"Alone My Soul" by Leo the Fox.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
This story was an Honorable Mention in our 2015 Joust 24h writing contest.
Competitors were emailed a first and a last sentence. They then had 24h and 1,000 words to span the two.
by Roberta Verdant
They laid the train tracks back to front and this caused a great deal of confusion – you’d think you were on the train to New York and arrived in Kinshasa, or to Shanghai and found yourself lost in Istanbul.
Home tossed us out: a firework, an unfurled fist. When it began, we didn’t want to believe it. News that changed direction, laws they said would serve the country. New ‘values.’ That word got really popular. Values. When you no longer fit your country’s values, you are in trouble. We heard stories of red rivers before we saw them. Floating bodies, gunfire, cities with changing faces. At first our kisses were covert out of delicious secrecy. Our bodies said: let’s invent new ways of fucking. Later, our covertness was a kind of gag. Love ran red. In the final days there, we were always running. Most people were. Trying to get somewhere. Some made it, some didn’t. Some were never ready to believe in the new face of the country, and so they waited. Her and I, we were desperate with sex and sweat and panic. Her name was Possibility and I’d have followed her anywhere.
She’d arranged the tickets, procured with piles of a currency that no longer meant much of anything. Procured with God may know what else. God, by that point, was no longer looking. I said New York, vague, and lost. Perhaps she did too, buying them. But ours was no longer a country that made sense. They closed down escape routes, laid others. In another time our homeland had brimmed with strange delights: palaces with dreaming spires, an enchanted sea. Now the ocean echoed with the cracks of bombs as we catapulted onto the train. The carriage was hot with bodies, twisted, limbs askew, disfigured gazes. World turned inside out. She spits the cherry from her mouth; red flesh onto train tracks.
My father owned the town shop. Not quite rich, but not poor either. Growing up, the locals all called him ‘uncle.’ A kind man with gentle eyes. Too wealthy when the climate turned to have been anything but doomed. Mother was religious. I had a slew of siblings, and eyes that looked far off into the distance. I was good at seeing chances, at sensing what might be coming. The woman. Her name was Possibility; hair like fire and amber eyes and my gaze found its mark. We’d meet in gaps between religion. No-one must know. It was almost a joke at first.
The world turned. Father buried the family silver and took to praying for hours at a time. Mother’s eyes disappeared behind her headscarf. Safer not to see. I fell into Possibility in the gaps between agony. Mother saw and did not see. My siblings worked and worked, slowly disappearing. Then the men came for father. Smashed his legs, led him away. Mother wrapped her scarf around her whole body, became a shadow. The day father returned, he was bent over like a wire coathanger. The men had him dig up the silver, kneeling on his massacred legs. I ran to Possibility as though she was an answer. Soon, we were fucking instead of trying to find words for this. She had stories of her own, but rarely spoke them. I found them in the bruises on her collarbone, in the spaces inside her.
We left it all behind us. Religion, a God who looked away. Father a bent coathanger, siblings blending into a single worker. Mother smashed money into my hands, knew and didn’t know. Leaving, I saw only a thick black scarf. Possibility with her stories trapped inside of her, where they are most dangerous of all. Her mouth was black smoke and I fell into it, drowning. New York, Madrid, Morocco. We whispered words from another era, from films and books and half-realised dreams.
The dusty, groaning train led to a ship. Days in transit, sweating under layers of scarves. We didn’t know if our faces were safe, much less our love. In secret, we wrapped our hands together. Slowly, I slipped my fist inside her, muffled cries. Stinking bathrooms, hidden places. The trick is to keep looking forward. Officials who couldn’t say our names, sneered, and changed them. We were reborn, a baptism of stale sweat. The rain that fell for ten days steady on the ship. Vomiting until there was nothing left inside me. She held me steady. I always was made of too much flesh – hips and tits and bellybellybelly. After all that happened, I was at least solid and she clutched me like a mooring.
Another train. Tears from the sky just kept falling. The world, backwards, wanting to be washed clean. We surged forward. Guilty. Possibility. Rain dripping from the rusty gutters made a curtain between the platform and the tracks.
Roberta Verdant is based in Bristol in the UK. She blogs for the Huffington Post and runs the Find Your Story project, offering workshops in creative play and therapeutic creativity. She loves wild swimming and dancing barefoot. Find more of her writing in MungBeing and Ink, Sweat & Tears.