I Want To Get Off – short story

From the top right hand corner of the window, the raindrop moved in a south-westerly direction. Driven down by vibration, and the whoosh of an oncoming wind, it halted to debate the changing of tack; being joined by another to merge together and move on. Bigger, stronger, faster. Hitting the rubber seal then lost forever. Gone; forgotten.
Changing focus brought the Matchstalk men, leaning blackly into another day full of places they needed to be. People they needed to see. Other-men. Other-lives. Others. Maybe greeted with a smile to drain the wretched weather away from their soaked souls. Or maybe there was no one there for them, and they knew; it’s you soon.
Lionel’s head was jarred forwards when the air brakes kicked in. He reached up to wipe condensation away from the window, his thoughts briefly distracted by the black bruise on the back of his hand; a memory of counting as the anaesthetic drifted up his arm. He thought of not being able to feel it reach his elbow, or counting to five. Squinting through towards a non recognition of place, the bus cruised silently with the momentum of a stopping that seemed to last forever. All passengers slowly magnetising forwards like someone had momentarily flicked gravity ninety degrees. The driver spun round in his seat, pointing at Lionel.
“Here you go, this is it.”
Lionel’s creaking limbs fought their way to the front of the bus, briefly holding every seat handle and pole he passed. He gave the driver a nod, then clambered slowly down the single step to the pavement, turning to the driver when he was clear.
“Thanks for your help. Now, which way is—“
The door shut and the bus moved on, both front and back wheels sloshing through a puddle that sat just in front of where Lionel stood. His younger self would’ve jumped back to avoid being unfortunate, today he just got wet up to his knees.
Under the shelter of a butcher shop canopy he checked the address on the piece of paper against the Tourist Information city centre map in his hand. He looked for any street corner name plaques. Second left, cross over, third door down.
When he got there the cafe was almost full. At the far end, sitting quietly in a window booth with a coffee and a glass of coke sat a bearded man in his thirties, Lionel’s son Simon, and a small, possibly six or seven year old boy. Simon stood and held up a hand to wave Lionel over. The hand was holding something shiny and black. He shuffled past a few tables and took his seat opposite the couple. The six or seven year old sipped a coke through a straw.
“Hey dad, did you find it ok?”
“Why, did you think I wouldn’t?”
“Just asking, are you alright?”
Lionel looked at the beard, he thought he could see a crumb lodged on the outskirts of Simon’s mouth. He gave a little sigh. “I’m fine, and you?”
“Great, doing really well,” he half turned to the kid beside him. “You remember Joel, don’t you?” Joel took his hand off his glass and gave Lionel a thumbs up. Lionel had seen photographs, but that was it, he couldn’t remember meeting him.
“Not sure about this place.” He picked up a menu and fished his glasses from an inside pocket.
“It’s got some great online reviews, thought you’d like it.” Simon placed a mobile phone on the table in front of him and pressed some buttons. Lionel looked over the top of his glasses at Simon, then at whatshisname beside him, then at the window.
From the top right hand corner a raindrop had started to make its way down the pane. Tic-tacking its way towards the sill. Online reviews? On the inside of the window a flea was trying to make its mind up which way it wanted to stand. It faced up to the ceiling, and then it faced the floor, and then the ceiling again. Simon’s lips were moving, noise was coming out of his face, but with the beard wrapped around his mouth Lionel couldn’t make out the words.
Offity? Bow tree?
“What?”
“Can I get you a pot of tea?”
Lionel looked back at the menu and tried to concentrate. £2.50 for a pot of tea? What did a two-pound-fifty pot of tea taste like? He didn’t want tea. The raindrop moved down another six inches, but then another one landed just beside it. And what was Artisan bread? Now he wasn’t sure which raindrop was the original one. They were racing side by side, and in danger of connecting. The menu was beige. The walls in Annette’s old room at the home were beige. It rained the day she died, there were raindrops racing down the window that day too. Slower though, everything had seemed slower that day. The beard was moving again but Lionel couldn’t hear because of the slurping noise coming from whatshisname’s straw. Huh?
“I said tea, or would you like coffee.”
Lionel turned the menu around, then back again, looking to check the price of coffee – he couldn’t find any. Specks of sugar were lodged in the natural grain of the wooden table. He tried brushing them away. Her wardrobe was mahogany. It was nice, but the left-hand side door wouldn’t shut properly. One of the arms of her favourite cardigan would always stick out. Lionel blamed the hanger, thought it was too wide for the wardrobe. The flea was now on the sill beside whatshisname’s elbow. Lionel didn’t want tea.
“I’ll have tea.”
Simon lifted a hand to attract some service. Wrapped around his bicep was a barbed-wire tattoo. Lionel wasn’t fond of tattoo’s, he gripped his shirt cuff and tugged it to cover his wrist, thankful for his sleeves. Simon stood up. “Won’t be long.” He made his way to the counter, smiling at the young thing who was ran off her feet. Whatshisname was looking at Lionel; he’d never stopped staring since Lionel had sat down. He eventually removed the straw from his mouth. Just keep quiet kid.
“Are you my Grandad?”
Lionel sighed. The kid had Annette’s eyes, but the rest was Simon’s. There was a dull blankness about his features that Lionel had long expected any offspring of Simon would have.
“I am. Well, kind of.”
“Why doesn’t my dad like you?” he stuck the straw up his nose.
Holding tighter onto his cuff, Lionel noticed a small grub of dirt on the fold. He contemplated rubbing it off, but decided against; he still didn’t feel it was his job to.
“Maybe it’s because I know him.”
“Have you got Netflix?”
Lionel blinked really hard, then looked over to check how Simon was doing. Not very well. The girl was unnecessarily busying herself, wearing a false smile and shaking her head. The flea was now disappeared, and the original raindrop had been engulfed by an army of raindrops that were hammering themselves off the glass. The bruise on the back of his hand was more purple than black in this light. He gave it a rub and realised it wasn’t sore anymore. Lionel started counting in his head, but stopped at five. The menu was still beige, he closed it and put it back in the wooden rack along with the other menus. The wardrobe was still mahogany, and the cardigan arm sticking out was blue, baby blue.
Lionel didn’t want tea, he didn’t want anything. He wanted something else.

FOUND OBJECT #1: RUTH EWAN & RAY HOPKINS (2018)

Found Object is a series of printed posters which combine a photograph provided by a visual artist with a text response produced by an emerging writer living in the north east of England. The first three issues invite artists who have previously exhibited at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland – asking them to share intriguing items they have found and brought into their studio. Authors from the group Holmeside Writers – who meet twice a month in Sunderland city centre (and welcome writers of all levels of experience, from complete beginners to published writers) were commissioned to create texts inspired by the photographs.

Found Object #1 features a photograph by artist Ruth Ewan with a short story written by Ray Hopkins.

To request a swap of Found Object #1 email: info@foundationpress.org

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