A short story/ flash fiction
They send you back in time. Sometimes you want to go, sometimes you don’t. But you don’t get to choose.
Your mode of transport arrives without warning: a word, a smell, a face, a familiar object, sometimes just a sound, and then there’s music of course.
You can be sitting eating a cheese sandwich, with the radio on, looking out of the window and
Suddenly you’re back in time twenty-five years. Right where you don’t want to be and there she is coming down the stairs towards you.
‘Dog, slag. Slag, dog. Dog, dog. Slag, slag, slag. Dog. Dog. Dog! DOG!’
That staircase. That face.
What lesson was it I was always going to? History? French? I don’t remember.
Does she go back in time too? Does she remember it with pride – how she sorted me good an’ proper and how someone behind her in the shadows baa-ed her name in encouragement?
I see her around now and then. Maybe every couple of years or so. Once, I leaned over her to get some bananas in Sainsbury’s. I needed to prove to myself that she didn’t bother me anymore. Funny how memories have other ideas though.
Bother, bother, bother.
I didn’t look at her. I’d already seen her. I walked away, thinking, ‘I hate you. I hope your tits fall off.’ But I don’t really. I just hate the memory.
And then there are the times when you slide back willingly with a smile and you’re glad that you’re there. Someone mentions ‘sandlewood’ or ‘bathcubes’. Ahhh…. Christmas stockings… I can smell them now…
I move my feet under my covers, feel the weight, hear the sound: Shrinkle. Yep – there it is, shrinkle-ing whenever I turn over. I’ll never go back to sleep now. I’ll have to sit up and just touch it. Stroke it. Lump. Bump. Scrunckle. Peanuts, apple, orange. Crinkle, scrunch. Sharp, pointy…
Burning, heavy eyes.
I’ll just lie down and wait. I know I’ll never go back to sl…
Sometimes it’s better if you go back on your own, don’t you think? Other people change it for you. They say, ‘That’s not how it happened,’ and they take you back to their memory, and it’s not how you remember it at all.
Patrick said I made the first move; said I gave him a look as I ‘sauntered’ (his words) past him to the loos.
‘I know a come on look when I see one,’ he said later.
So that was it; the rest of the evening all panned out – according to him. I’d given him a look and that sealed our fate. And we were going to end up in bed together that night.
Only, that’s not how I remember it. I don’t even remember seeing him until he came over.
A drink, a pleasant enough chat in a roomful of strangers, someone taking a welcome interest in me. The dodgy comment about ‘… all nurses…’ that I put to the back of my mind. The endless compliments that I chose to absorb gushingly and not deflect – which, of course, is what I should have done.
So, yes, I supposed it was my fault. In a way. Lonely young women shouldn’t go to bars on their own. Not like single men do.
The lawyer is wearing a short skirt, she smoothes it and walks towards me, looking down and then back up at me. We all see the relevance.
‘Am I asking for it?’ she presses me. She knows how much I’ve come to doubt myself over the years.
But I went to his house. I let him kiss me.
‘If it’s not what you want, it doesn’t matter what you are wearing. Can you remember what you said, when he started to take it too far?’
I am shaking my head. ‘Every time I see him around, it’s like I need to get away. I feel like I’m in danger. Just his face, and the fear comes flooding back.’
‘And you’ve spoken to him since?’
I nod. ‘He cornered me in a shopping centre about a year later – after I told some friends – and he told me I’d misremembered everything. Told me his friends had seen how I was “all over him.” ’
The lawyer looks like she is counting something in the air.
‘That’s six girls now who he claims have misremembered everything. Not a very memorable date, is he? Why didn’t you just go home?’
‘I was waiting for a taxi. He called me a taxi but it never turned up.’
She’s holding up a novelty Simpsons phone and pressing a few buttons.
‘Eat my shorts!’ says the phone. I’m sat on his sofa biting my nails. He’s laughing like an idiot.
‘Do you remember this?’ the lawyer is saying.
‘I do now.’ I’m desperately clutching my hard chair because it feels nothing like a sofa. ‘That’s what he used to call me a taxi.’
‘D’oh!’ says the phone. His breath smells of Listerine.
I grit my teeth and nod, blinking myself back into the room.
She nods back at me and turns it over. ‘No wires.’
No more questions.