Holiday Shorts by Daniel Gent

Written over the summer. Enjoyed in the time it takes a kettle to boil.

He Thinks He’s American

Tom and Jane were rearranging the bedroom furniture for the fifth time since Jane’s big move into the house that Tom owned.

In order to determine whether or not the chest of draws would fit under the window sill, Tom decided to go get the tape measure.

“Should I get the tape measure?” he asked.

Jane did not reply. Whilst clearing her make-up from the top of the chest of drawers, she had found in amongst her products a can of shoe-protector spray. He watched her shake it, hold it to her ear and then drop it in the bin.

Tom didn’t mind that she didn’t reply. And he didn’t mind that she had just chucked away his £4.99 spray. Because Tom was already halfway out the door. And with that movement came a deft self-assurance, a decisiveness and a sense of purpose. A certain kind of poise. Here was a man who knew his own mind. And as he moseyed from the bedroom to the cupboard in the lounge, the thought chinked in his head like the spur on the back of a cowboy boot: I am American!

Here he was, with his own piece of land, independently rearranging his possessions to make way for those of his sweetheart. All things were within his grasp and the dream was true: patience and hard work mean that anything at all is possible.

“It looks like it’ll probably fit,” she said from the bedroom.

He paused.

“I said it’ll probably fit.”

This might have left some men stranded in the no man’s land of indecision. But not Tom, Tom had American momentum to see him through to his goal. How he grabbed the handle of that closet door!

The tool box was reassuring (not that he needed reassurance). It was huge and black and yellow and new and though it contained only a few tools, it was American in its size. It was the kind of tool box a neighbour would borrow and not give back. What further proof was needed? I’ve got a tool box, he thought, I’m a success. And because he was a success he would be exact: of course he should get the tape measure (or should that be measuring tape?)

He opened the box on the table, its cantilever shelves blossomed, offering their empty selves for the filling. A land of plenty.

And then it broke. The top of the tool box, a detachable Tupperware tray, divided into seven different compartments, home to his once-sorted assorted screws, slipped out of its slot. Screws spilled everywhere.

He was so pissed off.

He found the tape measure and went back to the bedroom. This time he didn’t mosey. His chin no longer felt chiselled.

“I’ve got the tape measure,” he said, mostly to himself.

Jane had emptied the contents of his sock drawer onto the bed.

He measured the chest of drawers and saw that, obviously, it was always going to fit.

Jane and Tom moved the chest together. And as they struggled with its weight, he though about telling her: you nearly moved in with an American. He didn’t and when they had finished rearranging, he went back to the lounge to pick up and sort the screws.

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Progress

You’re at the side of the road, the new dual carriageway they built right outside your parents’ house. It’s up an embankment which is why you’re out of breath and Stu’s here too, also breathing hard. The two of you stand with your hands on the long metal bumper and look back and down.

The road has somehow shrunk your mum and dad’s house.

Piss me right off they go build a motorway outside my home! shouts Stu.

Yeah, you agree.

Weeks ago, from your bedroom window you watched the workmen boil the tarmac and pour it lava-like over the top of the concrete frame they’d spent the summer building. The ruined summer, your parents now call it.

Lorries and cars make the concrete shake. Now it even feels like a road.

You’ve brought Stu because he’s the kind of friend that makes sure you do the things you say you’re going to do. And you’ve definitely said. So now you have to do.

Vehicles hurtle by.

It doesn’t help that it’s hot.

Why are we waiting? sings Stu.

So you leap over the long metal bumper into the hard shoulder, a pitch-shifting horn announcing your arrival.

There are fewer cars in the two nearest lanes which makes the task of stepping out easy.

You do so with your arms outstretched, making yourself more visible. Then you stop, half way across, and you turn and you face whatever it is that’s coming.

You’ll show this road.

Bailey’s Blog

In posting her thoughts online, Bailey found a freedom she rarely experienced aged 36, living at home with her dad, in a two bedroom house on a new-build estate just south of the town she dubbed Dullsville but everyone else knew as Nuneaton.  For work she managed a call centre selling waterbutts over the phone and her office based anecdotes amused some of her readers some of the time. The posts that really generated the hits though were the ones where she fearlessly mocked other people’s habits. Like the old man who lived next door and smoked a pipe in order to differentiate himself from other old men. Or the female bus driver she knew who always wore sunglasses no matter what the weather. She liked to make wild, slanderous assertions that were rendered instantly harmless by the anonymity of her blog. And people lapped it up! Especially the posts about her dad. Her dad who ate everything using only a fork, who sneezed in threes and said “whatpardon?” as though it were one word. God he annoyed the hell out of her!

(Bailey’s dad worried about Bailey and blamed himself for all the disappointments she faced. She spent way too much time alone in her room, tinkering away on that computer of hers. Sometimes he’d find her asleep, her head pressed against the keyboard. He’d turn her computer off and guide her into bed and no one, not even Bailey, knew that this was a thing he did for her.)

Pencil Suicide

Ten minutes and still nothing. Describe Yourself (45 Marks). A mark a minute. That’s all. Easy, right? My sweaty arse, she wants to write. But she won’t. Because Cal’s a good girl and good girls want to get it right, aiming-for-an-A* right.

“Miss?” Miss approaches. “Do you mind if I take my jumper off? It’s ever so hot.”

Miss shakes her head.

“But the air conditioning isn’t even on.”

“It distracts!” Miss hisses.

Cal tries not to look at the boffin on her left who’s on his second side. She stares at the desk. Two pencils. A blank answer booklet. Describe Yourself, she writes. Looks at the clock. Adds brackets and 45 marks. Rubs this out. What kind of question is that? she thinks, though she wants to scream it, wants to shout “who thinks this shit up?”

My name is Cal, she writes.

Another ten minutes pass. Nothing.

Another five.

I’m fifteen. I’m in an exam. I can’t think of anything to write. I think this question is unfair

She deploys a semi-colon. It doesn’t look right.

; I have used this semi-colon because Sir says they get you A*s.

Five minutes pass.

Ten.

And then, already, Miss starts taking the papers in.

I didn’t mean for this to happen, she scrawls.

And it’s done. Her paper gone, her future fucked.

On her desk: two pencils.

To Drink of Space Itself

She was the Grand-High Overseer of some twenty-seven light years of space and by most people’s standard considered something of a success. But the Queen of the Eight Worlds of Okri awoke most mornings feeling anxious and depressed. As soon as she looked out of the window of the throne room of Spaceship One, a dread feeling would wash over her, as though a great grey battleship had flown overhead and blocked out the light of the ten-to-the-twelve stars that her people were convinced she controlled.

The problem, she decided, was with space. There was just too much of it. The emptiness went on forever and it messed with her head.

But the Queen had long ago decided that she could only do her overseeing effectively from up amongst the stars. So Spaceship One was her home and she rarely came down.

And the people grew to loathe their absent and introspective leader. Who wanted a queen who spent her whole time, miles and miles away, worrying about something that wasn’t even there? Who lived in yet feared the existence of something as simple as space? Not the people of the Eight Worlds of Okri. So they charged their wisest Soothsayers with the task of taking her out.

The Soothsayers tricked the Queen into believing that space had made her sick. The only known cure for her sickness, they said, was to drink of space itself. And so the Queen of the Eight Worlds of Okri died, having pressed her lips to a vacuum that sucked her lungs inside out.

Tsieg-ret-lop

They totter into the ladies’, as clumsy as bumble bees. One slumps in the sink, the other presses her nose against glass.

“Look at my eyes!” says one.

“Oh my god!” says the other. “They’re screwed!”

“So are yours, look!”

“I’ve got hobbity ears!”

“Me too. And, look, my neck! The skin’s gone stretchy. Weird!”

The lights in the loos flicker. Or maybe it’s just their eyes.

“Do you think–”

“–maybe we’ve taken too much?”

The next flicker lasts longer. An entire second of black and then: “Whassthat?”

An envelope, stuck to the mirror.

“No way!”

One peers in and reads: “Open me.

They look at each other and guffaw.

“Shall we?”

“Go on.”

They peel it free and pull out a card.

The lights flicker some more.

“Can’t read…” says one.

“Give it here,” says the other. “Let me. ‘Say my name ten times backwards and I appear (whilst looking in the mirror).’

“What the?”

“Weird.”

“Très weird indeed. Isn’t it that myth? You know, poltergeistpoltergeist-poltergeistpoltergeist-”

“Don’t!”

“What? Anyway, it won’t work. You have to do it backwards, at midnight, in the dark… What?”

One shows the other her watch. “11.57… I kid you not!”

“Oh. My. God!”

One lights a fag, passes it to the other, then lights another.

They think about it for a bit.

“Shall we?”

“Why not? And anyway, that flickering’s doing my nut.”

So they turn the lights off.

Four red dots.

“Argh!” screams one. “What’s that?”

“Calm down, it’s the fags. They’re reflected. Look.”

“Oh. Yeah. I knew that.”

The four red dots, two reflected, two real, do a dance that makes them both laugh.

Eventually, one begins: “Poltergeistpoltergeistpoltergeist-”

“Wait!”

“What?”

“Backwards remember! And,” (one presses the light on her watch) “not just yet.”

“Oh yeah. What’s it then? Tslerti… Tslotsi…”

“Tsieg-ret…”

“Tsloobi…”

“Tsieg-ret-lop.”

“Tsieg-ret-lop?”

“Yeah. Tsieg-ret-lop.”

“Tsieg-ret-lop.”

“That’ll do.”

The watch beeps to let them know it’s time. “Weird. I didn’t know it did that.”

“Are we gonna then?”

“Yeah. Why not?”

“Okay! Together…”

“Tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop-tsieg-ret-lop!”

A flatulent pop.

“Whoah! What was that?” says one.

“Dunno,” says the other.

Then they see it, in the mirror: a fifth red dot.

Mountain Love Story

There were once two mountains and they were in love. Neither could say how long they had loved the other. Millennia perhaps. They were lucky, both agreed. Lucky to have found themselves facing one another in a fir valley with a slate-grey river. They just had so much in common! They’d shared the same glacier, had been shaped by the same winds. The same rains and storms had blasted their sides and when the frost-shattered rocks fell, they fell from their faces as though synchronised. They’d been through a lot together of course, and sometimes they had to remind each other that they were in love. The larger of the two mountains would make the wind whisper dutifully “What are the chances? What are the chances?” as it coursed across his cordillera. The smaller of the two mountains would sigh, and the sigh, running down her slopes, would skim across the slate-grey river: “I know! I know!” Clearly, there were challenges. The larger of the two mountains could be clingy sometimes and the smaller of the two mountains didn’t express irritation well. They had fights. But on the whole, they each knew the other, and had learnt to accept and forgive and just get on. They both did being mountains well. So they lived their lives together, these two mountains, and silently thanked the stars that each had a side that the other couldn’t see.

Boeing 787 Seeks Airline Owner

ImageI’m a new Dreamliner. I’m looking for the right person to kit me out. I intend to bedazzle, wow and amaze. I am nearing the end of my test phase. You may have seen me flying about. I fly lower, for longer, using less fuel. I’m cleaner, leaner, comfier and greener. Fewer rivets were used to fasten my parts. My windows come tinted with smart glass as standard. My lighting will adjust to your mood.

You’ll be an industry player with taste, a big-time spender with an eye for the extras: the sleep pods, the bars, the hostesses who massage feet. Think luxury, first-class and royal seats. Think non-stop economy to places too hard to reach. Think of the blank canvas that is my insides. Think of the savings to your bottom line.

I can’t claim I’m low maintenance and I’m over two years late. But I cruised 8000 on my maiden flight and those in the know say I set a new standard. Or maybe they’ve a thing for carbon-composite curves?

Will it be your pilots in my pilot seat? Your airport infrastructure servicing me? Your logo adorning my tail? Together we’ll maximise passenger pleasure. I’ll let you determine the cabin-air pressure.

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