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Have You Quite Finished?

By Ian Duncan Smith

It happened too soon, and there wasn’t time to think. I made a snap decision. I bagged it up, and then I was out of there. It wasn’t my problem, and they weren’t my things. I collected the bags, and I piled them outside. I had no choice. Someone had to clear the house.

I went back inside, and I sat on the last remaining chair. I looked out of the window thinking of someone looking out of the window all the time. The mementoes of her journey had gone. I was amazed how far she’d come, and where she’d come from.

But then I saw a man outside. I watched him lie a bike down beside the pile of bags I’d just put out. I stood up to see. He opened one of the bags, put his arms inside, and sorted through the contents. He found something. He took out a mechanical scale, the sort that had a yellow furry top, and a scale that spun beneath a glass. The previous owner’s footprints were imprinted on the furry top. I knew the previous owner. That’s why I threw out the scale. I didn’t want to see the footprints now her journey was done.

The man wiped the glass with his sleeve, and placed the scale on the ground. He stood on the furry top, and looked satisfied with the mechanical accuracy of the scale. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The scale was in perfect working order.

I walked to the front door, and I opened it.

“You wouldn’t jump in my grave so quickly.”

He looked at me. Then he zeroed the scale, turning the dial with a pointing finger, as though he was removing the weight of the previous owner.

“It wasn’t origined.”

It was a strange thing to say. There was no such word as ‘origined’.

The man picked up the scale, and climbed on his bike. He jammed his new weighing machine under his arm, and cycled away.

Next day, I faced the computer like I did every day. I tapped the keyboard because I found I had to do something productive. I typed.

“Origined.”

Word not found. Then I erased it, and started again.

“Origined. Origined.”

The word wouldn’t leave my mind. I placed my hands over the keyboard.

“Origined. Origined. Origined.”

Origined was not a good word. Origined was not a word I liked, but no matter, I couldn’t stop typing the word, ‘origined’, like I was doing lines at school.

I knew they were listening, checking I was getting to grips with the work, but a phone was ringing, ruining my concentration. I slid down in the chair, and put my hands in my pockets. I had to find a way to progress from ‘origined’, but the phone was still ringing. Maybe it was a call about the second phase. Maybe there would be a second phase after all. Maybe I could move on. Maybe there was life after, ‘origined’.

I typed.

“Maybe there’s life after origined.”

Then the phone stopped ringing, and something good happened. For the first time, it flowed. The muse visited. I’d escaped. Words poured out, a lovely literal stream. I had it right. I struck gold. I opened a vein. I moved on. That was what it was all about, moving on. They would be listening, and they would be happy.

But they weren’t happy. They were standing at the door, watching me with their arms folded.

“Have you quite finished?”

They’d promised a second, more exciting, phase of work, but the problem was there was no confirmation, no paperwork, plans, signatures, or money. I’d been suckered into it. The second phase didn’t exist. I’d bust a gut for nothing.

I pushed my chair back from the desk, and stood up.

“No, I don’t think I have quite finished.”

“Either you have or you haven’t?”

“What is this? What is your problem?”

“Yes or no?”

“It’s the second phase isn’t it? There isn’t going to be a second phase is there? I’ve wasted my time here. I should be out there, not worrying about this. I should have told you to forget it long ago. It’s a waste of time and effort.”

I walked to the door. I stopped in front of them.

“Get out of my way.”

They didn’t. They looked at me, and then they looked down at the carpet. I looked down too, and watched the sun place bright rectangles across the carpet, across me.

“Let me out.”

I pushed, but they pushed me towards the desk. I leaned into them, but I couldn’t beat two people back. I stopped pushing. They pointed me towards the desk.

“Now, resume your work.”

There was no point fighting them. There was no point talking about anything. I sat down. I looked at the screen, and I typed.

“Origined, origined, origined, origined.”

“Now do you understand what you have to do?”

They smiled, and then I woke on a hard bed.

It was a very hard bed.

I felt around my mouth with my tongue. I felt my gums and cheeks. They were dry. They’d been dry for a long time. I rolled over, and opened my eyes. I was leaning against a safety rail, in a glass and steel corridor in a building full of TVs pounding out something unholy. They screamed.

“Origined. Origined. Origined.”

“Will someone switch that off, please?”

No one came. I smelled cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke wasn’t right inside a building. The trouble was I didn’t know what was right any more. I looked round. I saw a tiny window. I didn’t know why I was in a building surrounded by cropped lawns, traffic, and controlled disorder.

“Origined.”

Filth hung off the walls. It just needed a lick of paint. I tried to stand, and made it to my feet because I wanted to cover the walls. I walked towards the TV putting out its propaganda.

“Origined.”

Maybe it was carbon monoxide in my veins making me forget. They said carbon monoxide was a good way to go. I held the curtain and pulled, but it crumbled in my hand like papyrus.

“Origined.”

I had to paint the walls. I stirred the paint. I covered the filth, the intricate woodwork, the condensation, and the mould. Plaster crumbled under the brush. I finished. I poured the rest of the paint down the sink. I drank from the tap. I needed to drink. I tasted paint coming out of the tap. I'd polluted my own drinking water. I spat paint into a wet towel, and rubbed my tongue until the taste went, but I could still hear the word.

“Origined.”

I saw filth on the curtains. I brushed the curtains. A north facing room was bad. I needed a larger window. There was no way of letting moisture out. I swept a spider’s web, and smeared it across the shade. I wiped the light shade. It made no difference to the light situation. I needed to see. I needed to look out of the window. I needed to push the tiny window wide open. I was at the window, the cliff edge, tilting, sliding, the bottle rack of drugs coming towards me.

“Open the window, please.”

But the window shut itself in the breeze. I never heard it shut, like I never knew when I slept, or where I was. I woke in a corridor, in a room, in a building full of people like myself. I thought I knew my name, but I didn’t. I just heard one word.

“Origined.”

I leaned back on the wet pillow. I needed something to relax me because I’d had a day of it, a week of it, a year of it, a lifetime of having it stuffed down my throat. Dehydration sucked my thoughts. I didn’t know where thoughts went. I stroked my face. I stroked the hole in my head.

 

Ian Duncan Smith has had stories published in Eclectica, Bewildering Stories, Prose Toad and other literary magazines. He lives in Westbury, U.K.

Photo "Blue Head" courtesy of Dirk Dera, Halle, Germany.

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