Short Story

March 17, 2008

I’ve written a short story. Which I’ve not done before. If anyone has time to read it, let me know what you think. Really don’t know how it’ll read to someone else. Mmmm.

Bricks

Dioara is on her way to the river. It is midwinter: cold, dark and raining. When Dioara gets to the river, she is going to throw herself in.
There is no one reason. Dioara knows this much. There are many possible reasons. She is alone in an unfriendly world. She is living at the top of a tower block, reliant on benefits, with few friends and no family to speak of. She is probably depressed. Based on her plan of action, she guesses the word would be suicidal. This in itself is another possible reason. Still walking, Dioara fumbles in a pocket for her notebook and diligently adds this point to the list: ‘suicidal’.
She may or may not leave a note. If she does she plans to fold it tight and zip it up inside her waterproof purse. If they dredge the river and find her body, they’ll probably check her purse for i.d and so the note will be found. She thinks of leaving other valuables inside the purse too. Her mother’s earrings, her watch, some small notes. No sense in throwing stuff away.

The river is lodged beneath the city like a black artery. Free from street lamps, descending to it is like climbing into catacombs. Diaora pulls her raincoat tighter against her body and watches for the temperature drop as the wind buffets against the water.
Fumbling through inky foliage, she feels for the rough edge of the bench she knows to be there. Her plan is to sit on the bench for a little while first: think about her life, possibly write the note – work up courage. She’s waving her hand around, feeling for the seat, when it thwacks against the soft lap of another person.
‘What the hell?!’ The young man – suddenly on his feet – is a good foot taller than Dioara and rooted in his blaring torch she automatically clocks his features: waterproofs, stubble, scrawny, degenerate.
‘I didn’t see you there.’ she finally manages weakly.
In his shock the man has grabbed hold of Diora’s wrist – which is lucky, as in her shock she had begun to windmill backwards. Now, he loosens his grip and slumps back into the bench. Diaora sways for a moment uncertain, then lowers herself down next to him, a comfortable bag width between them.
‘There isn’t usually anyone here’ she mumbles ‘I come here all the time.’
‘Well there is tonight.’ He doesn’t even look at her.
Surreptitiously, Dioara peers across more closely. The man is rocking back and forth, torch pressed against his front. The over sized pocket on his near side, is stuffed with a rust red brick. At his feet there is a reinforced Tesco bag. It contains approximately 10 more.
‘What are you doing with those?’ She asks the question slowly, both eyes riveted on the bag.
‘Nothing’
‘Nothing?’
‘No, nothing’ then “look, piss off and mind your own business, alright?”
Diora thinks. She thinks: I am sitting next to a man who is carrying a reinforced bag full of house bricks. She thinks: It is the middle of the night. It is dark. It is raining. We are sitting next to a river. He is rocking back and forward. She moistens her lips:
‘Are you going to kill me?’
‘What?!’
‘Are you going to kill me?’
‘Why the fuck would I be going to kill you? What kind of fucked up question is that!?’ Diora folds her arms and hardens her features.
‘With the bricks. Why would you be sitting here in the middle of the night with a sackful of bricks if you weren’t lying in wait for someone and up to no good’
The man splutters, working his mouth repeatedly. He jabs the torch erratically ‘Here I am’ he begins ‘minding my own business when some fucking idiot girl’ here she gets a full blast of the light ‘comes out of nowhere – tries to assault me – nearly fucking falls into the river – and then – accuses me of trying to kill her?!’
Dioara tilts her head ‘I’m just saying.’
The man stares incredulously. ‘If you must know’ he says ‘I’m here to kill myself.’
Dioara says nothing.
‘The bricks’ he adds ‘are for weighing me down.’
Dioara lifts up her hands and drops her head into them. She does this repeatedly. She thinks: This is some kind of joke. This kind of thing does not happen.
This kind of thing has happened to Dioara before. When she was at Secondary school, Year Nine, approximately fourteen, she’d been planning on developing an eating disorder. She’d been cutting out food groups and experimenting with moderate self harm, when one day she’d gone into school to find everyone talking about Clare Dexter. Clare Dexter had fainted in class with malnutrition. Then there were those bandages. Clare was off for months in rehab. Dioara was forced to abandon her plan or look ridiculous.
‘Don’t try and talk me out of it. It’s my life and I’ll do what I want with it.’ Lifting her head Dioara finds the man practically glued to her cheek, his face etched with an air of pious solemnity. She’d like to punch it.
‘Look’ she begins, regaining some composure ‘normally, I’d keep this to myself, but the thing is…that’s what I’m here to do.’ she lets the words drop between them one by one, enjoying their delicious weight.
The man, stares at her uncertainly “You’re here to kill me?”
‘No.’ Dioara breathes deeply; the man is stupid, maybe this is why he feels the need to kill himself ‘I’m here to kill me. I was coming here to drown myself. Just like you. But without the bricks. I’ve been planning it for ages.’
An uncomfortable silence descends. It rolls itself out like a small paddling pool and licks itself back and forth between them. Somewhere across the drizzly river a large bird hoots. The man opens up his mouth.
‘I’ he says ‘was here first.’
‘What, so you’ve got the monopoly on suicide?’
‘No. But I was here first.’
‘Oh right, I’ll just go home then, your needs are clearly more important.’
‘Look’ he snaps the word in exasperation ‘If I’d known this was going to happen I’d have opted for pills, but I didn’t and now I’m here and this is what I need to do. I’m not trying to stop you or get in your way but if you’re gonna do yourself in, you’re gonna have to do it someplace else.’

‘I can still see you!’ Dioara cups her mouth like a megaphone. With the torch in his teeth the man is lighting up the far tree like a burning bush. After much negotiation, they have agreed to separate out along the bank. He has taken both reinforced carrier bag, torch and as it turns out, booze – and moved about 200 yards down the bank. Dioara is now watching him clumsily attempt to tie his bag of bricks to one of his legs. He has already fallen over twice in the process.
‘Did you hear me?!’ If there is one thing Dioara hates, it’s being ignored. The words come out brittle and hysterical – a family trait, inherited long ago from her mother.
The man straightens up, throwing his arms wide ‘Yes. I can fucking hear you. How could I not fucking hear you?!’
Dioara decides to put his tone to one side. These are difficult circumstances. Still, there is never an excuse for bad manners. Especially when you’ve just met someone. Especially when they’re the last person you’re ever going to meet. She glares along the bank at him:
‘Go. Further. Down!’ waving her hand back and forth, she exaggerates the words – much as people do when speaking to foreigners, or the hard of hearing. The man stares at her, finally shaking his head and folding his arms. Great, thinks Diaora, all I need. She shoves her hands into her pockets and strides along the bank towards him.
‘Look’ she says, throwing out words whilst closing the distance ‘I’m not trying to make any trouble here – it’s just I can see you from where I am, and it’s putting me off.’
‘I’ve already set my stuff up.’ The arms appear to tighten ‘And I’ve moved once tonight, already.’
Spinning on the dirt and storming back up the way she’s come, Dioara ignores the mock cat calls to her back. This was not how things were meant to be. She had wanted stillness, nature, a chance to reflect and at last find peace. Not this. Not a belligerent drunk and an exercise in competitive suicide.
Passing the bench she carries on for another minute or so, stopping at last to turn around and look back up. No fuckwit. Can’t even hear him anymore. Fuckwit over and out. With any luck, completely, pretty soon.
Slumping down into a heap, ground wet against her bum, mud filthy, Dioara feels into her pocket and pulls out the notebook and pen. Then she stops. She is staring down into inky hands and swallowed paper. Two minutes away from fuckwit’s torch and she can’t see a thing.

She sees the light before the man. For a moment, she thinks he’s done it: left the torch propped up and shining by a pile of folded clothes – a poetic marker for the long goodbye. But no, he has not done this. The dot of light winks off and on erratically and as she gets closer she sees that it is still being held. The holder – he – is sprawled out in the dirt. With his other hand he is taking a swig from a bottle. So intent is he on doing this that Dioara comes to be standing right next to him, before he comes to be looking up.
‘I want to borrow your torch.’ The man does not even start. Peering up at her, there is a look of only mild interest, shining off his sodden eyes:
‘Wha’?’
Diaora looks down at the bottle. Half empty. Whisky.
‘The torch.’ She says again “I want to borrow it. I can’t see what I’m doing. My note…’ The words trail off. They sound ridiculous. Torch. Note. Why has she come back here? ‘To who it may concern: I’m dead… but you’ll be pleased to know that I dispatched myself in a fully lit area’. She rubs at her head and allows herself to fall down, hitting the gravel next to him.
‘Si’down’ the man slurs, then chuckles to himself, taking another shallow slug of liquor.
Dioara looks across at him. In her absence he has at last managed to secure the bag of bricks to his leg. The knot looks tight. Some kind of club scout thing. She studies him more closely and finds more bricks pocketed about his clothing. He makes her think of a careful animal, burying resources for winter. Or the world’s worst shoplifter.
‘How drunk are you?’ it doesn’t matter, but she asks anyway.
The man winks ‘Not enough to regret it in the morning.’ Another chuckle. This, Diora has heard before. In her experience, it usually turns out to be a lie.
The two of them sit for an indeterminate length of time. He hands her the whisky. She takes it. Next to her, she hears him take a breath
‘So…y’wanna write a note.’
She doesn’t bother answering.
‘What’s it going to say?’
Dioara takes a swig of the whisky. It is almost a good enough answer. It will say nothing. She has already decided to go with what she’s got: a number of melancholy adjectives. A pointless note, but not one to be improved upon by more self pity. She wonders if he’d lend her some of his bricks.
‘I wasn’t planning on leaving one, see?’ The man is still talking. ‘No one to read it, y’know?’ Dioara cradles the whiskey. Stares forward. Dully notes the slowly lightening sky.
‘So…’ still talking ‘this is a pretty fucked up situation we’ve got’ The man waits for an answer, not appearing to note the continuing lack of one. ‘So – what? we gonna take turns at it or something?’ he laughs again, a dry mirthless rasp.
Dioara closes both eyes. She imagines their two bodies, hers and this mans she doesn’t even know the name of, bobbing up together, perhaps discovered by some dog walker or jogger. She can see the local headlines: ‘Lovers Tragic Suicide Pact’… ‘Young Victims of Evil Suicide Cult’… she almost laughs herself – that in death she might at last attain some small notice. She takes another swig of the booze, catching her breath as it burns her gullet.
‘No.’ she says at last ‘that probably wouldn’t work.’ She takes another look at him. He continues to restlessly flick at the torch switch – off, on, off, on. Drifting down from the nearby road, are the increased stirrings of early hour vehicles.
Slowly, almost without thinking, Dioara reaches across and pulls a brick from the man’s pocket.
‘The blue ones are better.’ She says this almost absent mindedly – she’s always known it, remembers the forecourt of the first house she ever lived in, a tiny child drawing on the flagstones outside. The double row of blue bricks formed the foundation of the small iron gated wall.
‘The blue ones’ she explains, patient as an adult to a child ‘are waterproof.’
She picks out another – one jutting from his belt like ammunition. ‘These ones’ she hefts them – chinks them together ‘won’t last 10 minutes in the river. They’ll get waterlogged and once that happens, that’ll be that. They’ll be good for nothing.’ She finds another, then a couple more. There are now five bricks stacked in a pile between them. Dioara moves down to his ankle – to the knotted cord.
These reinforced bags were no good. Just glorified carriers. The bricks would probably come out – especially with them not being the blue ones – and then you’d have a wildlife hazard waiting to happen. Dioara has read about this: swans getting suffocated by branded polytene. She has a sudden vision of herself as David Attenborough – speaking to camera whilst holding up an offending piece of junk. Sitting on the bank the man is staring at her.
‘Yes.’ says Dioara ‘Exactly.’
She pulls up the loosened bag, resting it against the small stack of clothes salvaged bricks. They both look at them.
Somewhere down river a canal boat is cutting through the dawn shot fog. On the bank, Dioara shuts her eyes. She is thinking of a nearby cafe – that up above the river will open at 5am. It is a place she’d never go alone; the kind of place you’d only go with others, all of you wasted from the night before. The coffee would mask the whiskey and the proprietor would make you toast and ask no questions. He would probably tolerate the bricks – turn up the radio and let them get on with it.

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