This week I wanted very much to try something different tonally – and this is where we end up. I started with a simple abstract premise and tried to build character around that – and interestingly, ended up shifting and manipulating tone kind of accidentally as the story progressed.
a nice enough phone call
One morning, at about a quarter past ten, Bradley Thompson received a phone call and was told, in not too uncertain terms, the manner in which he would die.
As far as these things go, it sounded like a nice enough way to go. Bradley wasn’t informed of the time or the place that the event would occur. He was merely given painstaking detail of the method, the sights and sounds, and confirmation of how he would feel in that moment. Bradley’s wife Paula watched as he nodded and agreed and said ‘I see.’
Eventually, Bradley thanked the caller for the heads up, and hung up the phone.
When Bradley explained to Paula the content of the phone call, she immediately demanded that he call the police. But, Bradley didn’t see the point in that. Truth be told, Bradley felt strangely warmed by the knowledge. Like he could see the road ahead of him, free of fog, and it was straight, without corners, without oncoming headlights. Now, he need only put one foot in front of the other and walk until he got to the end of the line.
Bradley would tell people about the phone call at social events. John and Trudy had a barbeque to celebrate their son’s graduation, and while they were waiting for the prawns to be done Bradley brightly regaled them all with the tale. Paula didn’t speak to Bradley once on the car trip home. Bradley couldn’t for the life of him understand why.
It became something of a topic of conversation at work, as well. Rex from the mail room wondered if the call had been a promotion for a new thriller film that he had seen. Bradley hadn’t, in light of the call, gone and seen the film, so he thought that explanation unlikely. One of the women from head office, though, had been rather mean-spirited about the whole thing, and had accused Bradley of being ‘morbid.’
Over a gently cooling dinner, one night, Paula told Bradley that if he kept talking about the phone call, she would call more than simply the police.
Bradley didn’t speak much to anyone about the phone call after that.
Time passed. Bradley, steadfast, placed one foot in front of the other, over and over. Watched the clock tick. Listened for the phone.
Soon, Paula had forgotten all about the phone call – mostly because Bradley had stopped mentioning it. Bradley hadn’t forgotten it though. It was a warm reminder for him, a talisman he held to his heart on nights when it rained. Because, he knew, at the end of it all – it would be nice enough.
A few years later, and things had changed a lot for Bradley. He was at a new job, in a new office by the park. He would walk to work, because the park was so nice, and spend some time after the day ended throwing leftover pieces of his lunch to the birds. It was a nice change.
Paula had left him for John, whose barbeque it was all those years ago. John, in turn, had left his wife Trudy to be with Paula. Unfortunately, Trudy and Bradley never got on all that well. So, Bradley lived alone, in a house that was too big for him.
Bradley wondered often about what Paula was doing. Whether she was enjoying herself. He hoped that she was, and could only assume that would be the case. Paula had vigorously championed John’s physical attributes prior to leaving Bradley, on a number of occasions, so it seemed logical that things were probably working out well for her.
One morning, Bradley was running late for work. It was an important day, too – there was a meeting, and a presentation, and a client. Things that happened every day, really, but today was important. Bradley had been told it was important by his boss, Bill. Bill was actually a bit of fuckwit now that Bradley came to think of it, as he struggled to find his keys and fumbled with his shoelaces. Fuck Bill, that fucking fuckwit fucker, Bradley muttered under his breath, as he grabbed an apple and headed for the door.
It was too late for Bradley to walk, of course, so he had to take his car. In fact, Bradley hadn’t driven the car since Paula had given it back to him a few months ago. He didn’t really have anywhere to go except for work, and, as was previously mentioned a few paragraphs ago, Bradley liked to walk.
So, when Bradley got into the car, he had to adjust the seat and the mirrors and turn off the radio because it was playing that asinine bullshit that Paula liked to listen to. Bradley also duly noted that the fuel light was on – a peculiar way to deliver a car back to someone, on the bare minimum amount of petrol required for the fucking thing to start. These thoughts washed over Bradley in a rushed haze. He really had to get to work.
Traffic was, of course, a nightmare. Bradley considered a number of rude gestures and almost used the horn, but decided not to. He exhibited self-control, despite all of his instincts telling him to do otherwise. Something held the anger at bay, even as he was nearly sideswiped by a man in a lorry. A distant memory, now filled with fog, but lit just well enough to keep him in check.
Bradley did several laps of the block on which his office was located before realising that there wasn’t going to be anywhere to park his car. He cut his hand slightly on the dashboard when he vehemently slapped it, in what can only be described as a lapse in concentration brought on by the lack of suitable parking.
As he nursed his sore hand and considered going home, Bradley remembered that there was a small lot next to the park. This gave him hope, and he nursed and cherished that hope as he waited through red light after godforsaken red light and a fuel gauge that was scraping the barrel both figuratively and literally. Tension ran high.
Upon arriving at the tree-filled park he discovered that there was, indeed, a spare spot right on the street – and this gave Bradley an enormous sense of well-being.
He pulled into the park, and looked at the back of his hand. The small flecks of blood were already darkening, starting to congeal. The human body was an amazing thing, capable of such feats, Bradley thought. And every day it had to deal with empty homes and terrible music and a distinct lack of parking spots. It was all a bit much, really. A winding road that took far too long to reach an unknown destination.
Bradley undid his seatbelt, checked his watch. He would be late, but not late enough that it would really matter. He calmed himself, felt his heart slowly pump blood through his extremities. He reached for the door handle, and as he did so, glimpsed a few birds fluttering down from the trees in the park ahead. He watched them dance, and tried to keep watching them as long as he possibly could as he opened the door and stepped out onto the street.
He paused, just a little longer, even though the clock was always ticking, and watched the birds. He felt something, a feeling, but couldn’t find the words to describe it.
And then, suddenly, plucked from his memory, he found the exact right words to describe this exact feeling in this exact moment. He stepped back, involuntarily, in a slight moment of distant understanding. One of the birds found a worm and flew off to a hidden nest.
Bradley had a brief moment in which to catch the reflection of a lorry in his wing mirror, approaching quickly from behind.
And he thought to himself: this is nice enough.
Image Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apollo_8_Borman_takes_phone_call_from_LBJ.jpg - supplied by NASA.