Image: Georgia O’Keeffe, Train at Night in the Desert (1916), © 2018 (The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)
Andy Cashmore has had flash fiction published in numerous places, including the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2014 and The Harpoon Review. He participated in a writing project called Writing Begets Writing, where he taught a creative writing masterclass to mental health service users so they could be published in an anthology which Andy was also published in. Andy once wrote forty-five stories in a day for charity and is currently involved in the short story project ’13 Dark’. Although a big Murakami fan, if you want to grab Andy’s attention talk to him about anything Final Fantasy.
Just One Way to Feel It
Stepping off the train feels like stepping into a foreign indie film. Foreign because I don’t understand what’s going on, and an indie film because there’s no non-diegetic music. No glitzy studio logos that last for minutes or roaring fanfares. In fact, there’s no talking whatsoever. It’s a cold opening. Commuters wear their black heeled shoes, men and women, and they clack and clop down the stairs into the underpass. The echoes make me very aware of the silence, and I find myself anticipating the start of some music or waiting to read subtitles.
What am I doing? I’m following the flow of people, holding my satchel up on my strong shoulder, the other damaged in a car accident last week. In the hand attached to my weak arm, I’m reading a short story by a friend on my phone. It’s very good and because it’s set in Japan it makes me think of foreign films. But I’m thinking more European indie films. Sweden comes to mind; all around the station is the cold countryside, all cut up like a giant’s taken a rake through the swampy terrain. Hints of snow remain in the frozen corners of the steps, and the overload of salt sticks to my grubby shoes.
What am I really doing? I’m floating away from my body. I see myself, reading the story, staring into the bright light. My legs move on rusted pulleys at a steady pace. I keep floating away.
What’s my dilemma in this film? It pertains to a photocopy of my passport. I have it and was meant to get it signed by a work colleague so my girlfriend and I could apply for ISAs. I didn’t get it signed.
This is the end-of-the-world crisis I’m meant to care about? It’s a foreign indie film, what was I expecting? Yet this ordeal surmises far more than it shows. Even as I’m floating, I know I need to vomit. The train is on the platform, and I see myself enter it without so much as a glance from my phone. Damn this story is good. I bypass the unoccupied toilet, take a seat at a table lined with sticky juice residue and open up my creaking laptop to write a story. It may even be this story.
When do things get good? I don’t know if they will. I’ve cocooned myself into a fetus in luggage rack above my head. I want to be as small as possible, but my aching shoulder stops me from collapsing in on myself. All I can think about is that piece of paper, how unsigned it is, how pristine the page is with my face stoic as if just hit by an iron, the passport numbers lined up neatly next to my tangled fringe. Although the date of birth ruins the page like a faded blemish.
Why didn’t I just get it signed? Because asking is too much right now. To go into work, get my head down and do my job well, is what I craved today. Printing off the scan of the passport felt like victory, until the giant came back with its rake and stirred up my insides. It’s another failure.
Can’t someone else sign it? This is what I hope for.
No, that’s not true is it? What I hope for is that these flickering lights on the train mean something. I didn’t realise we are moving forward, through the darkness. The walls of the tunnel roar as it swallows the train. The only thing I can see is the laptop screen flickering in front of me.
Where has the phone gone? Did the story have a good end? Why aren’t I writing things like that? Should I have-?
Enough questions, please. Even as the train passes out of the tunnel, it’s black either side of me.
Do I want to go into the darkness? If it means I don’t have to face up to this unsigned piece of paper. I think…
It’s a foreign indie film remember? It’s real life. The train won’t jump off the tracks and ride into the darkness, taking me further and further from this fear of photocopied mugshots.
Can you see the subtitles? I can’t.
Can I hear the music? I can’t. I can only hear my heartbeat.
What am I doing now? I’m staring at the laptop screen, my hand scratching at my ribcage. I’m like a clumsy thief tumbling a safe dial without care.
Is this the real plot? It may be.
But this is a foreign indie film remember? I have to leave everything open ended. I can’t tell you what this is really about.
Where’s the train now? Still on the tracks, no matter how much I slam myself into the wall. The train will always run on the tracks. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay on board.
What am I doing now? Sitting. Like everyone else.