Fiction Holiday Contemporary

The clang of the hallway clock greets the cool air like an old friend. The sound hums through the space into the room and her lips quirk in satisfaction. She leans back against the cool leather of the chair, letting it sway to the left, to the right, and she closes her eyes. The room is still, peaceful. Just the slow swish-swish of her skirt crossing the base of the chair each time she passes over it. Swissh. Quiet. Swissh. Quiet.

 Vaguely, in the distance, there are some fireworks going off, but not here. The only other sound is the buzzing of the weary fans in her laptop, the one still sitting open on the desk in front of her, the fans singing along gently as they normally do. She doesn’t look at the laptop now though.

She keeps her eyes closed, letting herself sit in the moment, taking comfort in the gentle sways, in the peace which whispers through her. Resting as if she’s in a hammock, swinging calmly in the still coolness of a spring morning. 

She absently lifts a finger from its place on the armrest, letting it fall back to the fabric with a light tap. And then again. Tap-tap. Ignored memories bloom in the back of mind. There’s a familiar tug in her chest, the urge to slip down the hall to the piano, to lift up the cover. Her fingers inch to move. She stops tapping.  

She swallows and opens her eyes again, running them over the desk; over the photo of her daughter, her lighter hair in pigtails, grinning down from her perch on a tree branch; over the pot of pens, the majority of them missing lids or half their ink; over the calendar for this month hanging above on the wall, all thirty-one days crossed out. She looks up over her shelf, at the books, some of which she wrote, others she didn’t, all stacked artistically around a couple of awards. She looks at the plain walls, decluttered, post-it notes and doodles removed a year ago to help her focus. 

The screen of her laptop goes black. Her fingers smooth the mouse pad to wake it back up. The spreadsheet opens again in front of her, sitting just as it had been ten minutes ago, the information and categories colour-coded perfectly. 

She looks away. 

Her forehead’s aching. She runs cool fingers over it, repetitive movements to shift the lymph but she soon lets them fall back and sighs. 

She looks back at the screen, the amounts she’d aimed for typed in the corners of tables, satisfied customers named down the left. Her heart lunges awkwardly in an attempt to feel the satisfaction she had hoped for, that she’d had only a few minutes ago, but she just feels the same still air that fills the air around her.

She lets her weight droop into her chair; the swaying stops.

In another part of the house her daughter is laughing. The echoing thumps of footsteps sound from the ceiling and her husband's voice follows with his footsteps after her. 

Her gut twists uncomfortably. 

She thinks back to this time last year, sitting in the lounge upstairs. Her daughter had been on her knee, telling her about the book she was reading that day, about tales of artists and ships, of animals and prophecy. Her face had been lit up, her fingers waving messily in front of her. 

She remembers her husband sitting near them, throwing chocolates up one by one into the air and catching them in his mouth, glowing each time their daughter laughed. 

“You’ll never guess, Mama,” She says, “you’ll never guess what he said!”

“Hmm. You know, she’s quite good at guessing. Always better than me. How about though…” He picks up a handful of chocolates from the bag which was dramatically emptier than it had been just five minutes ago. His wife raised her eyebrows at him and his eyes twinkled with humour. “How about,” he continued, “if she can guess it we’ll give her these, hmm?” 

Their daughter beamed, tapping her little fingers on her mum’s arm excitedly, waiting for her. 

“Alright, alright. Hmm. Did he say…” she paused then grabbed her daughter round the waste and tickled “gobble, gobble, gobble! I’m a hungry sea monster and I’ll gobble you right up!”

Their daughter shrieked. “No, Mama!”

She’s laughing and squirming and the whole world is shining with her.

Her dad takes back the chocolates in his hand, reclaiming them, easily tucking in and shooting a mischievous look at his wife. “What?” he objects at her expression, “you didn’t guess right. No chocolate for you.”

Her daughter is a year older now.

Her husband has a few more grey hairs. She does too.

She can’t remember now if her daughter ever finished that book.

Or about any she’s read since.

This year she had said confidently later than night, as midnight drew nearer, this year’s the one. I’m gonna get it off the ground

Her daughter had grinned. Like a helicopter!

She had smiled at her. Yeah honey. It’s gonna fly like a helicopter by this time next year, I’m certain of it.

She had looked from the young girl sitting next to her to her husband, his face beaming with pride, an empty packet on the floor next to his feet; her heart had filled with a bubbling warmth and determination had flooded her bones.

Now she looks round at the blank walls, at the happy numbers on her screen, and at the awards on her shelf. She looks at the familiar book covers, the ones she paid an artist to illustrate, the ones she put all her energy and heart into. Winner, one of them says on the front.  

The sounds of footsteps on the ceiling fade away as her family move off into another part of the house. 

The room is quiet again: still walls, weary laptop, quiet skies above. 

She’d done it.

And now, in the empty air, as the clock’s chimes die out, it’s time to do it all over again.

January 08, 2021 17:33

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