Casual Narrative

Fiction, musings and photography. Maybe even some paintings.


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Between moments

For six hundred and eighteen hours, Nora has lived in the space between moments. It wasn’t always this way; she once lived a normal, if somewhat mundane life. A timid woman, she dallied over decisions and erred always in the safety of the known.  She wore sensible shoes and thick cardigans, even though she dreamt of bare shoulders and stiletto heels. She ate lentil soup and drank milky tea in her drab little kitchenette, but imagined lobster bisque and crisp white wine in a restaurant by the sea.

The change in her circumstances happened on an unremarkable Tuesday morning at a little after 6am. Nora was showering as she did every morning. The radio was tuned to Mellow Magic where Mama Cass was Dreaming a Little Dream following the morning news. Hair soaked, Nora reached for the shampoo, and that is when she slipped.

It happened in an instant; she felt her foot begin to slide. She could go either way. Was it only a momentary “whoops”?  Could she throw out her arms to steady herself? Or would the slide continue?

So great was her fear of this unknown that Nora managed to throw herself out of that moment, and time itself. Her consciousness hovered there, body suspended. She saw the twist of surprise upon her face, one arm reaching for a solid object upon which to grasp; then she was gone.

It was not traveling as such, it was like the moment of darkness during a blink, only when her eyes reopened a new sight was before her. A drop of rain, clinging to a green blade of grass. The world made tiny in a sphere of water. It grew, elongating, grip growing ever more tenuous. Nora felt as though she held her breath, waiting for the balance to shift, the drop to fall, and the blade of grass to spring upright once more. The droplet stretched, aching for the descent.

Nora blinked.

Two lovers suspended between the moment when they might share a kiss, or not. The air charged with possibility. The tension of their bodies, simultaneously straining towards one another and holding back in the name of decorum, or fear of combustion. Nora was caught in their erotic inhale, their lashes meeting their cheeks as eyes drifted closed, lips one air molecule apart.

Blink.

A bike has unseated its rider. The surface of the road glistens, waiting for impact. Nora sees each undulation on the surface, each microscopic peak and jagged edge waiting to abrade the skin. Bare arms of the rider, hairs raised, they too anticipate the sharp shock of pain. Palms thrown outwards, a desperate attempt at control in an uncontrollable moment. The first stone begins to bite into flesh.

Blink.

A child has entered the world. Mother’s face is a sweat-laden fresco of exhaustion, but she has eyes only for the nurse who holds her child. The nurse has a brow creased in concentration. The child lies still, tiny arms and legs unmoving, coated in the efforts of delivery. Silence holds the room captive, waiting for a new sound. The child’s mouth opens, a first breath inhaled, ready.

Blink.

Blink.

Blink.

Nora sees them all. Each moment about to happen, momentous to mundane. A slug about to be trodden under a bare foot. A jam-filled doughnut about to receive its first bite. A man ready to strike his son in anger. A father’s proud anticipation at a first home run. The slot machine coming to a halt on a jackpot. A pot on the brink of a boil. Blink. Blink. Blink.

Hour after hour passes, with no resolution. Almost moment after almost moment. No satisfaction, no pain, no joy, no sadness, only the precarious unknown anxiety of forever teetering on a precipice.

In her six hundred and eighteenth hour, Nora realised that in being too afraid to take any chances, to risk any hurt, she had denied herself the gift of possibility. These almost moments were her entire life. With that realisation, blink, and she was back in her body.

Arms flailing, she searched for a solid object and found the shower curtain, She held on tight. The hooks popped.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four, and stopped. Nora was on her feet. She stepped from the shower.

Within the week she would be eating lobster bisque in Fisketorget, a small restaurant overlooking the harbour in Stavanger, Norway. She would be bundled in her cardigan still, but only because it would be cold outside.

The week after, who knew?


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Urma

This is was a previous Blank Page Challenge which was unsuccessful. The prompt for the challenge was the image linked to this post. I really struggled with the prompt on that occasion and had to wrestle the piece out, but at the end, I really like the character.

Urma did not enter the world in a stately fashion. She was yanked from the birthing canal backwards and somewhat scrunched, with a mess of amniotic sac covering her face. Frantic attempts to gasp in air caused her to inhale some of the sac, and now there it was, clogged in her nose and mouth.

She was the third of the brood; her mother was a good birther. Blanche and Pearl were already suckling with mother, and she felt no need to concern herself with a runt like Urma, who was too stupid to work out something as simple as breathing.

Enter the Booted Man. She called him that for it was her first and most lasting impression of him. A pair of green rubber boots that were swimming in and out of her fading vision as she swayed back and forth, held by her feet. Then she wasn’t swaying; she was being swung. A wide arc ending in a sharp snap that she was sure would break the bones in her neck and end her gasping. His muttered curse was nonsense to her ears, but she felt the frustration in the growled syllables.

Then she was breathing! Great lungfuls of air scented with the fluids of birth, sweet hay, and shit. She was lying in warm straw, which the Booted Man used to rub her tiny body so that it was dry and clean, a job that her mother should have seen to, but never would.

Now that she was alive and safe, Urma felt put out.  “What kind of birth is this? What kind of life is this?”

There were her sisters with a doting mother nursing greedy and insistent mouths as they ungratefully butted and jostled at her, yet she could not even glance at her smallest child who had fought to get out into this world, and she ignored the plaintive cries sent her way.

“Well mother,” thought Urma, “if you do not need me, then I do not need you!”

And that was that. Shunned by her family, she shunned them right back. Them and all their kind. The Booted Man who treated her so roughly and his ilk could take their leave of her as they pleased too. She needed nothing, and no one, to survive, and she would never bleat another syllable of remorse for her lost mother or any syllable at all.

The next two months of life were strange and difficult for Urma, cementing her view that the world was harsh and she was made to be isolated. With no mother to love her, and no mother’s milk to help build her strength, she was confined to the barn.  There were no other rejected young ones for her to bond with and the herd was released to roam the field and eat grass. They would crowd outside the barn on occasion, bleating to one another of the strange youngster who made no sounds. She would shuffle around, trying to drown out the sound of them with the rustle of hay.

Blanche and Pearl would sometimes come. They had learned no manners still, pushing and leaping onto one another to peer at her.

“Urma?” they would say. “more like Ewwwma,” and they would baa loudly and coarsely at their hilarity. Urma never looked at them or acknowledged their presence. She imagined that one day they would be stew for the Booted Man, and that meal would taste bland and vapid just like them, but she never said it.

The Booted Man would come into the barn, but Urma would always run from him and his swinging hands. He spoke in loud grumbles of nonsense and the occasional snort. He was nothing to her.

Then there was the Girl. She had first appeared on the day of Urma’s birth and had earner Urma’s ire instantly when she held Urma close and fed her milk. Since then the Girl had come several times a day, always bearing milk. She fed Urma and cooed to her in lyrical tones with each feeding, a near constant and gentle stream of gibberish, but Urma would not be swayed. She sought no comfort from the Girl and fled the moment she was released.

After the first few days, the Girl no longer tried to hold on to Urma, trusting her to understand that she brought the food and allowing Urma her space and dignity. The distance allowed Urma to note the wide eyes that were lonely and a mouth that, when still, was turned down in perpetual sorrow. Urma realised that the Girl was sad.

Urma observed these things but did not soften towards the Girl. She did not bleat in greeting upon her arrival or allow the Girl to touch her springy coat, but she did try to be more gracious in accepting her gifts of food.

As the months passed, Urma noticed other things. She noticed the yelling of the Booted Man and saw the wetness of the Girl’s eyes on days when the yelling happened. Still, she did not soften to the Girl, but she hated the Booted Man even more.

The day came when Urma was released into the field with the rest of the herd. They regarded her with cold indifference, eyes unblinking as they turned their heads in unison to watch her progress across the grass. Every molecule in their collective bodies conveyed that she was unwelcome. She heard the whispered titters of Pearl and Blanche from within the safety of the circling herd. There would be no acceptance, not even now she was the same as them. Resolute, she turned her back and took her first pull of fresh grass. She did not taste a thing under their menacing glare, but she pulled and chewed anyway to show them how little she cared.

Then the Girl was there, climbing the gate, and for a brief moment, Urma was pleased. She had thought that now she was in the field, there would be no more soft voice to chatter at her. Ignoring the other sheep, the Girl strode straight to Urma and presented her with a gift. A bright pink nugget with a black centre. Knowing Urma as she did, the Girl laid the nugget on the ground and stepped back.

Urma appreciated that.

The greedy herd crowded forward, wanting what was hers. The Girl stepped into their path, shooing and pushing them away while Urma cherished the sweet taste of the fibrous pink shell and then the chewy dark deliciousness of the black centre. Urma felt a hint of happiness tugging at her.

Suddenly the Booted Man was there. He gestured and yelled, and the Girl shrunk away, but he pulled her from the field. She stumbled, and skidded along on her knees, grazing the skin and causing blood to well there. He did not stop. Yanking her to her feet, he dragged her behind the brown door of their stone home. Urma wanted to run at that Booted Man. She wanted to use her head and ram at his legs so that his knees would bleed, rubbed raw on the sharp stones.

She did nothing.

Yelling and crying echoed for hours in the house. Urma paced the fence. She told herself that she did not care, but when the Booted Man stormed out of the house and drove away in his car, face set in anger Urma found herself stood on a small rise to better look for any sign of the Girl.

“Looking for your mother?” Blanche jeered

“She’s a baaaad girl,” mocked Pearl.

Urma did not answer, but lowered her head and rammed them as she had wanted to ram the Booted Man. They departed hastily, stupid lambs with their heads full of wool. Urma had no mother, no sisters and no herd. She had only herself.

Then the Girl emerged from the house carrying a bag. She loaded the bag into the car and then drove that car straight through the fence which surrounded the field, splinters and planks flying. She pulled to a stop a few meters from where Urma stood. The herd scattered with angry bleats, Urma thought they were a ridiculous, frightened bunch of old biddies.

The Girl got out of the car. She spoke in halting words that held none of her usual soft cadences. Pulling her coat around her as though it were a shield, against what had happened, against what might come. Then she began to weep.

Urma did not know much about life and other beings, but she did know that the Girl did not deserve such sorrow.

Finally, the Girl approached and held out her hand.  Urma panicked and shied away; this was not how their relationship worked. The Girl stiffed a sob and nodded in understanding. She laid down a new gift, a yellow and black nugget this time, stepped back then turned, and walked to her car.

Urma bent to eat the delicious treat and watched the Girl leave.

Hand on the open car door, the Girl looked towards the house. There was a finality to the action, a sense that once she turned from the house, she would never see it again. Never see Urma again.

The Girl climbed in the car, closed the door and reversed from the field. With a final glance at Urma, she turned the wheel and started to drive.

Urma found herself running, legs pumping as they had never done before, she let her cloven hooves churn dirt in her wake. The Girl pulled further ahead, almost to the end of the driveway, Urma was going to lose her. She would never return. Distraught, Urma did the only thing she could think of, something she was certain that she never would do again, she opened her mouth and let out a cry.

Red lights shone as the car fishtailed to a halt.