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Saturday Storytime: Go Through

Alma Alexander has lived in five countries on four continents. That background has fed into her work, as she has written not-your-average-European-setting fantasy in many of her novels. This is one of her rare short stories that is available online.

She doesn’t know, when she wakes, where she is. Not quite. The bed — the room — they look vaguely familiar but she can’t be sure whether it’s because she’s seen this particular room or slept in this particular bed before or because she’s seen a thousand rooms just like this one.

Beside her on the other pillow, he sleeps. He snores. There is the shadow of a beard on his face. She tries to hunt through her mind for his name, but fails. It’s a man. That’s all she knows.

She gets up, slowly, carefully, disturbing as little of the bed as she can. She lays one long-fingered hand on the dusty curtain, brings her face up close and inhales the musty scent of fabric which hasn’t been washed for years, puts her eye to the crack where the two wings of the curtains have been pulled together, peers outside.

Nothing is quite familiar. Nothing is completely strange. She almost thinks she recognises the place. She is not sure enough to swear to it. If she walked down this street and turned a corner she is almost-but-not-quite-completely certain that she would see an open square, with a tree whose outlines she has known for years, with certain shops lining the square, with a worn path through the grass where people persist in taking shortcuts. But perhaps none of this is real. Perhaps she has just dreamed it all, there in that bed which is still warm with the memory of her presence — perhaps she has put together that square in her mind from dozens of mental snapshots of places she has known but it has never existed, in the shape or form that she now visualises it, outside the confines of her imagination.

She glances back to the bed. He is still asleep. She suddenly knows that she could not bear it if he woke, if he looked up and frowned as if he couldn’t remember her face at all, or worse, if he woke up and smiled and called her by name or called her his darling. She can’t face any of it. She’s alone, here, now, in a cold room with the grey light of early morning gathering outside and the first shadowy shapes of scurrying people hugging the houses, scuttling along the sidewalks with their heads down and their shoulders hunched, their hands gloved and their collars raised. That tree in that square which may or may not exist no longer has its leaves, she knows this for a certainty — it’s autumn, late autumn, sliding into winter, the light tells her so.

She dresses in silence. There is a run in her pantihose, draped across the back of the chair. No help for that. She slides her feet into the stockings, smoothes them over her legs. Pulls on a nondescript dark skirt, a sweater. There is a battered handbag lying by the door; she pads towards it in stocking feet, carrying a pair of sensible shoes in her left hand, picks up the handbag with the fingertips of her right hand — there is no other woman here, the bag must belong to her, after all. Somewhere, soon — not here, not now — perhaps over a cup of coffee in a cheap diner nearby — she’s going to open the bag and rummage inside it, for identity, for something to tell her who she is, what she is doing here.

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