By Jay St John Knight.
Part two in a series of posts from my third year creative writing portfolio produced for my dissertation. This portfolio was comprised of a series of short stories from a variety of narrative points of view leading up to, and surrounding, a fixed event to provide a puzzle-like fragmented narrative on an ill-fated coach journey upcountry.
Grey clouds hung menacingly in the sky as the afternoon rush hour traffic crawled out of the towering city. Tendrils of slow-moving cars spread out through the narrow streets and onto the main roads and dual carriageways, which themselves led to the suburban outskirts that gave life to the bustling metropolis. Cyclists weaved in and out of traffic like skittish minnows down urban streams and, under the streets where the city above is a constant hum, trains packed with blank faces wormed through tunnels, periodically stopping to spew a handful of dreary coated passengers onto a platform before carrying on into the gloom. A man stood partially leaning against a lamp post watching the oncoming traffic for a hulking coach that would take him upcountry. The pavement under his feet rumbled as one of the bloated metallic earthworms snaked away below him and a pair of pigeons fought over a discarded deli sandwich wrapper that had fallen out of the nearby bin. He was a skulking and gaunt man with thin black hair, wearing the monotone greys of corporate office buildings and wrapped in a black coat that he seemed lost in. In one hand he clutched a small briefcase that was filled with countless documents of garbled digits and graphs and the other, a black umbrella ready to ward off the perpetual dreariness that hung about above.
Charles Russel Edmundson worked in a square office block for a market research company in the city and he was on his way to a conference in Manchester. He normally spent his days sat in his black office chair, constantly irradiated by the pale light of his monitor, counting the results of innumerable questionnaires for analysis. It wasn’t his ideal job. It certainly wasn’t what he expected to be doing seven years after his graduation but then again he certainly didn’t expect a lot of what happened since then. Charlie thought life had dealt him a pretty mediocre hand: he graduated; he married a pretty woman, he started his own business, his older brother died of a sudden heart attack, he had an affair with one of his employees, his wife divorced him, his business flopped, he got a mid-level job, bought an apartment and adopted a stray cat that would sit languidly on his bedroom windowsill each night and watch him iron his shirt for the next day. Over the last several years the colour had drained away from his life; where there was once vibrancy and excitement in every nook and cranny it had now faded into greyscale. The grey office blocks that made the skyline, the grey billowing clouds that loomed overhead constantly, the grey streets and their grey people. With his index finger he gently rubbed the one thing in his life that still emanated the faintest glow of colour: a little metallic turtle pendant intricately carved with Māori patterns that he’d bought when he studied in New Zealand for a semester all those years ago. It reminded him of the best times of his life, when everything was fresh and exciting; when he’d wake up in the morning not because of necessity and repetition but, because of a rousing exhilaration and hunger. It reminded him of the friends he used to have, before they all faded into the grey office blocks and pebble dashed suburbias.
From amongst the metallic clamour that slid past he spotted the numbers 771 as the coach rounded the corner and he went to get his ticket out. As he took his hand out of his pocket he caught a glint of metal as the turtle pendant flew out of his pocket too and into the road. Charlie frantically dropped everything and chased the tiny turtle as it bounced along the gutter. He scampered after it, with no care for the grime he was covering himself in. Time slowed as it rebounded onto the cover of a drain, tentatively dancing between the slats like they were the teeth of some insatiable creature before dropping into the blackness below. Charlie let out a shriek and pulled his phone out of his pocket, trying to use the light to see if he could make out the turtle in the gloom but to no avail. Others waiting for the coach stared at him with hollow sympathy and shuffled their feet awkwardly at his distress.
The coach pulled into the stop and Charlie slowly got up and picked up his briefcase and umbrella. His suit was covered in oil and his hands dirty. A single teardrop, perfectly crystal-like, dropped from his face and into the darkness of the drain as he got up and joined the queue of people getting ready to board. The driver checked his ticket and Charlie walked down the narrow aisle to find a seat, taking one across from a woman sat reading a tattered book with some red flowers occupying the seat next to her. He shuffled himself over to the window and slowly closed his eyes as the last glimmer of colour in his life dwindled into the nothingness of the sewers below.
The Man on the Bridge – 3
…The flyover was a two minute walk from the car park; he’d driven passed it on the way. When he got there he remembered being six, stood on the bridge at Clearbrooke with his father throwing sticks into the river and racing to the other side to see which one emerged first. He smiled and dropped his phone over the edge, half expecting it to be swept away in the urban river below and not smashed to pieces under relentless tyres of the cars flowing beneath…