Well it’s that time of the week again.
Meanwhile Gareth L Powell who started it all has the rather wonderful “Stranded in time”.
I’m conscious the length of my entries are getting a little long, I debated whether or not this should even go up but I’ve been a little bit dry this week.
So here goes:
The Ghost in the Glass
By Neil Beynon
The queue meanders round the waiting room, sepia tones of sunlight breaking through the dusty windows, the air fetid and dank with sweat. Joe stands waiting, time stretching on – like the queue – into the distance punctuated only by periodic coughing.
“How much you in for?” asks the old man behind Joe.
Joe turns to look at the old duffer, the rough cotton of his vest scraping across his back and causing him to wince.
“Ten maybe Fifteen,” Joe answers. “Depends.”
“Yeah, market’s gone crazy,” says the duffer. “I was here last week and I got me Thirty k just for five. Man that was sweet.”
The duffer talks fast for an old guy, talks fast for anyone as a matter of fact. Joe had seen the type before. Thirty for Five? Man if he was back so soon he had it bad.
“I’m here for my girl,” Joe states. Just to be clear that he has nothing in common with the duffer.
The duffer falls silent, his eyes shifting awkwardly to the woman in front of Joe. The woman is skeletally thin but the wrinkly duffer goes right on staring at her bony arse, overlooking her lank, greasy pony-tail and missing teeth.
“Sick?” asks the duffer after a few moments.
“Yeah,” Joe answers, his own eyes fixing for some reason on the girl. “Bronchial pneumonia.”
“Tough break,” says the duffer. “Misery loves company.”
“What?” asks Joe.
“Misery loves company,” says the duffer nodding to the girl. “Look around you brother, these people aren’t queuing for fun.”
“Misery is a disease,” answers Joe. “An infection everyone is scared of catching.”
They both fall silent again as they shuffle slowly forward.
The girl in front is hungrily eyeing the jar of mints sat on the front desk, her scabbed, bare feet slapping absently on the floor in nervous rhythm. The woman on reception frowns at her, they’re reaching the front of the queue now, sighing she
raises the jar towards what’s left of the girl. She takes a handful, for the next few moments the only sounds are that of mints being munched.
“Don’t eat too many,” warns the receptionist before miming “L.A.X.I.T.I.V.E.” at her. Expansive hand gestures follow.
She’s not being nice, she just doesn’t want a death in the queue. It would be bad for business. The girl has moved to booth number eight and Joe has reached the front of the queue.
Booth nine flashes up as free.
“How much you need?”
“At today’s rate that’s gonna cost you twenty.”
“I thought fifteen tops?”
“It’s a long queue mister, plenty being dumped on the market today.”
“I’m not sure I’ll stretch that far.”
She looks him up and down. He doesn’t like this. He’s seen that look before in the abattoir he used to work at before the machines took over.
“You’ll be fine,” she said. “I wouldn’t take it otherwise.”
Joe’s reflection catches him on the gloss surface of the booth, a ghost in the glass staring back at him. Joe’s tangled mass of black unruly hair laced with streaks of grey framing a tired face and cold eyes of pale piercing blue. His eyes are the only feature he likes, not because he’s vain but because they’re the one part of himself he gave to his daughter. The rest is all mum.
“Get a move on dude,” says the duffer. “I got places to be.”
Joe slaps his arm down on the counter and the woman ties his arm off above the elbow with a length of orange rubber tubing. Then the machine locks onto his arm and all is humming accompanied by a long deep pull in his chest, it is unpleasant but you get used to it.
Before he leaves the receptionist hands him a cane, free of charge, just in case he stumbles.
The door chimes as he pushes its heavy weight open to let himself out onto the street once more, fuck is it heavy. In the background the duffer is arguing with the woman who served Joe.
Joe is not listening he has been startled by a face looking back at him from the door. It is lined like dried leather and topped with snow-white hair, for a moment he is worried he has crushed a duffer in his haste to leave.
Then he notices the eyes, icy blue, looking back at him. The face is suddenly his own, the ghost in the glass changed but the same.
Feeling the heavy wait of the cash in his pocket he heads out into the street, his journey not over.