First published in Spelk Fiction August, 2018
Always the same view – the long corridor – so long it surely must reach the edges of the universe. But the universe is unbounded. It has no edges. Anyway. Hotel corridor. Carefully placed vase in niche. Mood lighting. Swirly carpet – like looking at night stars when you’ve drunk half a bottle of tequila. Doors numbered. Same doors. Different numbers. Different rooms. But once they are cleaned all the rooms look the same. A monotony of white towels and sheets. The carefully placed lotions. Eight tea bags, four sachets of coffee, six sugars and six sweeteners. Air con set at eighteen. Enter the next day. See the stained bed. The rows of empty bottles. Lipstick on the towels. A soiled tissue. One shoe left under the bed. Different messes. Different smells. Different people. The good, the bad, the ugly. From Panama, India, Dubai, England and all the edges of the earth.
The boss thinks you are all the same woman. Conchita, Sofia, Mariana, Jozie, Ana. Interchangeable. You are not. You are Conchita Gonzalez. Hair black. Foot size four. Crooked small toe on the right foot. You like curry, not tacos. You always wear agua de violetas. Only one complaint from you in sixteen years. After that fat old man grabbed your breasts. Tried to force you. Boss shrugged. Boss never cared.
‘Knock, knock, housekeeping.’ Do you know what it takes to do this job, day in day out? The endless corridors, the monotony of white sheets, the back-breaking tedium, the hairs in the sink, the shit, the tedium, the same, same, same. But just the once. Yes, just the once – a man brought you flowers. Lilies, roses, irises. A huge bouquet. How did he guess those are the flowers you adore? You, Conchita Gonzalez, acknowledged and nothing asked in return, not even a kiss.
Clocks – First published in Reflex Flash November 13th 2018
He threw all the clocks out of the window. Smash, smash, smash. The sound almost comforting.
His neighbours have complained. He’s promised to clear up the mess. Promised there will be no repeat.
His wife collected the clocks. Railway clocks with large white faces and Latin numerals, cheap plastic clocks, a cactus, a Micky Mouse. Carriage clocks and cuckoo clocks. A faux Salvador Dali. A spiral clock. Even a clock in the shape of a slice of toast. So many damned clocks.
Tick, tick, tick.
He threw the clocks onto the drive. The drive cost small fortune. Not that she appreciated the expense. Said it was a waste of money. ‘Paved drives are bad for the environment. We could have had a holiday with that.’
‘Buying stuff we don’t need is wasteful. All those clocks. What do you need them for? And I don’t like travelling, you knew that when you married me.’
They argued long but in the end it scarce mattered how the argument started, only that it never ended.
Hadn’t they been happy once?
She left him for the solicitor. He drew up their wills last year. He’s twelve years younger than she is.
The house is quiet now. Nothing moves. He can hardly hear his own breathing. But time still passes. Day gives way to night. Night becomes day. Tick, tick, tick.
Chicken Fingers – First published in Spelk Fiction, April 2019
The white overcoat smells of fresh laundry – later it will stink of flesh and oil.
The supervisor hands me a plastic cap and an elastic band. ‘That’s got to go inside.’ She points to the mess of my hair. ‘All of it.’
The gloves she gives me resemble the ones my doctor wears for internal examinations.
Next come the rubber boots, cold now – later sticky with heat.
The place is enormous, a metal shed crammed with monstrous machinery and rows of women, everyone dressed in white suits, as if preparing a trip to the moon.
The meat comes out of the freezers in slabs like frozen suitcases. Clouds of steam billow into the air. The freezer rooms are larger than my kitchen. I think horror films. How easy it would be to die in there.
The men unload the slabs and sling them into the machine. The cutters come down. It’s an execution and a birthing.
A dozen pink fingers drop out from under the blade. They stick to each other like Siamese twins, all fat and sinew. We separate out the fingers with our gloved hands as they move along the belt and sink into the custard-coloured batter. Then, coated and clothed, they move forward again before falling into a vat of boiling fat. Finally they are packed and frozen before being sent to the gas ovens and a million chewing jaws.
I study the way the women push their thumbs across the wire rack, separating the blocks of frozen meat. Roll, roll, roll.
Most of the women are middle-aged or older but there’s a sprinkling of fresh-faced ones, daughters perhaps. This is the sort of place where generations of women will work, women who no longer dream or maybe they do, when they’re gone from this place, scrubbed clean of the smell and the battering noise.
All week I dream of falling feathers. Not the soft feathers of goose down. These feathers have sharp quills. They are death and suffocation.