Text Box: Short Story 2016/2017 ó First Place


Losing Worlds† by Tessa Byars




























Heís just like Jock, the spit image of him. He grins at me, wagging his finger through the window when the Midriffís not looking. ĎAtmosphere in Hairí they call it. Daft name.

Their worlds not mine. Iíve got more worlds slipping through my fingers than theyíve had bare belly buttons. This is whatís waiting for you, love, I want to say, so donít go looking down your nose at me. I went to hairdressers once and I had a midriff too until I lost it. I canít see it when I look in the mirror now. I lose a lot of things these days. So many times worlds are on the tip of my tongue but Iím lost for them when Iím tired. God. Heís the split image.

Good god.

ĎCan I help you?í she says. She doesnít look at me properly. Sheís looking at my buttons. I do them up wrong sometimes. Itís another sign isnít it, like not knowing the name of the prime wotsit. Anyway, sheís hoping Iíll go away. Iím not a good advert, am I?

ĎIíd like a...a...,í but Iíve lost it again. She can see.

ĎAn appointment? Cut and blow dry or a re-style?í

She pretends to look at the commuter, only sheís not really. Iím waiting to be blown dry and sheís pretending. I can see the spaces. The time - and then blank. Nothing. Iím tired.

I want to be blown dry like a clean sheet in the wind. All my sorrows washed away. Iíll get my buttons the right way round and remember to wear shoes not wotsits when I go out. Sheís looking at my feet as if Iíve disgraced myself on the cowpat. I suppose I ought to be bothered but Iím not.

ĎI just want it washed.í

ĎIím sorry, madam, all our stylists are fully booked this afternoon.í

ĎI just want it washed. I donít want it set.í

ĎIím sorry, madam.í

ĎExcuse me for asking,í I say, Ďbut do you know the name of the prime wotsit?í

You can see she doesnít. So she turns the commuter away and looks at it again. Pretending. I know. The blanks are just as blank as they were before. Like theyíve been burning holes in it. I didnít really want one anyway. It would be nice to be blown away but really I just want to talk to the god. Heís only a little thing. White with tan ears and short legs.

ĎJock,í and Iím smiling at him. ĎHeís Jock, isnít he?í

ĎNo,í she says. ĎSheís a lady and sheís called Sindy. Sheís Victorís.í

Thereís a woman behind me and I can feel the embarrassment coming off both of them like steam from a carpet. They want me out of the way. But I donít want to I donít want to I donít want to stop stroking Jock. I can smell the good god smell of him. Not nasty. Not dirty. Just strong. Living. I might smell too for all I know. Itís the smell of old woman. They ask you about that too. What about the waterworks, Mrs Edwards? Oh, I say, am I still connected? A word of warming. Donít try to be clever when youíre barking. They donít get it. Tell them what they want to hear. Your bathday and the prime wotsit.

†ĎWould you like our card?í she says, holding one out. ĎItís got our number on it so you can telephone for an appointment next time.í

ĎI just want it washed.í

ĎIím sorry.í

Jockís sniffing at my ankles. He doesnít mind the wotsits or the smell. I can feel his little wet nose. He knows he knows he knows me Jock does. His little tailís going a hundred miles an hour heís so pleased to see me.

ĎWeíll go home now,í I tell him. ĎThen itíll be alright. Itíll be alright.í

He knows heís been naughty. Iím not really bothered about the blower. Iím tired anyway. I just want to get him home safe and sound. Sound and safe. Safe.

Victor calls from the back, ĎSindy, leave the ladyís feet alone!í I donít fancy being in

Sindyís shoes, whoever she is.

Theyíve got those leather sofas with magazines. ĎIíll just have a sit down,í I say,

Ďbefore we go home.í

Jock puts his paw on my knees. Very clean, little white tufts between the pads. Heís saying sorry. He doesnít normally wander off like that. Not Jock. His eyes are very brown. That little streak down his nose. You can tell, you know, even when theyíre pups which ones will turn out right.

Victor calls out again and Jock scurries off and hides under a chair. The Midriff looks at the woman behind me. They keep looking looking at me looking.

†ĎCan I help you, madam?í says Victor. Heís got leather trousers. His hairís cut very short and dyed blonde. Itís dyed to look like its dyed. ĎDie for the Queen,í we used to say to Jock. He rolled over and we tickled his tum. I remember.

ĎItís alright,í I tell him. ĎIím just waiting.í

ĎIím afraid we havenít got any appointments left today,í he says. ĎI think Gemmaís told you already.í

Has she? She has she has. He wants me to go but Iím tired. Dead to the word. Itís been an effort looking for Jock all morning. He shot off. Bitch in heat, I suppose. Opened the door to get the milk off the doorstep and heís off. Heís such a good god usually but they all get over-excited sometimes. I wouldnít have him sprayed. I donít think itís right somehow.

ĎIím tired,í I say.

Victor sighs, ĎIs there someone we call then? Someone who can take you home?í

Home. Thatís it. Where the harp is. My little grey hole in the vest. They never get that one. Another thing they ask you, do you know your address, Mrs Edwards? Of course I do what do they take me for? Yes, but whatís your current address, you know, where you live now? Thatís it thatís it. My home not the home. Itís the same thing always expecting me to know things asking me asking me but I donít know where Jock is. Iíve looked everywhere in the park by the river round the back of the shops calling him calling but I canít find him and itíll be dark soon and I canít find him. ĎCanít we go now canít we go and look now canít we canít we?í On and on like a broken record.

ĎI need to get him back before teatime,í I tell Victor. ĎThen itíll be alright, itíll be alright.í

He doesnít believe me. You can see it in his eyes. But he brightens up a bit because he

wants to and Iím holding his hand all the way like I always do only this time heís not skipping along heís tugging me along so we get there faster and find Jock by the back door like I promised we would like I promised.

Victorís sighing again, ĎLook,í he says again. ĎI know you think this is your dog. She might look like your dog but sheís not. Sheís my dog. I can get you a taxi but you canít take Sindy with you. Just tell me the address.í

Theyíre all watching now. The Midriff. The woman waiting to be blown away.

Theyíre looking at each other and they donít know what to do and I can hear myself crying and I want to stop but I canít and they wonít listen because my buttons are all wrong and I donít know the name of the prime wotsit.

I try to explain it to him. ĎIf I can get him back before we have our tea itíll be alright itíll be alright.í

The one waiting comes over. She sits down next to me and says, ĎCan you remember your address, love?í as if Iím a child and I think she might understand if only I can find the right worlds but theyíre all trying to get rid of me because Iím a nuisance. An old woman making a nuisance of herself because she has to get back and do it again make sure itís alright this time not tell him to go to his room because he doesnít mean it when he says he hates her he loves her really just like any little boy loves his mum heís just worried about his dog my little boy my Danny.

And sheís holding my hand and saying, ĎItís alright, love. Donít worry, weíll get you home.í And she means well but how can she know how can she know how can she know that itís too late because I canít find Jock and Dannyís out of the house before I can stop him and heís running across the road and I see it but he doesnít because heís only a little boy who wants to find his dog and it was raining and I was screaming.

And then Iím crying and saying, ĎHeís dead, heís dead.í And she thinks Iím talking about Jock and Iím not Iím talking about Danny and there wasnít a mark on him but he was dead all the same. So she pats my hand and tells me itíll be alright and I wonder how it is that Iím old and all my worlds can go and I donít know my address or the name of the prime wotsit but Iím still there in the rain holding my baby and there isnít a mark on him anywhere.

Second: Injunction by Dan Brotzel

Third: In the Orbit of Pluto by Kieran Marsh