February 2, 2014 Fiction










The Consequence of Time


Carla J. Dow



Barry is late again. It isn’t his fault, the bloody bus is off schedule. Every 10 minutes it bragged from dirt-caked fuchsia pink sides, if it ever got here you would see for yourself. The drivers couldn’t care less about the timetable, they just spun their rotation of the city, out of sync, stuck nose to arse, one in front of the other. The problem was no one cared or had time to do anything about it, so the complaints of frustrated epithetic passengers simply slid into the grimy gaps between the seats.


The bus arrives and Barry is on and off it before the haze of routine even registers. Now to the second shoulder-wrenching, toe-crushing, body odour-addled phase of his journey; the train.


Barry pokes the worn cardboard square of his travel pass into the slotted mouth of the electronic gate guarding the platform. It swings open just long enough for him to squeeze his rotund form through before he is forced to battle with the clenched jaws to retrieve his bag, stuffed full of papers he never looks at but carries back and forth anyway. Someone huffs loudly behind him, impatient for their turn at the sentry jaws.


The train charges into the station, the misted windows jammed with glum red faces numbed by the routine of the morning commute. Its arrival causes the waiting passengers to tussle at the edge of the platform, well beyond the designated safety of the painted yellow line, into an uncertain battle dance to board. The locomotive stops and the doors shudder open. Men and women square up, shoulders forward, ready to tackle challengers whether young or old, able-bodied or feeble.


Our Barry takes his regular spot, the same place he jostles into every weekday morning. He is sandwiched between a pinstripe suit and a hoodie, the latter wearing oversized headphones on shaven head, a sliver of silver metal omitting an irritating ‘tsst-tsst-tsst’ noise.


He stands shoulder to shoulder with the pinstripe and the hoodie, his chest curved upwards to fit the too-small space that his peak-price ticket provides. It is hot and stuffy and Barry feels a trickle of prickly sweat tickle down from his armpit and across the hanging flab of his saggy man boobs. Foolishly he attempts to shrug off his coat; easier said than done. The brown anorak that Mary bought him last Christmas is already too tight over his ever-increasing girth and now has him trapped in a sticky hot embrace, unable to move his arms because of the pinstripe and the hoodie. Barry is trapped half in and half out of the anorak like a lunatic besieged in a straitjacket.


The world whizzes by outside the rectangle of glass, time speeding too fast to absorb and certainly too fast to care that Barry is stuck in his own coat.


The stuffiness of the carriage pushes in on our poor Barry, his airway and arms writhe like trapped snakes. The pinstripe’s shoulders dig into his ribcage and the hoodie’s music ‘tsst-tsst-tsst’s from the oversized headphones; has he turned it up? The glazed expression on Barry’s undistinguishable face is mirrored across the entire train carriage whether seated, standing or squat on the floor. Unseen spots dance across his mind and a low groan mingles with the ‘tsst-tsst-tsst’. His reflex response is annoyance until he realises the moaning is coming from him. A bead of perspiration gets past the sparse grey hairs of his eyebrow and rolls carelessly into his eyeball.  He blinks. Shoulders and elbows dig into every organ. His arm hurts, his chest hurts.


“He’s not well,” someone cries out, a kind voice amongst the anonymity – maybe the hoodie.


“Somebody help him,” the pinstripe responds, delegating responsibility efficiently, as is his best skill. Silence. Barry folds onto the floor unable to stand the prodding any longer.


The train jolts and stops with a groan sending passengers tumbling down the carriage. Someone has pulled the emergency cord.


“Someone has pulled the emergency cord,” the hoodie says, looking down at Barry whose sweaty cheek is laid across one of his trainers.


“We’ll be late now,” the pinstripe mutters under his breath.





Her foot taps against the soft grey tarmac, signaling impatience.


“We are sorry to announce that the 8.55 service to London Waterloo will be delayed by approximately 35 minutes. We apologise for the delay this may cause to your journey.”


The tannoy clicks off and silence swallows the small rural station.


The young 20-something stares unseeing at the empty platform as the glowing orange sign over her head flickers and the time displayed under ‘expected arrival’ changes to a blur of confused little lights.


Amy sighs. But it’s not the delay that bothers her, she finds it hard to care about her work, her boss doesn’t so why should she? Fair enough really. Shoes will still be sold, money will fill the tills and nothing will be any different in the world after all.


Retracing her steps back to her parked car, she pulls the red wooly duffel coat close across her chest and squishes her hands deeper into warm pockets. May as well drive into town and lose the first hour of her pay to parking fees; better that than wait here freezing to death, be an hour late anyway and docked the money. Her heels clang on the metal steps, loud in the quiet of the snow-blanketed village but unheard by anyone. Unnoticed, unimportant.


Amy sighs again, her breath puffing out in a little delicate cloud. She unlocks the car, wriggling the key in the old lock. It is colder inside than out and will take longer than the journey time to heat up the radiator for the fan. Still, she pokes and prods at the little vents with red-painted nails, jamming the slider from one side to the other with a faint useless hope.


The road under the old tyres, worn smooth by too many miles, is slippery. The white frosting of snow and ice that is so picturesque and pretty on the treetops, is a silent danger packed beneath the wheels of a Fiesta going at 60mph with a driver not looking where she is going. Amy’s mind rambles from the crap heater to where on earth she will park in town; will she get a refund on that blue vest top she bought last week or should she just exchange it for a bigger size and come to think of it, if she does keep it, there are a nice pair of aqua blue pumps in the store that would match…


The small body of the boy makes a surprisingly loud noise as it slams onto the bonnet. The bicycle gives up with a quick crunch of metal as it is chewed between the fast spinning wheels of the Fiesta and the hard icy road.


Amy’s eyes widen before her foots jams down onto the brake pedal. Her blood freezes like the chilled water running through the skinny roadside stream, a place where both driver and fated cyclist had played as toddlers with their parents on the way home from preschool – separated only by time.


Amy’s knuckles are as white as the ice on the road as she grips the steering wheel, staring at the boy on her bonnet. The petals of a red flower blossom from his head, marring the purity of the pale snow.




Andrea screams. Her throat gurgles with the strength and immensity of her cry. She too is frozen for a second, but thankfully it is only a second, before she remembers; she can help. What was it they said at the first aid course only two months ago in the damp scout hall? ‘Don’t be a bystander – be someone.’ She is the ‘someone’ who can help.


The words spin in slow motion through the horror of what she has just witnessed; the car ploughing into the delicate spokes of the bike wheels and the child flying like an angel in a high arc, slamming down with the hollow thud of a drum.


Andrea’s legs propel her forwards into the scene, her hand releasing its grip on the extended handle of the zebra-striped plastic suitcase she was pulling as it topples over, forgotten onto the snow.


“I am a first aider, I’m a first aider,” Andrea chants her mantra, revising the first instruction of her Save a Life training course, hearing the words wheezing out into the cold of the morning, realizes she has spoken aloud.


The driver is immobile in the car, staring at the small body of the boy. She’s younger than Andrea and has white-blonde hair, the kind of colour you can only get from a bottle. It contrasts loudly with her red coat just as the pale snow on the bonnet does with the blooming petals of blood that flow from beneath the small head.


“I’m a first aider,” she repeats and moves past the driver’s door to gently place her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re going to be okay.”


To her relief he answers with a thin high moan.




Duncan drains the coffee from the paper cup and lines the receptacle in uniform alongside the other two on the table. Flicking his arm forward to expose his wrist from the blue shirt cuff he checks his watch. 10 minutes. Only 10 minutes until their flight leaves and she is still not here. Damn it.


He yanks his phone from his pocket for the 47th time in the last 30 minutes. He dials and listens to the ignorant ringing at the other end, catching the laughing eyes of the group of lads in a tacky booth opposite him, the brash seats coated in red plastic reminding him of a soggy tomato skin. Duncan glares back until they get bored and look away. They probably think I have been stood up, that I’ve been ditched for something better he thinks. Well – he has.


No, he hasn’t; there must be some reason why she isn’t here yet. He just can not think what that is.


The nasal voice from the loud speaker echoes the last boarding call for flight B6532. Again. There will be two passengers missing from flight B6532.


Damn it. Where is she?


They had saved up for two years for this holiday; the trip of a lifetime. Duncan carefully and methodically siphoned off £200 from his offensively modest income every single damn month to pay for this.


He fingers the velvet ring box in his pocket. The trip of a lifetime.


The nasal call comes again, “Absolutely last boarding call for flight B6532,” its anonymous patience fading fast.


Well get on with it, either it’s the last call or it’s not. Duncan slumps back in the plastic seat, defeated, rubbing his shoulder on a splodge of spilt ketchup. He stares at the silent screen of his phone. Damn it.


Wait. Hang on a minute, why should he suffer ‘cos she’s got cold feet. He could still go!


Duncan leaps up, the chair toppling backwards onto the polished floor, vibrating on impact. The paper cups tumble in a sloppy mess of cold coffee dregs and the lads look up in surprise as the middle-aged drearily tired but selflessly kind man – who all too often lets life pass him by because it is too much effort to do anything else – charges for the escalator. Equal measures of happy and harangued holidaymakers are thrown left and right as Duncan picks up the pace to catch the ‘absolutely last boarding call for flight B6532’.


He flies through the airport faster than he has run for years, probably faster than ever before and certainly gaining on his sports day race times which were probably the last time he actually ran. He will take control, he will stop being a doormat, he will live the life he always wanted. Pictures of white sandy beaches and Pina Colada cocktails served with a paper umbrella glow in his mind.


Duncan locates gate five but the glass door is firmly closed. There is no handle. Panic builds as he slides chubby palms across the unyielding surface leaving behind sweaty smudged fingerprints.


“How do I get in, damn it!”


“I’m sorry sir,” the nasal voice behind him crows. “This flight is now closed.”


Duncan slides down the glass door with a surprising squeaking sound. Damn it.


“Sir?” the nasal voice has the forced politeness that a pay packet just above minimum wage will buy.


Duncan returns to the café for another paper cup of coffee to add to the line up.


The theme tune to Dr Who shatters his self-pity. His phone! He snatches it up and stares at the screen. Angela’s name lights up the display but before he can decide whether to answer it or not, the airport is swamped with a sea of black and blue as a team of armed police and security officials swarm through the lobby and all hell breaks loose.




The television in our Barry’s hospital room burbles on unheard. He is asleep, the best rest he has had for ages.


The chart hanging from the bedrail declares to all who care to look that he had a very minor heart attack, nothing too serious, all rather run of the mill.


The BBC 24-hour news reporter’s tone rises with undisguised excitement – this could be the story of her career, this is real good stuff.


“A passenger plane has crashed over the port of Dover,” she tells the world, anyone and everyone who cares to listen. “Flight B6532 came down just over three and a half hours ago. Unconfirmed reports suspect the plane was the target of a terrorist plot but no known groups have yet claimed responsibility.”


Duncan presses the power button on the TV remote, glancing at his older brother lying stiff and immobile in the hospital bed, his rotund belly rising up like a swollen blimp. Duncan’s hand is clasped tightly in Angela’s. He feels the hard bump of the ring sitting purposefully on the third finger of her left hand. They perch together on the seat by Barry’s bed and wait for him to wake up.




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