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Mist: A Short Story

Mist sits over the tops of houses, catches like candyfloss on the windmill. Ghosts reaching down their transparent arms, poking fingers through the veil. Everything is shrouded in white, dressed up in mourning. She likes the dullness. Thinks of oil lamps and turner paintings. Feather quilts and frock coats. Of how life was harder, but probably easier then too. A book she’s not read but wants to from the title alone comes to mind; ‘I want to die but I want to eat Tteokbokki’ She feels this way about her life although she does not know what Tteokbokki is. Maybe the title should be ‘I want to die but I also want to eat Tteokbokki’ if Tteokbokki is a snazzy name for chewy almond croissants.

Even sounds feel smaller in this fog. A cymbal hastily dampened before it can sing out. The door closes quietly, the jangle of the dog lead feels far away, but here is the dog. Right by her side. Constant as sorrow, his tail pumping out chuffs of joy. The air is fresh on her face. She should have worn a scarf. Soon the back of her neck and her ears will turn cold. It will hurt her and there is reassurance in this certainty, when so little in life is certain. She walks in the middle of the paving slabs, some leftover game or superstition from her childhood about cracks and broken spines. Has she ever not been scared of something?

The dog sniffs at clumps of grass, his snout vibrating up lamp posts. She waits, with nothing in her head. No single thread to hold on to. The tapestry all undone. Her hands are getting stiff. She wants to put them in her pockets but can’t because she needs to hold the dog lead. She did not bring a poo bag. She is worried she will die before she knows exactly who she is. The thought crystalises like ice. Is this where she is supposed to be? This street, this town, this dog? Yes. Yes. She stops to stroke his velvet ears. His collar jangles and she thinks of Mr Tambourine Man. Of singing songs that she didn’t understand the words to. She understands them now, she realises. Empires turning into sand and haunted frightened trees.

She thinks of other people waking up in other lives. How much of her own was decided by herself. Did she make all the choices that got her here. Was there ever any other path. The sea is far away, an idea on the page that has not yet been filled in. She wonders about those asleep on the other side of the earth, waking up in the sun. The dry scuttle of lizards. White sands. Why don’t they fall off this big fat globe and go spinning out of orbit? A bowl of cornflakes floating too far from the spoon. A morning paper flapping like a slow bird heading south.

The dog pulls on the lead, grounding her. Good dog. The words are automatic, they are without thought. The dog, reassured walks on. Car lights blink, somewhere a gate closes. It all feels so far away from these cobwebs she is caught in. It is a little bit like dreaming. The world falling away, petal by petal. She holds her hand in front of her face, marvels at the vagueness of her shape. How insignificant we are. Just plasma and bone, shedding and regenerating. Is any of her still a child or are all her cells now new? Is memory stored in touch or muscle? Could some fancy psychologist with a pink velvet fainting chair pluck forgotten scenes from her brain like splinters? How much is she willing to pay to know?

She already remembers things she wants to forget. Has to dig, truffle through memory mulch to unearth something precious. An orange handed to her, fat and bright. So big in her small hand. Her fingers sinking into the skin. The delightful ripping of flesh. A book she read about a boy in a concentration camp, discovering fruit for the first time. Her guilt about what she had done to that orange when he had eaten every piece of pith, every pip. Crying at the bursting of flavour when she threw it, smashed it. Roadkilled it.

The mist coats her like grief, paints her in glue. Everything sticks. She is a papier mâché person. The newspapers are about her. She is so self-absorbed. She has sucked all the colour out the landscape. Inhaled the orange of chimney pots, the lime green stalks of flowers. Nothing will ever be enough. Black bins lurk like policeman; she flinches as she passes. The post box is a shock. Was it always here?

The dog whines. Wants to be let off. She cannot risk it in this weather. Electric cars make no noise. What if a fox is on his way home? A fat cat setting out on his morning walk. There are too many risks. The dog could not possibly understand the foolishness of freedom. Of his preciousness. She pats along his spine. So solid, so consistent. He whelps in pleasure, turns to lick her hand.

The mist is thinning now. Patches of clarity. She watches a man opening his curtains, shaking his head at the day. She wants to tell him not to be so quick to write it off. That when the sun finally comes, like the sun always does, warm on her face like a flannel, like love, it will be all the more beautiful.


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