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Waiting for Gary

by Jenny

Gary thought about changing the channel, but Claire had thoughtlessly left it on the other chair when she had gone to the shop and it was just too much effort. David Dickenson was evaluating a dusty French horn with a couple of middle-aged lesbians. Gary would rather be watching Doctors with the hot woman doctor, but this would do for now. Better than bloody Cash in the Attic anyway. He’d put on Doctors when Claire got back.

He hoped she wasn’t going to be too much longer. He really fancied a cup of tea and he hoped that she would remember to pick up the biscuits he’d asked for. Maybe he’d ask her to put them on a plate for him so he didn’t have to fish them out of the packet whenever he wanted one. He hated that crackly rustling the plastic packaging made.

Dickenson had moved on now. He was peering up what looked like a cowbell with a windmill etched onto it with a father and daughter who rejected it in favour of some kind of stuffed vermin being chased by a preserved serpent, the pair trapped inside a glass case, hunter and hunted until the end of time.

Gary thought he’d quite like to go on one of these antiques programmes with his daughter, if he’d had a daughter, which he hadn’t. He pictured himself leaning in to examine some dusty artefact with a young woman who gazed admiringly at him, awed by his flawless instinct and natural aptitude for picking out the nuggets of gold in a sea of antique tat. He would be the knowledgeable hero guiding her through the world.

But he didn’t have a daughter. He and Claire had never gotten around to having kids, though she’d brought it up once or twice, he remembered. Gary had never really given it much thought, but now, in this new context he could see the benefits. Perhaps it wasn’t too late. Claire was getting on a bit, but she wasn’t old or anything. He’d suggest it to her when she got back. She’d like that.

Gary looked at his watch. There wasn’t long left of the Dickenson programme. The lesbians were looking set to win, which upset Gary, as he’d been rooting for the father daughter pair, but their taxidermy gamble hadn’t paid off after all. He hoped Claire would be back soon. The shop wasn’t far. Gary thought that Eggheads was on next. He didn’t mind that and he could sit through it for a bit. Then he and Claire would have that cup of tea and a biscuit.

The theme tune for Eggheads played and he smiled at that. He thought about switching the lamp on, but he’d have had to get up for that and he didn’t want to miss the answer to the next question.

So Gary sat, alone in the darkening room, peering out into the street, watching for Claire. She’d be back any minute and then she’d make him his tea, they’d sit together on the sofa and he’d tell her that he’d like a baby. Then their real life would start.

Well, maybe after the end of Doctors

Empty Page

by Russ

My continental summer was taken away not with the flourish of a French horn but the muted clap of a Dutch cowbell. One badly angled hockey stick and the only thing I was destined to know of Paris was its plaster.

I sat in my room and thought about them all. I thought about Dan holding court at a cafe on La Rambla; a bevy of brown-eyed senoritas hung on his exotic tales of growing up in the Triángulo de Ruibarbo. I thought of Max, eyes spinning in Amsterdam as he played canalside United Nations with three other versions of himself in four different languages. I thought of Emma, pressed up against the basin of a Berlin bathroom as Axel from Düsseldorf showed her “how wie do it in ze vaterland!’

I thought about Emma in lots of positions with lots of offensive European stereotypes. As the summer wore on I was effectively picturing the entire continent of Europe as a giant serpent coiled around her, relentlessly squeezing out any thoughts of me and injecting in God knows what to replace them. Which is silly, snakes either constrict or they bite, they don’t do both.

I want to say I didn’t realise how I felt about Emma until I saw her waiving from the taxi as they all left, but the truth is I’ve been obsessed with her all year. The hungover fumble we’d had the morning after her birthday had cemented what was already an unhealthy preoccupation into something that would inevitably leave me spending the rest of my life bitter and alone. At least this summer was good practice for that.

I closed her Instagram and reopened the empty page which I’d told myself would become the novel to fix all this. The cursor blinked like an expectant puppy waiting to be fed. So far, I’d written and deleted ‘She’ fourteen times before opening up a private browsing window and entering several search terms which would leave my mother impossibly disappointed. It was going well.

That’s when my phone began vibrating and Emma’s face smiled at me in flashes. I didn’t answer it at first, feeling somehow she’d caught me out and I needed to hide something before I let her see me. There was nothing to hide; nothing physical anyway.

‘Hi hi hi! How are you?!’ she was shouting and blowing kisses. Behind her were rocks bathed in sunlight and spray from crashing waves. She didn’t wait for me to answer. ‘We’re in Game of Thrones land. How cool is that?!’ She moved the camera to show me the walls of Dubrovnik and I instinctively swiped at the screen to try and get her face back. We’d watched the Red Wedding together that morning after her birthday. She’d giggled all the way through it.

‘I can’t stay because this call is super super expensive,’ she resumed yelling. ‘I just wanted to let you know we’re all thinking about you and we hope those lazy bones are healing quickly! We love you!’

And with that, I was looking at my home screen and wondering what she meant by ‘we’. I turned back to my empty page but the cursor was already heading for the tab of her Instagram.