Today is National Short Story day. I read on the national short story day website that today is the shortest day of the year but that seems incorrect. Surely it is the longest day of the year? The sun barely sets in the Northern Hemisphere today.
Never the less, I have crafted a short story to mark the occasion. Enjoy. Once again, WordPress is unable to retain MS Word formatting, so I apologise for the weird layout.
As he waited on the bus he began to contemplate how boring Wednesdays are, reasoning that on a Wednesday the weekend was tantalisingly close but also painfully far off, thus making it the most boring day of the week. With his need to rationalise and obsess over things it occurred to him that he must rationalise why this day of the week was the most boring. This in turn reminded him of how someone had once told him that the best guitars are “Wednesday guitars”.
The justification of this was as follows: on Monday everyone is annoyed that they are back at work, and because it takes at least two days to get back into the “flow” of the working week Monday guitars were usually only half decent. Tuesday guitars are slightly better because the employees are no longer lamenting the weekend and have, in theory, had a decent night’s sleep, yet are only just starting to really get into the ‘flow’ of their work. Wednesday is, therefore, the best day for making guitars because everyone is working efficiently and to the ethos that every guitar should be a lovingly hand crafted instrument engineered with precision and care. Thursday brought upon a feeling of winding down, whereas Friday was always half hearted because the weekend was almost here and anything pressing can be done on Monday, resulting in more mistakes and imperfect instruments.
The person that told him this argued that it was the same in every job and that Wednesday was the most efficient and therefore useful day in the narrative of the working week.
However the more he thought about it, the greater he felt that this was inaccurate. Most guitar manufacturers were automated, and all most employees in factories have to do is push buttons and ensure that everything runs smoothly. Indeed, machines don’t care about what day of the week it is or how important or repetitive the task is. He therefore reasoned that Wednesday would also be the dullest day of the week for guitar manufacturers because it was the day when the oppressive tedium of button pressing seemed it’s most futile – the weekend was so close, but so far away and at least on Thursday you’re nearly there.
It was the same for most jobs. By Wednesday evening everyone is begging for the weekend to arrive.
These thoughts offered a distraction for the inevitable ride to work that he had to take every week day morning. The problem was not that he dreaded going to work; it was that he dreaded getting to work. Traveling was the worst part of any day for him. Every day he would get up, shower, shave, eat breakfast and leave his house to enter a crowded piece of public transport. Bus, train, subway, it didn’t matter; he was always apprehensive about travel. In a car he would feel a lot less anxious because he knew that the driver had more control over the actions of the car than someone who pilots public transport. Part of his fear was being trapped on the bus, or train, or subway and being helpless to escape should he need to do so. The type of transport he used didn’t matter, what did matter was the oppressive feeling of dread he experienced on such journeys: the longer the journey, the deeper the dread. Travelling to work was something he had to do, and he had been doing so for seven years now, each year his nervousness increased despite nothing untoward ever happening when he was on board public transport.
Why the fear? Well, whatever public transportation method he chooses it was always crowded; usually it was standing room only and today was no different. He stood at the bus stop and mentally prepared himself for a bus slammed to the windows with the bodies of commuters, screaming children and belligerent fools at the back of the bus who felt it appropriate to share their music with the rest of the herd by blaring it from a tinny mobile phone speaker for a good twenty to thirty minutes.
It was grim. And it, like every morning, happened today. The bus arrived; he embarked, took a seat and attempted to distract himself from the distress of travel. He tried reading the newspaper, reading his book, checking his email or sending a text on his phone; all of it was futile. He stared emptily at the page, sent pointless texts and emails to people who didn’t really need to be contacted in an attempt to quell the butterflies in his stomach which is, with age and a sedentary lifestyle, steadily becoming more rotund, he thought.
With each stop crying children and cringing parents get off and hop on, under the needless fluorescent lights which wage war against tired eyes and artificially enhance the blazing daylight, people brush past him and mumble apologies under their hot breath into his ear. He tries again to focus on the words in front of him, whatever format they may take, but he cannot because there is something restless at the back of his mind, something disquieting, something dreadful which makes him stay alert, stay active and tensed up, priming his muscles so he was ready to pounce, adrenaline preparing him to react at a moment’s notice in case something bad happens. Something bad like:
• The driver careers off the bridge on his way into the city centre and the bus falls, slowly, like a scene from Inception, into the River Clyde below.
• One of the older people on the bus has a heart attack and he, in a crazed attempt to push his way through a crowd who merely stand there and stare, endeavours to administer some kind of CPR.
• A truck, a van, or a car crashes into the side of the bus. Not the side he’s sitting on, but the other side, and he must help people out of the inevitable wreckage.
• Or they crash into the side he is on, and he’s trapped, knocked unconscious or, at the very worst, killed.
• Someone starts a fight with him (he can’t defend himself).
• Someone starts a fight with someone else (he can’t break it up).
• A terrorist decides to recreate the actions of the 7/7 attacks.
All of these things could happen, and they are what causes him to sit tensed up in his seat like a coiled spring. He feels as though he is trying to make himself as big as possible, so that no one tries to start a fight with him, and also as small as possible so that no one notices him and tries to start a fight with him.
He is like a deer caught in the headlights as the bus moves on to the motorway.
An antelope staring into the stillness of an African plain, thinking he’s heard a noise and is wary of predators.
Did you know that many evolutionary psychologists believe that the reason we get goosebumps comes from our ancestors who used to have more hair? And that the reason goosebumps make our hairs stand on end is because humans used to be much hairier, so by making our hair stand on end it used to make us look bigger and thus appearing larger and more threatening to predators? This occurred to him as he tried to look inconspicuous, all the hair on his body standing on end.
It’s an in built function which still resides in the oldest part of our brain, he thinks to himself.
The bus pulls into some rush hour traffic and creeps along the motorway, one in a pack of crawling vehicles. From above they look like ants crawling towards food.
It’s part of the fight, flight or freeze mechanism, he ponders as the assembled throng of commuters stare into their phones, books or newspapers; staring at everything but each other, as if making eye contact would cause someone to react.
Eventually he arrives at work, the bus driver choosing not to drive off of the Kingston Bridge after all, and he breathes a slight sigh of relief. It is only a slight sigh however, because not even the inanity of his work is enough to take his mind off of the mental preparation he must undergo to make the journey back home when work is over.
Seven hours later it is time to go home, but he doesn’t feel ready to face the commute again so he decides to wander the streets of Glasgow city centre. It is an act which will allow him to psyche himself up for the eventual travel home; it never works. He stalks the city streets with his guard up, constantly ridged, on the lookout for any potential trouble, flash points or conflicts which cross his path. He reckons that if he were a dog, his ears would be constantly pricked up, listening closely and then he decides that this is a stupid thing to think and abandons the thought.
Remaining uneasy, forever watchful and on edge.
He walks down Buchanan Street, along Argyle Street, avoiding the Trongate because of its proximity to undesirable pubs and the east end of the city, crossing Glassford Street and back across Ingram Street, past the Gallery of Modern Art, through George Square and into St Vincent Street, back up Buchanan Street, proceeding down Sauchiehall Street and into the bus station where he sits for thirty minutes before feeling the troubled need to go home, to eat and sit on the couch.
But he’s walked too far down Sauchiehall Street and has ended up in the West end of the city. It occurs to him that he really needs to get home because there’s some football on tonight that he’d like to watch and so he focuses on this as a reason to brave the bus home, to shun the anxiety, giving him something to look forward too. He takes a trip up to the University of Glasgow and proceeds back into the city centre via Woodlands Road. You are being told this because the narrator knows this route, but he is unfamiliar with this end of the city and he begins to panic. He wonders if anyone else has anxiety attacks and steadies himself against the wall. His heart pounding hard, like it’s trying to get out of his chest, sweat lashing off of him, his chest constricting as if his lungs have been shut in a vice followed by an intense feeling of paranoia and crushing hopelessness which combine all at once to create a sensation that makes him think he is mere second away from death.
He braces himself against the wall of The Halt Bar once again. The sounds of rowdiness escape from its open windows, and the heat of the warm day begins to suffocate him. He opens his jacket, his shirt and takes off his tie. He clutches his chest and takes some deep breaths. I’m not lost, he thinks to himself, I’m just further away from home than I usually am at this time of the day. I can get home if I calm down.
Anxiety, that perfect evolutionary beast, has gone awry. Once he catches his breath he slowly makes his way back to the bus stop, but something feels different. The streets feel like the plains of the Serengeti, he thinks to himself, and his fretfulness causes him to feel like a gazelle being stalked by a lion. He panics again, this time at the thought of a lion stalking him and his sense of disquiet and apprehension is confirmed when, out the corner of his eye, he sees a lion.
Or is it a lion? Surely it can’t be a lion? He says to himself but it is a no comfort, because padding across the patch of grass between Woodlands Gate and Park Drive, in the small expanse of greenery across the road from The Halt Bar is a golden lion. Its dark brown mane standing out as a stark dash of colour against the green it lies upon.
He is alone.
He turns to face it and it looks up, staring directly at him. The lion rises from its haunches and, sensing the human’s gaze upon him, freezes and stares back. Instantly he gets goosebumps, his heart which is still racing beats faster, adrenaline floods into his bloodstream and screams at his muscles to be prepared to follow an evolutionary imperative. His vision narrows and blocks out all other distractions; the dog barking behind him, the sounds of revellers entering and leaving pubs, the cars flashing by in a blur in front of him, all of it fades into the background. People become shadows as they move down the street, oblivious to the lion across the road, staring him down. Is it fight, is it flight or does he freeze?
Perhaps fighting a lion would be the most pointless option, its sharp claws, powerful legs and jaw would make the fight horrifically one sided to the feline. Freezing would mean he would have to play dead, but what if the lion investigated and decided that since he was dead that he might just eat him anyway? Then he would be utterly defenceless, screaming in pain as he is mauled by a curious lion.
Finally he assumes he has at least a good head start of about 50 feet on the lion and he runs down Woodlands Road dodging bins, people, rubbish bags, bus stops and lampposts. In the end he cannot out run a lion, no one can. He tumbles to the ground when the lion pounces, driving its claws into his back. The huge weight on his back simply adds pain and misery to the existing anxiety, only this time it is anxiety which has, in a world where humans are not hunted, finally serves its biological purpose, only it serves it in vain. Despite his attempts to fight it he must relent; in the end we always relent. A thousand white hot knifes pierce his back.
And everything goes black.