.

I felt angry.

I did the thing I sometimes do when things frustrate me, particularly car-related things. I wished for a super-power.

Previously, and you may recall this, I wished for the power to stop time.

There’s a blog post back there somewhere about that. This time around, though, the superpower I wished for was invisibility. Not the David McCallum kind. He had to whip off all of his clothes and a rubber mask to get invisible. Far too much trouble. No, I wished for a Ben Murphy ‘Gemini Man’ type of invisibility. All old Pete had to do was push a button on his watch and, bam, he was gone. That’s what I needed. Push button invisibility. Then the medium sized crowbar I just happened to bring along to the station would inherit my invisibility attributes and it would vanish too. I would start at the rear taillight of the black car, right above the toxic exhaust. Invisible as all-hell, I would draw back and smash the taillight with my invisible crowbar.

In my little fantasy, the weedy driver would jump out of his car, not easily on account of its lowness to the ground. He would shout ‘What the Fuck, man?’ in an American movie voice at which point I would invisibly smash his other taillight. ‘Jesus!’ the weedy guy would scream, and I would have some invisible superhero quip prepared to intone in his ear. “Okay, so you’re not disabled but at least now your car is.” Not Shakespeare or anything, granted, but bear in mind that this was an impromptu fantasy, and you can only work with what you’ve got at the time.

It all begs a question or two.

Why do I get so angry at the people in the accessible spaces? And, let me be clear on this, it isn’t just young Turks in customised rides who fill up these spaces. There are mothers and housewives and grandads and young ladies. You name them, they’ll take the space. And it makes me angry because it’s just another symptom of how selfish and unsympathetic the people of the world generally are. And maybe it’s just me but it seems to be getting worse and worse. People increasingly care only for themselves. They are wrapped up in themselves such that they don’t even see the terrible things that they do to others on a day-to-day basis.

And that, folks, was to be this week’s blog post.

Except, as I’ve been writing it, I’ve dug a little deeper in my head and two separate thoughts arose and I think it's worth setting them down too, before I finally stop.

The first is this: I’m bemoaning the selfish state of the people of the world yet my ideal scenario, in that moment, was the smashing up of that person’s lovingly restored car. It becomes clear to me that I am not up on some mountain of excellence. I’m in no place to preach. All I dream of doing is exerting my own will on the situation, regardless of any hurt I may cause as a result. I am part of the problem, just like you are, and it’s best that I remember that.

And secondly, and this may have occurred to you too because it’s a little bit obvious: why do I need invisibility?

This person is parked in a disabled space. Why can’t I just go up to his window and ask whether he would mind moving out of the space and leaving it for someone who might actually need it? I don’t need invisibility to do any of that.

I just need to be a bit brave. Yes, I may get shouted at. I may even get a slap but that’s what it takes, isn’t it? To be a bit brave.

This is a problem of mine and it’s probably good that I acknowledge it wherever I can. I dislike conflict and will move several mountains to avoid it whenever I can. Maybe that’s all very well and maybe it’s not but one thing is for sure: it leaves me sitting firmly on the fence a lot of the time. If not in my head, then certainly in my actions. Moments when I really need to stand up and say, “Wait. This is wrong,“ rarely, if ever, happen. I tend to hide and wish for invisibility because maybe from there I could be more of a force for good in the world.

I need to do better with all of this. I need to act as if I am invisible when actually I’m not.

Even if I have to suffer some consequences as a result.

Toothpaste Miracle



I ran out of toothpaste about two weeks ago.

The first tube ran out, squeezed all to hell and clearly empty. Then I found a second tube, almost used up. So I squeezed that one too until it was empty. Then I had two empty tubes. I went to the supermarket to buy stuff and bought everything I needed. Except one thing. I forgot the toothpaste. So, there I was, in baaad need of a tooth brush but with no toothpaste. 

What to do?

I ran out of toothpaste about two weeks ago.

Except I didn’t.

Here’s what happened.

I squeezed the first empty tube a little harder. I gave it a little more commitment. And some toothpaste came out. I brushed my teeth. The next day I did the same and the next day too. When the first tube was clearly extinguished, I moved over to the other empty tube and squeezed that with commitment too. Some toothpaste came out. I carried on.

In the time this has been happening, I have been to the shop again and I have bought a spanking new tube of toothpaste. It’s sitting there, startlingly replete, on the glass bathroom shelf. I’ll get to it, I’m sure.

When the second tube of empty toothpaste was clearly dead, I revisited the first tube, just out of curiosity. I took the end of the tube and folded it over, then folded it again and again until the tube was folded almost right up to the spout. There was toothpaste there. Quite a lot of toothpaste, in fact. After a few days, there wasn’t any more, so I moved back to the other tube and did the same. Lots of toothpaste for Ken. An embarrassment of toothpaste.

That’s where I am now, still using the second empty tube. Maybe I’ll go back to the other empty tube after I feel this one is finally played-out. Maybe I’ll brush my teeth with the contents of these two tubes for the rest of my life.

It’s all up in the air.

And, yes, it’s a silly little story. It’s quite true but silly, nonetheless. But, even worse, I can see a life lesson buried deep in the toothpaste droplets I harvest every day. You don’t want to hear it, but you’re going to anyway. If you stick around, that is.

I turned Sixty last year. With that event came a subtle feeling, hardly identifiable but there, nonetheless. A feeling that, in terms of new writing, the tank was now largely empty. I was fine but creativity and originality were gone. I might rework some of the stuff I’d done before, reshape it. I can still be a sort of a writer in that way. But the tank itself was running on empty and no more new miles would be driven.

For better or worse, the toothpaste is telling me something different.

“Writing,” the tubes of toothpaste are saying, “is a bit like a tube of toothpaste.” You may think you’re empty and used-up and ready for whichever recycling bin is appropriate. But that’s simply not true. There is good stuff still in there. Lots of it. Top quality gear.

But there’s the rub, as Hamlet used to say. This good stuff, this writing toothpaste, it won’t come out all by itself. It won’t dribble out onto the page just as a result of being stared at or worried over.

Nope.

You have to squeeze.

You have to fold the end over again and again and again and keep the faith that there’s some good stuff in there still. Because there is. You’ve got to squeeze it out. Which is nothing new. You’ve always had to squeeze it out. It never-ever came out all by itself.

It’s just that, from now on, you're going to have to squeeze a little harder.