Fragment

When it began, it began with a lurch. A burst of energy that shocked me as much as it did my wife. Somewhere over my left shoulder a child screamed. I dunno which one it was. When you’re young, shock or terror is verbalised with an androgynous high pitched yelp. It is an amorphous sound. It’s formless, shapeless. Primal. One moment there is silence, the next some vocal chords vibrate and a howl is thrown into the world. An ancient sound from a new source.
And there’s something about that sound which is chilling when it comes from your child. I’m now certain that I could recognise my own wean’s scream in a crowd of them. Like a fingerprint.
It wasn’t the last time I heard that noise.
Her head recoiled and smashed against the handle of the cupboard next to the sink. Her hand shot up to her eye and I pulled back my arm, ready for another swing. The background shriek pulled me out of the stupor,  and yanked my head up from the murk, tossing me into a whole other world of pain. That’s when the lunge forward turned into a lurch. I stopped dead in my tracks. The black and white world of rage suddenly exploded into colour.
I turned around to see Isla and Martin crying.
Shame.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
I took a step towards them. They took a step back. Behind me their mum sobbed.
“I..”
I took another step forward. The kids took another two steps back. I kneeled down and opened my arms.
“C’mere…”
Guilt.
Isla screamed again, dropping her Baymax teddy, tears streaming down her face. Martin put his arm around his sister’s shoulder, both backed up against the wall. I swear I heard their hearts break.
Children get scared of things. You never get used to seeing it, but as a parent your instinct is to shield them, reassure them that whatever happens they need not be scared because you’ll always be there to assuage those fears. But when you become the source of their fear? There is no measure of heartache more profound than watching your own children’s brains recalculate their perception of you through abject fear. In life, heartbreak is an inevitability, yet one should not have to feel it at the hands of their parents and one should definitely not have them feel that pain as a result of violence.
Sadness filled the air with an inalienable weight. Something in the world changed that night.
I stood up and look round to see Angela crying on the worktop. Her left eye had swollen and there was a small trickle of blood on her right temple.
Disgust.
I left the kitchen, grabbing my car keys on the way out.
I was over the limit. In the pages of a dusty old noir novel I would have been described as over the limit and over the line. Speeding into the night, down the country roads in between Coatbridge and Moodiesburn, I careened through the darkness with my eyes burning. I screamed myself hoarse with the radio cranked loud, giving whatever trance music George Bowie cranked out a whole new flavour.
I hurdled down the road in the gloom. No streetlights to expose me. I checked the rear-view mirror and caught a glimpse of myself. Eyes red from the tears, face blotchy from the booze, my hair a straggly mess of brown and grey, black tie hanging limply around my neck. I tore it off and threw it in the passenger seat, pulled over at the side of the road and got out of the car. I was isolated, surrounded by acres of shadows. I looked up at the void and the full weight of what I had done bore down on me like a weight. Then I threw up. I hadn’t learned a fucking thing.

December 26th, 2010

This story was published in an anthology called Tip Tap Flat in 2012. I was digging through my books today and I figured I might as well post it.

This is the opening chapter of a novel that I put a lot of work into in 2012. At the moment I have around 80000 words of said novel in first draft form. There are a few more chapters to go but I’ve never really felt like going back to them. There’s reasons for that, and for why I don’t really write any more, but those are best left to another day.

I am extremely proud of this story though and since it’s Christmas time, I thought I’d post it.

December 26th, 2010.

“Aw fuck. Aw FUCK!”
“Shit. Ye hink he’s seen us?”

Fae through his balaclava ah could see Ronnie’s eyes dartin aboot efter the security gaird hud spotted us. Noo, by and large he generally looks pretty panicked – he’s just goat wan ey they faces that always look scared eh somethin – but at this particular conjecture, he wis legitimately pantin his shants. The gaird was movin slowly between the aisles and he thought he’d try tae reason wae us,

“Right, ah know yer in here ya coupla sods. If ye come oot Ah’ll no phone the polis and we’ll jist call it even.”

We baith knew he wis full eh shite. He wis swingin his torch aboot the place like a lightsabre, ready tae cut baith us pricks doon the second it touched us. Ah wisnae fur gettin’ caught,

“Aw fuck.” Ronnie whispered

“Mate, fuck this. Ah telt ye this wis a stupid idea. Ah’m sure ye could borrow an amp fae somewan. S’no like theft wis yer only option. Ah’m oota here.”

Ah grabbed him by his troosers as he tried tae staun up; this cunt was gaun naewhere,

“Aye? N go where? The exits’ back there behind Darth fat arse. N besides, these cunts kin afford it wi the amount ey money they make. Much ye hink hauf these geetars cost at stock price? Everyhin’s inflated tae fuck in these music shoaps an they’re insured oot the arse.”

Ronnie poked his heed roond the counter tae eye up the situation and once he realised it wis as grim as Ah hud described, he changed his tune,

“Eh. Shit. Aye. Well…”

Ah could see he was tremblin. So wis ah, but no oota fear ye understand; cuz ey the adrenaline,

“Exactly. Gie’s a minute tae hink.”

Ah took a swatch ere the counter tae see the security gaird walking doon the aisle adjacent tae the counter like a fat fuckin’ fluorescent Santa,

“Here!” a quick whisper from Ronnie demanded ma attention.

“Ah hink we should just head tae the front ey the shoap, tan the windae wi somethin, climb oot it and boot it doon the street. Ye hink?”

“Ah hink that’s a shite idea, tae be honest mate. Ah’m no leavin here wi oot somethin. That’s a fact, so it is.”

“Aye? Well yer oan yer ain then. Am aff.”

Afore ah could say anyhin Ronnie was makin a beeline fur the front ey the shoap, hoofin it doon the aisle like he wis bein chased by a fat lion. An sure enough the security gaird clocked um, swung his lightsabre doon oan him an tried tae mobilize his rotund arse intae a pacey wobble as Ronnie bolted like a startled gazelle. Ah put ma heed ere the counter an ah could see him bombin it in ma direction so naturally ah stuck ma foot oot an as just as he goat clear ey the counter he caught ma shoe an went flyin like lime green Santa Claus, sans reindeer, takin oot a whole row ey geetars. Turned oot it wis the perfect diversion cuz nae amount ey Jedi skills wur gonnae stoap me, ah kin tell ye that fur nothin. Ronnie hud failed tae notice an wis promptly wielding an amp at shoulder height, ready tae pan the front windae so ah shouted ere at him,

“Haw! Ronnie! Mon! The gaird’s suddenly found it in himself tae come roond tae oor way eh thinkin.”

He dropped the amp and looked roond, seen that the gaird wis currently indisposed with a geetar or two wrapped roond his heed and ran ere,

“Nice work Jackie boy! Ye hink the chances ir that he’s phont the polis already?”

“Pretty high, Ronnie. Pretty fuckin high indeed.”

“The fuck we gonnae dae? This fuckin hing’s gonnae be on CCTV!”

Ronnie sat doon oan the flair. Ah hudnae contemplated it, ah must admit, but he wis right; this whole catalogue eh errors wis gonnae make a pretty fuckin’ fine entry in tae the Strathclyde Metropolitan Police’s very ain incompetent burglars edition of ‘You’ve Been Framed’.

“Ach nane ey yer shite. We’ve kept oor faces n covered n that. We’ll be fine.”

“Mate, ah hink ah can hear sirens.”

Ronnie wis trembling again. His adrenaline hud given ower tae pure fear, however in reality there wur nae sirens approaching. Yet. But ah felt sure it wis a situation that wis gonnae be rectified in the near future.

“Right. Wir no gonnae get an amp oot ey here the night. Too heavy. Grab wan ey they PRS geetars an ah’ll grab this Les Paul ere – thur lighter an easier tae transport.”

“Aye, awright. But what aboot an amp? Wir aff oan tour in less than a week.”

“Fuck it man. Ah’ll punt these on ebay or sommat. Fuck knows. Ah’ll figure it oot. The next time ah walk in here ah’ll be a financially solvent individual, free fae the burden eh tour poverty. Ready tae make a purchase oan a nice new amp.”  

“Here mate, this is bollocks. How could ye no just buy wan yerself? Get it oan credit or something?”

“Ye hink am made eh money? Noo you listen tae me mate; there is nae way in hell ah’m gonna sign ma life away tae a bank through hire purchase or finance or whitever shite it is they dae rip ye aff wi interest these days.”

“Aye, awright Jack, chill oot. It’s no exactly like the Provy or Bright Hoose or Wonga.com or any eh that shite.”

“Naw, it’s the principle Ronnie. These fuckin shoaps kin afford to lose some gear noo n then. That’s the thing; when the banks are haundin oot bonuses tae cunts that lose money fur a livin, keepin the workin man doon in the process, then it stauns tae reason that the insurance companies that own them urnae short a few qui- och fuck this, ye know the script mate. Ah’m no staunin here in the back eh a guitar shoap doon the Trongate giein ye a lecture when-“

Something wis up. Ah turned roon tae see wit Ronnie wis lookin at an there wis two polis peerin through the windae. They hud nae seen us yet, thank fuck, cuz there wis a causal nonchalance aboot their movement. Wan ey thum tried the door but tae nae avail. By this point me ‘n Ronnie are oan the deck, prone. Ronnie whispers tae us;

“Mate. We’re fucked.”

“Just you calm yerself mate. We’re no fucked yit. Oan three ah want ye tae jump up, grab a geetar n gie it the Usain Bolt oot the back door, awright? We’re gettin oot eh this pal. As punk rock as getting jailed a few days afore a tour is, ah really don’t want tae be sent doon for robbery. If we get caught this close tae the Barras they’re gonnae hink we’re mad junkies lookin to rob some shite. An that’ll fuck oor reputation right up tae. Right, ye ready?”

“Aye.”

Naw, he wisnae n neither wis ah, but Ronnie wis nae in a position tae argue n frankly, oot of aw the fuckin insane plans ah’d ever hud this wis definitely no wan eh ma favourites. We wur oot eh options; we hud tae get oot eh there pronto.

“Right. Three, two, wan…GO! FUCKIN’ GO, RONNIE!”

It wis almost as if ah could see in slow motion: the attitude eh the polis changed fae that eh bobbys just casually dain their roonds, tae that eh a coupla bloodhounds that’d just goat a whiff eh some fresh meat at the realisation that there wir in fact a couple eh chancers in the very shoap they wur scoutin oot. So ah grabbed a geetar n Ronnie done the same. We ran intae the labyrinthine stock room n negotiated the musical equipment like some kind ey jailbird Kypton Factor; if ye fuck this up ye don’t just lose yer chance at winnin some shitey trophy, ye’d be loosin yer freedom tae the Sherriff Court, Legal aid, a shitey free lawyer an aboot 6 tae 8 months in Bar L. Nae question. Ah booted open the back door n we legged it doon the street. Efter a block, me n Ronnie parted ways. We baith knew where tae meet, ah was just hopin we fuckin goat there.

A Sort of Eulogy

My gran died on Tuesday 10th of December, and today we laid her to rest. My mum asked me to write a few words to say at her funeral but the whole thing ran over, meaning I didn’t get a chance to say what it was I wanted to say. So for the benefit of my family, and perhaps friends too, here it is. I was going to close with W.S. Merwin’s excellent poem “Good Night”, which I may well save for another post.

I love my nana. My old granny. She never seemed to age. Always with white hair, glasses and a slight stoop. My lasting memories of her will be like series of Polaroid photos, one after the other, as she pottered around her house. Always asking if I wanted food, always palming me a fiver or a tenner when we were sitting alone, always ready to make you laugh when you least expected it, be it through an anecdote from her life, or simply as a reaction to her rousing, infectious, whooping laugh.

Sitting alone with my nana was something I cherished. It’s strange, as time went on I felt like my life was oddly dull. I never had much new to tell her from week to week, yet she smiled all the same. And moaned. She did love a good moan. I always knew she was actually feeling alright when she was moaning about something – the state of the roads, David Cameron and the Tories, the lack of jobs, the state of Noel Edmunds’ beard, how there was never any good news anymore… there was always something. And it was always funny.

I feel it’s somewhat fitting that a lot of my memories of her are of her at home because she was very house proud. It was never in a snooty way though. For example, from when I was a wee guy up until what must have been about ten or so years ago, she had the same old horrific 70s carpet in the hall and up the stairs. It was pretty dreadful, a strange frayed mix of black and red and yellow which had been worn over many years by many different feet. It was positively terrible. The day that was replaced with the carpet which is in her house now, she told me that it was something she had always wanted to do. Such a simple thing that made her happy. House proud she was. And then followed the new kitchen, bathroom, TVs, appliances and whatnot. Most of my memories are of my gran being at home. Not house bound, just in the place that she made her own over many many years.

Memories are funny things. They bend and warp over time, yet nana was always on hand to regale anyone with a story from her youth. She loved film, you see, and she would often speak of the jaunts she’d take every week to one of the cinemas in Shawlands, those which no longer exist, to watch the biggest stars of her day. She once told me a story about how she took her brother Alfie to the cinema with her, and all she wanted to do after the film had finished was sit and watch it again, but he started crying and she managed to pacify him by giving him the chewing out of her own mouth to stop him crying. Sometimes she’d go even further back to when she was a child in Govan. That’s when we knew the stories were going to be laden with either laughter or songs, often both. I’ll miss that laugh and I’ll miss those stories.

We all worry that when we go, we go alone. I can tell you that she did not go alone; she was surrounded by those she loved. If one could be so bold as to measure a life, then the best measurement I can think of is by counting how many lives one has touched. As I look out here today, I can see the many lives that she’s touched and I think that’s some pretty good going. The stories that we all have, those snapshots, the intimate portraits of a woman we all loved, those too are a measure of how much my nana touched our lives and how her light has, in part, been passed on to us. And perhaps one day we too will regale our kids, grandkids, friends and maybe even strangers, with the stories, with the memories, we have of a funny and kind hearted woman. A wonderful light has gone from our lives, and the world has become slightly darker. It’s up to us to make sure that the light she left with us burns for many years to come. 

 

You bend the reeds of sanity back
and they fall back into place with a snap

I’m watching waiting restless at the thought
tense enough to make myself scream

It’s a fleeting feeling of love which lingers
A moment of clarity tossed into my mind, a sudden flush of salt in the wounds

An inch is not enough, I need at least a foot more
and never mind the miles I’d travel to keep you awake

Or the lonely roads I’d walk to see you come home.

Success!

I was accepted for the creative writing dissertation in Glasgow University today. Which is great news, because not only does it contain workshops, but it also means I’ll be doing a dissertation which is purely creative. This, combined with the fact that all my fourth year classes will have no final exam, means that my fourth and final year will be a pretty good one.

What follows is the 1000 word short story that I submitted as a portfolio for the creative writing dissertation. I don’t think it’s quite finished yet, mainly because there are a few things I’d like to add which I couldn’t because the word limit for the creative writing dissertation portfolio was 1000 words, but this piece ensured my success, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Enjoy! Comments and so forth are welcome.

 

Duck (Verloren Vertaling)

 

“S’a fair breeze the day, innit Archie?”
            “S’no hauf, Tam.”
            “Enjoyin the weather but. Nice wee holiday fae the Glesga rain.”
            “Aye, aye. It’s guid. It’s almost goat a different texture than it does back hame. Don’t hink ah’ll be stickin aroond lang wae that wind, mind you.”
            Tam and Archie sat side by side in the Prinsengracht somewhere in Amsterdam’s labyrinthine canal system, dodging cruise boats and bobbing for leaves whenever the mood struck them. It was a particularly dull, rainy and therefore standard Autumnal day in the Dutch capital, and the breeze meant that they’d be moving south earlier than normal this year.
            “Spoke tae a penguin wance who said that the weather changin is tae dae wae whit the humans caw ‘global warming’. Aw the penguin’s ah’ve met are environmentalists.” Tam said,
            “Aye well, ye heard whit happened tae Danny didn’t ye?”
            “Danny? Lizzy’s wee boay?”
            “Aye.”
            “Naw. Whit?”
            “Wis involved in a territorial dispute wae Frank an his missus last month. Shite himself an went tae run away, ended up gettin himself tangled in wan eh they circular net hings that they monkeys pull cans oot eh. Drooned tae death. Puir sod.”
            “That’s tragic.”
            “Ah know man. Lizzy wis gutted…haud oan, ye speak penguin?”
            “Ach, aye man. Picked it up when ah wis floatin aboot in Edinbra a few years ago.”
            A strong gust of wind snuck over the 17th century houses and struck the two coots on their left hand side, ruffling their feathers. Archie started kneading his left wing back into its smooth frame. Behind them a human appeared on the terrace of an orange house boat in his underpants and flicked a cigarette into the canal. It hit the water with a fizzling noise.
            “Ach yer arse.” He said, once he’d rearranged his down.
            “Here, check this prick oot.”
            A duck, all grey feathers, green head and dog collar, swept in and landed in the water next to them. Archie and Tam were dwarfed by the duck’s size and they eyed the newcomer with suspicion. On the roads around the canal cyclists rang their bells at foreigners confused by the bike lanes, and trams trundled along the streets with the occasional loud electrical pop crackling off the overhead wires.
            “Whit dae ye hink he wants?” Tam said,
            “Here…ah recognise him. Hink his name’s Pat. Wan eh Frank’s enforcers.”
            “D’ye hink he followed us?”
            “Naw, doubt it.”
            Archie paddled over to the duck and nudged him. The duck jumped, as if he somehow hadn’t noticed the two coots, and turned with a startled look to face Archie.
            “Quack, quack quack?” he said,
            “Whit?”
            “Quack?”
            “Eh?”
            “Whit’s he sayin Archie?” Tam shouted from behind them,
            “Ah dunno man. Ah don’t speak duck.” Archie said, assuming that no coot alive could ever speak duck.
            Tam swam over to investigate. Archie, noting the cigarette butt floating beside him, ducked into the water to eat it and spat it out unimpressed with the wet ashy taste.
            “Whit dae ye mean, ye don’t speak duck?” Tam said to him.
            “Whit dae ye mean? Should ah speak duck? Nae cunt ever taught me-“
            “Quack?” said the Duck, cocking his head to one side in confusion,
            “Ah speak Duck.” Said Tam,
            “Dae ye hell. Ye speak penguin and duck?”
            “Aye. Ah’ll tell ye whit he’s sayin.”
            Tam began to address the duck; Archie turned the other way, embarrassed by his friend’s ‘know-all’ attitude. Tam looked the duck in the eye and said,
            “Whit ye sayin?”
            “Quack? Quaaaaaaaack? Quack quack. Quack, quack quik quack, quaaccckkk. Quack?”
            “Aye, aye. Ah see whit yer sayin.” Tam nodded in understanding. Archie shook his head, unconvinced by Tam’s bilingual abilities.
            “Whit’s he sayin then?” he asked, turning to face Tam.
            “Askin me whit ah hink eh the weather.”
            Archie stared at Tam with a look of incredulity.
            “Is that so?”
            “Ah’m tellin ye-“
            “Quick? Quack? Quack, quack quackquack! Quack!” with a look of fright, the duck flapped his wings furiously, almost as if he was pointing up the canal, offered one final, loud “QUACK!” and took to the sky.
            “Aw look, ye offended him.” Archie said, laughing.
            “Fuck. Hink he’s in a hurry? He said that he hud something tae attend tae.”
            “Aw well.”
            Nonplussed by the duck’s abrupt and rather rude exit, the lads progressed down the canal, negotiating tourists in pedal boats, and dodging the blown out umbrellas that the wind had carried into the Dutch water. After travelling fifty meters Tam came across a large green leaf wedged under a discarded plastic bottle.
            “Mate, check the size eh this! Ye don’t see them that big this time eh the year!”
            “Aye, yer right there Tam.”
            “Gies a haun, eh?”
            Tam sidled around and started pecking at the bottle while Archie dived underneath to try and pull the frond free from below. After a few moments of furious hammering, Archie emerged and said,
            “Ah hink it’s inside this hing.”
            “Ah’f nearlfth thur.” Tam said with a mouthful of plastic.
            A second later the brown water around them started to bubble then parted. Looking round, Archie spotted a white canal cruise boat approaching them at tremendous speed. Tam, facing the opposite direction, failed to notice the vessel. Archie jumped out of the water, taking flight the second he saw the ship approach, shouting;
            “Tam look-“ but it was too late, and the boat clipped Tam’s tail, dragging him under in its wake.
            Archie started to frantically circle the canal, waiting for the boat to pass below him, hoping that it had not decapitated his friend. Once the craft had past it took a few seconds before Tam’s body, legs first and limp, rose to the surface.
            “Aw naw. Naw.” Archie landed in the water again next to the body and as he did so, Tam righted himself and brought his head above the water.
            “Jesus. Whit the fuck?” he said, coughing and spluttering, “Ah mean, ye’d woulda thought some cunt coulda warned us!”

Easy

I kind of promised myself that I wouldn’t post another blog until I had some good news to share, like getting something published. However I’ve had more than a few rejections lately, and that totally sucks. It’s National Short Story day today, so here’s a story that I failed to get published in a magazine. I hope you enjoy it. Feedback etc would be hugely, massively and gratefully appreciated. 

Easy

It was easy.

            I hadn’t noticed the bag sitting above my seat. I waited until I was the last person left on the train before getting off; a morning ritual that allows me to mentally prepare for work. Mere feet from the exit one of the cleaners got on and shouted after me;
            “Here mate, you forgot your bag.”
            And I turned around to see him pointing at a black laptop case in the glass bottomed rack above the seat I had just unfolded myself from. I looked around to see if he was addressing anyone other than me. It was only the two of us standing in the train carriage. He took the bag down and handed it to me. Without a word I got off the train. I knew that the bag wasn’t mine. I should have stated this before the cleaner handed it to me, yet I took it. In that moment it didn’t occur to me that it might have been something nefarious, like a bomb or something sinister, I just took it automatically, without a thought. The guilt was instant and the fear of being caught wasn’t too far behind.
            I walked to work with the laptop bag slung over one shoulder. The bag itself pretty nondescript; black with a single strap, rubber feet on the bottom and a flap which seals with a Velcro scratch. The flap hid and protected the contents from view. The sound was oddly illicit, and I wondered if the owner recognised that sound, and from it would be able to find their misplaced laptop in the throng of commuters just by the sound Velcro alone. The heft of the case and its unknown contents weighed on me; I walked slowly, paying more attention than usual to my surroundings; all eyes felt as though they were upon me as I left the trains station. A ridiculous thought sat in my head making me feel that I had just robbed someone and was trying to act normal as I left the scene of the crime. I tried to blend in, be cool, be normal, not drawing attention to myself as I walked through the city centre to work. I walked quickly and kept my head down, lifting it only to glance across the street at a pedestrian crossing. After a few blocks the laptop felt comfortable, like it belonged to me. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all, I actually felt important, going to work with a laptop bag of my own, similar to all the higher ups, the people with the power that enter the office each day. Eventually I made it to work un-harassed.
            At my desk I had to fight the urge to pull the laptop from its case and investigate it. At 12:15 my boss swung past my desk to talk about statistics and metrics and clients. Before she left she spotted the bag, an addendum to my usual work attire, sitting on my desk.
            “Brought your laptop in?”
            “Yeah.”  I said, lying. It wasn’t mine. “Yeah, I was just taking it to get fixed. After work.”
            “Cool. I have a similar case. Looks just like that. Even has the same white scuff mark on the bottom. I lost it recently when I was coming to work.”
            “Really? When?”
            “A few days ago. No one handed it in to the lost and found though, sadly.”
            Do I have her laptop? It must be a coincidence.
            “I hope they find it.” I said. I was past the point of no return; I had to stick with my story.
            My manager spoke a little more about work then went back to her office.
            The lie was now absolute, my manager under the assumption that it belonged to me. Sometimes the owner puts their details inside one of these bags, and I imagined I’d be able to find out where they lived from the contents on the laptop. I opened the flap and reached inside then froze, it was too risky to do that in here in case it did belong to my boss, and I resolved to figure it out when I got home.
            Later on I left the office to undertake the usual journey home. Before getting the train I walked past the Lost and Found inlet, stopping a few feet from it. Handing it in seemed like the right thing to do and would probably provide immense relief. But what if it goes unclaimed? What if the owner’s information is on the laptop? What if he offers a reward? I walked to the platform instead. What followed was an hour of transit permeated by furtive glances, a heavy shoulder, a guilty conscience and the fear that the original owner may spot his possession and demand it back. A mental image of me sheepishly handing back the ill-gotten gain in front of a train full of people, popped into my head, an imagine where I would be rendered unable to even pretend I was going to hand it in to the lost and found or to the police because I am quite clearly taking the stolen goods home with me. Maybe handing it in at the Lost and Found would have been the best idea after all.
            On the other hand, the owner of this case and the computer within might not have wanted it if they were careless enough to leave it. I pictured some upper class citizen in a suit, his living room ensconced in laptops, his purchase of them second nature; disposable like newspapers. Each month a new one arrived, each month an old one left on a train. Not a second thought given to it. I tried to convince myself that nothing is wrong with keeping this lost possession, that it’s “finders, keepers”. If the laptop was any good then it could make a nice replacement for my own. Is something stolen if it was misplaced to begin with? Perhaps that’s the problem; it is not rightfully mine yet the rightful owner couldn’t care enough to remember about it in the first place.
            Arriving home I placed the laptop case on the coffee table and fetched my own dilapidated laptop, using it to check emails and the like; to kill time, to distract me from the inert electrical item on my table. My partner came home and after telling me about her day, I told her about mine,
            “So when I was on the train this morning I found this.” I waved my arm in the direction of the black laptop case. We sat next to one another on the red couch in our living room, the TV on, muted. She with a glass of rosé wine in her hand and me with a bottle of beer. Relaxing, unwinding, enjoying each other’s company.
            “A laptop bag?”
            “Yeah. Well, I think it has a laptop inside. I’ve not opened it yet.”
            “You found it? On a train?”
            “Well, one of the cleaners seen it in the luggage rack above my seat and asked me if it was mine. So I took it.”
            “Cool. Are you going to hand it in?”
            “Do you think I should?”
            “Wouldn’t it be wrong not to?”
            “Am I a thief for keeping it?”
            “I don’t think so, but someone’s whole life is probably on that. It’s left the house with someone so it must have been important to them.  I mean, what if it’s one of those MoD laptops that get lost on trains? You should’ve handed it in.”
            “Pretty sure that’s only ever happened in England.”
            “Could happen anywhere though…”
            I thought about this for a moment while she finished off her glass of wine and went to the kitchen. She was right, I should’ve handed it in. She returned with a glass of water and unmuted the TV; Coronation Street drowned out the sound of a quiet room.
            “What if the owner’s details are in the bag or on the laptop? I mean, there has to be some clue about the owner, right?”
            “Yeah, could be. Guess you should have a look and if there isn’t you can always hand it in at the lost and found tomorrow.”
            “True. Right, I’m opening it. Maybe the owner will offer a reward or something.”
            I placed the bottle of beer on the table and opened the laptop case, exposing the machine inside to its new environment. The case also contained the charger and in the front pocket were various CDs, one for a system restore and a copy of Microsoft Office with a CD-key emblazoned on the front of it.
            The computer itself was is near pristine condition, no scratches or scuff marks, no debris in between the keys. The screen was clean and despite its size (“Stunning 17” HD display” the sticker exclaimed) the laptop was quite light. The back of the screen spelled out Acer in sliver, the embossed letters stood stark against the black chassis. Below the keyboard on the grey bezel some stickers notified the user about the specification of the laptop, what kind of processor it contains and what version of Windows could be found when you switch it on.
            I pressed the power button and the screen exploded with colour, the computer’s measly speakers greeting the world with a gleeful tune. It booted up and went right into Windows, no request for a user name and password. The desktop neat and orderly, no clutter, no fuss. I navigated to My Documents, hesitating for a moment before tapping twice on the mouse pad to open it. What would I find in here? Would I find pictures of the owner and his or her family? Their pets? Their children? Their holidays? What documents would be in there? What was this laptop used for? Above the screen on the black bezel was a silver eye, a built in webcam which made me acutely aware that this item did not belong to me. I stared into it intently; it stared back and said nothing.
            A variety of different Word and Excel files were in the My Documents folder, none of which I felt compelled to open, none of which made obvious reference to the owner. I felt that I’d invaded someone’s privacy too much already; I couldn’t push myself to go that extra mile and open up the spreedsheet titled “11-12 Accounts” or that word document with the name “Paragon of Justice”. This was a step too far, but I came in here with a purpose; to find out who the owner was, so I did it anyway despite my reservations. I opened a number of documents at random trying to find a name, a header, a fragment of an address or a phone number, finding nothing instead. Then I felt dirty. The mere thought of looking in the “Pictures” folder sent an uncomfortable shiver down my spine; faces of the owners staring back at me or worse because explicit pictures were also a possibility. No, that’s one itch I certainly don’t need to scratch, I thought.
            Then I noticed that Mara was watching me watching the screen. With this Documents folder open in front of me I felt frozen; how much of someone’s life is really on here? How much about me can you find out from my laptop? How would I feel if I lost it all? How would you feel?
            I had no qualms with entering the Music folder and casting my judgemental eye over their music collection. The less said about it the better; a selection particularly bad that it’s probably better lost than in the posession of a consensual, presumably tone deaf human being.
            “What’s in the Pictures folder?”
            “I dunno. I dunno if I really want to open it.”
            “Maybe you should return it tomorrow.”
            Once again I looked at the sticker below the keyboard which states the, rather impressive, technical specification of the laptop, a list which dwarves the power and ability of my own.
            “Maybe.”
            “There’s nothing wrong with keeping it though.”
            “Why would there be? Someone’s careless enough to lose it. That’s on them. I’m just lucky enough to find it.”
            “Then you should at least erase everything on it.”
            Years ago I found myself on an IT course in a local college in an attempt to change my career path. I learned about computer hardware, networking and software installation. The Recovery CD enclosed with the laptop would be enough to ensure that everything could be erased from the laptop. All clues and reminders about its original owners turned to digital dust, 1s and 0s blasted into the electric ether, literally erased from existence in a fraction of a second.
            I nod at Mara and reach for the Recovery CD, removing it from its paper sleeve and inserting it into the slot loading CD drive. I restarted the laptop and pressed F12 the second the word Acer appeared on the screen. I was taken into the Recovery CD.
            “If you do this you can never return it. You do know that, right?” says Mara,
            “Well, I wanted a new laptop anyway.”
            I hesitated for a second, then I navigated to the “System Restore” menu and clicked “Next” a couple of times taking me to the desired destination: a screen which states “If you do this all data will be lost. Are you sure you want to continue?”
            Someone has invested a great deal of time and effort in the contents of this laptop. In this digital world these devices act as an extension of our being. The mouse cursor hovered over the “Continue” option while I thought about the memories of someone else’s life which I was about to obliterate. Mara sat on my shoulder watching with baited breath as I hesitated, the misplaced laptop, the pictures, the music, the documents, the data; someone’s entire digital existence, this intangible piece of their life was missing and the power to destroy it rested simply a click away.
            My trepidation shifted in place, somewhere in my brain all of these thoughts coalesced into one. I thought about the future and I smiled.
            It was easy.