MILLENNIALS

 

It was the fourth selfie they had taken in thirty minutes. They were sat in one of the shiny red leather booths in the corner, sharing a large pepperoni pizza, and in order to fully utilize the lighting from the sunset which was taking place outside the window and whose optimally tan-orange glow fell mostly upon his side of the table, she had scooted over so that she was sitting next to him and could take the photo, the photo, the one that might just be good enough to attain the highest and most coveted rank: Ellie Gray’s profile picture.

Obviously Ellie did not like to appear vain. The ratio of candid shots to selfies that she used as her profile picture was a steady 3:1. It always helped if she had someone in the selfie with her, she figured, as the reason behind taking it would be rooted less in vanity and more in ‘capturing the moment’, as well as proving the existence of good times being had. And she had been dating Tim for more than a month now, so using a selfie of the two of them as her new profile picture would not only seem less vain than uploading a solo selfie, but would also send a crystal-clear message to any of Tim’s prospective love interests that they should keep their dirty and poorly-manicured hands well and truly off. Two birds with one stone.

After using her phone to stage, take and adjust the selfie (using the requisite image filters), she slid back out from his side of the booth and returned to her side. He picked up another slice, folded it in two and stuffed it in its entirety into his mouth all at once, before retrieving his own phone and resuming the typing of a WhatsApp message in which he was discussing the best isometric exercises for building upper-body strength.

Due to a brief disruption of the pizza restaurant’s internet service, meaning that a wireless connection was temporarily unavailable to patrons, Ellie Gray was not immediately able to upload the new profile picture, and this resulted in her throwing her plastic tumbler of Diet Coke at the head of a waitress who happened to be passing by the booth at that moment. Ice chips scattered across the restaurant’s linoleum floor, the waitress slipped, and Ellie continued to nibble at the same slice of pizza that she had been nursing since they’d started eating. She was inspecting the phone’s screen closely.

“Y’know what, my nose looks too big in this one. Let’s do it again,” she said, sliding back out of the booth and over to his side, as the waitress lay motionless on the floor.

 


 

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‘Shadow’

 

The winter sun is always low.

Long angular strips of brilliant yellow squeeze through the gaps in the railings like witch’s fingers, reaching across the playground concrete and tickling the trees.

Boxes of dense shade cast by the school buildings yield to the rhythm of the day’s dying light. Standing inside their squared eclipses, patches of matte blackness that foreshadow a frosty night, produces a shiver in my spine. The trees seem to whisper to the sky.

A shutter on the side of the sports building appears loose, and I climb in after prying open the boards with numb hands. Inside, the air is airless; the day has long drawn its final breath. A reverberation of years of noise has left a lasting impression, carved into the emptiness like Sanskrit; the unruly echo of children’s laughter; the clatter of hockey sticks and squeak of rubber plimsolls against the concrete floor; the metallic clang of locker doors slamming shut.

A sink’s tap emits a rusty creak as I turn it, and I skim my fingertips against the water as it slowly heats. Warmth prickles across my skin as I form my hands into a pallid pail, letting the froths of liquid fill every swirl and lap at the forks of blue veins in my wrists.

In the classrooms, half-finished equations and sentences underlined linger in powdery lettering on the chalk boards. I survey the tarnished wood of each desk, striding between them as if I am the teacher, issuing stern looks, hands on hips.

Breaking the weight of silence, suddenly, is the sound of a door opening. I stand solidly to attention, as frozen as the railings, as quiet as the concrete.

Through the glass pane I peer at a hollow stretch of hallway. My eyes strain large in the dim of the dark.

A beam of light springs from his office, and he exits, standing there with briefcase in hand, a hefty silhouette framed by a rectangle of yellow. Time grinds to a grave halt, and I wait.

And wait. Entire universes are created, amassed and obliterated in the time it takes him to move.

The angles of his face have become deformed by the play of shadows. His eyes are shrouded in black. The light snaps off.

With a raspy cough, he shuts the door and moves away, his small footsteps retreating into the night. When I am sure he is gone, I sprint through lengths of corridors, breathless.

 

By day, I sink into the primary coloured crowd, the mass of children pressed against the gates, the shrieks and whispers and laughter and secrets.

By night, I merge with pools of obscurity, flitting in the empty halls; they are the narrow space between night and day, portals to the protection of darkness.

Nobody sees me.

 


 

‘Limbo’


 

The train is due to arrive at 10:22 and on the platform an unspoken brevity of anticipation can be felt as the crackled announcement beckons the carriages, which slide in dutifully to greet us.

We all board with quiet efficiency, find our allocated seats and settle in. There’s a murmur of muffled chatter. As the beast crawls away, we ready ourselves to leave our lives behind, if only temporarily.

Out of the station a radiant field of bright yellow passes, nuclear in its glow, and darker patches beyond roll off into the blue horizon, sweeping hills and mounds of contours. The trees, like clusters of brocolli heads, line the farmland, and cows bathe in the sunlight. Sheep chew on grass vacantly. In a clearing, caravans are scattered like dominoes.

Now, more trees gather, and every chattering kind of bird seems to flit between them. The mossy carcass of a fallen soldier, a giant oak, nestles in the midst of its troop, warmed happily by the heat of the morning. A wide, glassy river reflects the branches harmoniously as it snakes alongside the train tracks.

A brief respite as I look around into the faces of my fellow passengers, taking careful note of each one momentarily and wondering about each of their journeys. We are all strangers existing together, between worlds, with only the carriage to unify us. A small boy with podgy cheeks and dirty hands is the only one who returns my gaze.

Outside the landscape has shifted its display to sprawling industrial estates penned in by grey fences, behind which lie sheets of corrugated metal, stacks of pine, and sleeping lorries. Underneath my seat the wiry drone of the engine ushers drowsiness. As my eyelids droop, the sudden sharp flash of a neighbouring train awakens me with a start.

I stare at my half-reflection in the window, which merges in the passage of light with the rolling hills and dotted trees beyond.

Suddenly I begin to cry, silently and uncontrollably. The wall I have built erodes in an instant, like a dam made out of flimsy paper, and everything comes flooding out. It’s slow at first but gradually builds, and I can sense the eyes of the surrounding passengers now burning into me as warm, fat tears swim down my cheeks in an unstoppable torrent.

There’s nothing I can really do other than fumble in my pocket for a tissue to dab at my sodden face, and squeeze shut my eyes in an attempt to force back the tears and quell this embarrassing deluge of emotion.

Removing my glasses and trying to contain myself, I pry my eyes half-open. Through a blurry wet filter I observe a lone sheep in the distance, standing atop a grassy ridge and chewing innocuously. He seems to gaze back at me. I imagine how simple things must be for him, existing in this limbo world.