Short Fiction ~ Brindley Hallam Dennis
Third Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 10
The fact is, I never felt that far away, he said, from home. He sipped at his whisky.
It’s the other side of the world, I said.
But you don’t notice that, he said. It’s because we travelled by air, he said. You just sit in the plane. We couldn’t see out of the windows. If we’d gone by train it would have been different.
It would have taken a hell of a lot longer, I said.
But we’d have seen all that countryside passing by. We’d have had to make sea crossings as well. We’d have seen the distance, not just spent the time.
I could see what he meant, and I sipped at my whisky.
It was like that with Mel; with Mel and me. Only not like that. About distance being what you felt, not what it really was.
Sometimes I wondered about walking there, to where she lived. I wondered about putting everything I needed, really needed, into a bag and walking out of the house and keeping on going until I got there, to where she lived.
That would take days. It would take weeks. It would take the best part of a day by train, or even to drive down, but I never thought about taking a train, or driving. I always thought about walking there.
It’s not about just the distance. It’s about what you have to overcome to get there. It’s about what you have to overcome to start out.
That’s not all it’s about. It’s about it being a penance too. A penance for not having made the journey already. Every day on the road would be an act of contrition. Each one for a year of procrastination, near enough, depending on when you start counting.
It would be a demonstration too, a demonstration of how much you cared, of how sorry you were, at least, that’s what I told myself, whenever I wondered, about walking there, to where she lived.
It would give them time, as well, walking there, give them time to get used to the idea; time to work out what was going on, what it all meant, retrospectively, and for the future. That’s what I told myself too. And word would get down to her, word that I was on my way. Somehow, word would get down to her, because someone, someone, who knew me, would work it out, in the time it would take me to get there, walking, to where she lived. And that would give her time too, time to prepare for it, for me getting there.
It would be on Social Media, or a phone call, by word of mouth. He’s gone missing, they’d tell her. He’s walked out, they’d say. He’s vanished. Nobody knows where. And perhaps, then, they’d wait, to see how she reacted.
She’d know right away. Of course she would. She’d know.
I think he’s coming here, she’d say, and then she’d look at them, to see how they reacted. Where else would he go, she’d ask? Where else could she imagine I would ever go, if I walked out like that?
She’d still have time to think, after they told her, before I got there; time to make plans, to clear the decks, to get ready. She might even want to come out and look for me. The closer I got, the fewer roads there would be to look for me on. She could work it out, whatever the route I took, there would be fewer roads to choose the closer I got to where she lived.
And when I get there, where she lives, she’ll be watching for me, from an upstairs window, or behind a curtain, or maybe even on the threshold. And at nights she’ll leave an outside light on so that I’ll be able to find my way, and she’ll maybe even leave the door unlocked, because whatever people think, and whatever they say, I know she’ll be wanting me to arrive, and she’ll be wanting me to have walked all the way. It couldn’t be any other way, for Mel; for Mel and me.
It’s in the winter that I wonder most, about walking to where she lived, when the days are short and grey and wet. I wonder on the bleakest days, and in the longest nights. And then the Spring comes around, and I forget, and another year has gone.
Isn’t it? He says, and I realise he’s been talking all the time I’ve been thinking and I see that he’s filled up both our glasses again, but I have no idea what he’s asked me, nor what the answer is, and he, sensing that I have no answer, says, it’s a hell of a distance.
Yes, I say, it is a hell of a distance.
Brindley Hallam Dennis lives on the edge of England within sight of Scotland. He writes short stories. Writing as Mike Smith he has published poems, plays and essays, often on the short story form and on adaptations from texts to film & TV. Many of his stories have been published and performed, sometimes by Liars League in London, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. He holds the degree of M.Litt from Glasgow University.