Contemporary Fiction

ㅤThe plants died slowly, but the flies arrived overnight. Nicky heard the buzzing as he stirred his morning coffee, and went to investigate. In the living room, a large mirror hung on the wall behind the plants, doubling their decaying anatomy and reflecting Nicky’s frown back at him. A faint, sweet smell filled the air.

ㅤMoving closer, Nicky could see the flies hum in and out between the drooping leaves. One of them, which could have been a fruit fly, flew again and again into the mirror. Each collision made a soft tap against the glass. What drove the fly to seek the world it saw beyond the glass? Was there something more back there? Nicky lifted his eyes and watched himself. Uncombed hair, dressing gown, mug of coffee. He saw himself exactly as he was. Still, the fly went on.

ㅤThe fly occupied most of Nicky’s thoughts after that, and he spent the walk the garden centre in a similar preoccupied state. Consequently, a car crashing through the front window of the Thai Emerald takeaway right in front of him came as quite a shock.

ㅤNicky Gibbons was a part of the landscape. He bought tea bags in bulk and stood up on the bus, on a perpetual mission to not cause a fuss. Even his nickname was self-fabricated, to shake off “Little Nicholas”, the name given to him by some of the crueller kids on the playground. To Nicky, car accidents were what happened to irresponsible people in the middle of the night. They were best viewed from a news helicopter, too far away to see any blood. To see one up close on a bright September morning was… 

ㅤNicky couldn’t think of the word.

ㅤAfter the ambulance left there were still people milling about, so Nicky was able to walk up to the car without anyone paying much attention. The event was too important to walk away from, but he didn’t have anything helpful to do either, so he tried to look busy. 

ㅤGlossy paper menus littered the scene. After it came through the window, the car had smeared itself across the left wall. A scar of exposed bricks, carved through paint and plaster, stretched back from the passenger side windows. Red and gold twinkles of shattered tail lights shimmered against the blue linoleum floor. 

ㅤThe driver’s side door had been propped against the counter by the firefighters. In the pocket of the door sat a pink notebook. Nicky picked it up, ran his fingers over the cover and slipped it into his pocket.  Nervous that someone had seen, he walked back down the street towards his flat. It was best to wait until he was alone to open it. It was only when he placed the notebook on the mantelpiece and knocked a wrinkled brown leaf off one of the plants that he remembered why he had left the flat in the first place.

ㅤThat evening, the news reported the accident. “19-year-old student Abigail Shaw was involved in a car accident this morning when her car swerved off the road and crashed into the Thai Emerald Takeaway on Swindon Road. An ambulance brought her to St Augustine’s Hospital, where her condition is described by the Chief Medical Officer as serious, but stable. She is currently in a comatose state, and has suffered life changing injuries.” Nicky couldn’t bring himself to look away for the whole segment, in case he missed something. After the news anchor described the accident, there was an interview with a doctor outside the hospital, and then another interview with a lady who said she had seen the accident, with the takeaway all smashed up in the background. She got a lot of the details wrong, and Nicky was sure she had lied about being there to get on TV.

ㅤNicky was ashamed that, after that, the decision to read the notebook was all too easy. Opening to the first page, he read:

ㅤ☆ Dreams and Life Goals

ㅤNicky read through the list. Then he read it again. Swim with turtles over the Barrier Reef. Eat a croissant with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Hike to see the Northern Lights. Great Wall of China. Christ the Redeemer. Grand Canyon. Armenia. Rotterdam. Cyprus. Fiji. Dublin. Leeds. Minsk. Prague. A colourful patchwork of a young woman’s future. 

ㅤNicky thought about the list. And he thought about the girl’s blonde hair falling over the side of the stretcher. And he thought about the news report. And he thought about his life, stretching out behind him, a faint smudge across the history of the human race. He thought about making a difference. 

ㅤThere and then, Nicky Gibbons made a resolution. He would do it. The list. He would do it and document it. In photos and videos, he would write the journey of all the adventures. When Abi Shaw woke up he would show her everything, and through him, she could live it. Live her dreams. Nicky had never felt so impulsive in his life. 

ㅤNicky woke up having barely slept a wink. He had packed his bag the night before, underwear, socks, video camera, passport, boarding pass. He cooked up all the eggs and bacon in the fridge. There was no knowing when he would be back. He clicked on the TV as he sat to lace up his walking boots, hoping to catch the weather for the drive down to London. 

ㅤ“-happened early yesterday morning. Doctors at St Augustine’s Hospital failed to restart her heart, and she was pronounced dead at 5:13am. She was just nineteen years old. Now we go to James Byrne with the weather. Are we in for another grey spell Jim?” Nicky was still, unblinking at the television screen, a loop of shoelace in each hand. 

ㅤThe laces dropped and Nicky slumped back in the chair. He clicked off the TV. The flat was silent. Across the room, a single damp black leaf broke from its stem and floated to the ground.  Nicky thought about the fly he had seen earlier. And he thought about Abi Shaw’s body in a hospital basement. And he thought about a better life beyond the mirror.

April 26, 2022 17:45

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Zack Powell
01:29 Apr 28, 2022

Very poignant story, S. I love the economy of language here, how you were able to make the story sparkle in so few words. Really felt like every single detail, every single sentence, mattered, and none of them were fluff or for show. The little details really compounded here. The fly trying to get to the other side of the mirror, the single leaf detaching from the plant, the "grey spell" comment was especially devastating. The language used to describe the car accident was evocative and well-planned, in particular the verb "smeared" and the...


S. Thomson
09:06 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you very much, Zach. Detail-oriented language is something I'm trying to work on at the moment, so I'm glad that came through in this piece. I really value your opinion so a sincere thank you for reading and giving feedback.


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