Note: The title for this story came from a blog post by Robin Ince. He writes about a lot of interesting stuff but this sentence for me really leapt off the page. I thought it would make a great title for a short story: it has an epic feel about it combined with the everyday. The story below is very much a first draft, definitely not epic, but has a couple of ideas that I might like to develop.
Well of course it had decided to rain.
Rachel had left the house because if she had stayed indoors any longer it would have been to hunt down chocolate or vodka or both and it was way too early for that so she headed to the park, towards some greenery.
The path was wet and looked dark as she walked along it. The rain was not heavy, but drizzling just enough to be noticeable. She had watched a TV show once about baking and the chef had sprinkled icing sugar on a cake, not by grinding it between a finger and thumb as she would have done, but by putting a small heap into a sieve and tapping the side while moving it above the cake’s surface to create a perfect tiny snowstorm and a thin, sweet layer. That was how she imagined today’s rain, coming out of a giant celestial colander or ‘God pissing on me from a great height,’ as her dad would have said.
The rain stopped after a while and she sat on a park bench in front of a small clump of trees. Its wooden slats were wet but she dried them as best she could with a tissue from her bag. The park bench had a small plaque at the top of the back rest.
‘In loving memory of Eileen Smallwood and Buster who both loved this park,’ it read.
Who had put that plaque up there? Had Eileen really loved the park – or did she hang around here for hours because her husband was dead and the kids had moved closer to the city to get work? Maybe one of them had bought her the dog.
‘It’ll do you good, Mum,’ they would have said. ‘Company for you.’ When actually what they meant was that they could feel less guilty about not popping up to say hello as often because she had a dog to talk to now. She would be out in the park with the dog, chatting to the locals. Everyone would know her and then when she died her kids would feel a rush of sentiment, which was actually a spasm of guilt they had failed to recognise, and buy a plaque for the bench using all the money they had saved not buying petrol to come and see her.
She first noticed the girl because of the way she was walking, a little unsteadily, like she was wearing grown up shoes for the first time. Maybe she was. As she got nearer Rachel could see that the girl was wearing a short white dress, with no sleeves.
‘She must be freezing,’ she thought.
But if the girl was freezing it did not seem to bother her. As she approached, Rachel could see that she had been crying. There were black smudged circles around her eyes where her mascara had run and streaked down her face.
She was wearing platform sandals, with silver sequinned straps. They made her feet look impossible, placed as they were at the end of her tiny, pale ankles. It seemed to Rachel that her legs had a slightly bluish hue as if they had noticed the cold even if she had not.
The girl was talking on a mobile phone that she had retrieved from her bag. The bag matched the shoes and was covered in sequins. It was the sort of bag that you take to a party. She seemed to Rachel to be pretty upset and maybe a little drunk, possibly from the night before. As she talked, she ran her fingers through her short blond hair, revealing a mass of darker streaks underneath.
‘And then,’ Rachel heard her say, ‘He said…he said, “fuck off, Twinkle Toes”.’ She started crying again and sat down quite suddenly on the grass.
There were birds in the copse ahead, or maybe not birds, maybe they were bats. Rachel had heard that bats lived in the park but knew they were nocturnal so was not sure if they would still be visible at this time of the morning. They hung in the branches, silent black pear drops.
The girl had finished her conversation and was now lying down on the grass, like a Christmas ornament that had fallen from the tree. Then she moved, reaching into her bag again and took from it a cigarette. Rachel watched as she lit the end and drew in the smoke. She thought of the girl’s lungs, the miracle of countless, microscopic airsacs each as fragile as a soap bubble being scorched by the carelessness of youth.
Christ, she wanted a cigarette.
She wondered if she should go over and see if the girl was OK, but before she could move, the girl got clumsily to her feet again and wobbbled past her down the path, her white dress now streaked with mud, cigarette in hand and the bag swinging on her arm. As she made her uncertain way, the phone rang again and she took it out of her bag and threw it away. It lay bleating for a few seconds on the ground and then fell silent.
Rachel took the letter from her bag. She did not need to read it again. It would have been one of a pile created from a template: Dear <<salutation>> <<last name>>, Thank you for your application, blah blah. Unfortunately on this occasion, blah blah blah.
She took a pen from her bag and added a final paragraph: Bats are the only mammals that can fly. You are not a bat. Goodbye. Then turned to to back home, dropping the letter into the bin next to the bench on the way as she did.