Wednesday Write-In #51

This week’s words were:

elastic  ::   rule of thumb  ::  spire  ::  conference  ::  wheel

The Commute

The bus conked out with a shuddering cough as it passed the Gresham Hotel, and there was just no time to wait for the next one. It’d be a long walk from here, but judging by the traffic oozing its way down from Parnell Square like thick dark blood through a clogged artery, getting a taxi would be no quicker. Not that she had the money handy to pay for one, anyway.

‘Damn it,’ she muttered. ‘The one morning I can’t be late…’

She passed the Spire in a click-clacking hurry, trying not to feel her knicker elastic as it dug into the soft flesh of her hip. The warm morning was making her sweat through her light blouse, and her skirt was starting to ride up at the back, a teasing breeze trickling over her newly exposed skin. She tucked her paperwork into the crook of her elbow as she yanked her clothing straight, hoping nobody was watching, and then on she strode, through the blue and hazy morning, her mind full of photocopying and ringing telephones. As she walked, she adjusted her bundle of documents again, getting a grip on the handle of her satchel, full to bursting with conference handouts and copies of last month’s minutes.

She was crossing O’Connell Bridge when she noticed someone on the central median, all alone. No more than six or seven, and skinny with it, he looked small enough for a seagull to carry him away. Sitting on the edge of one of the large planters, nestled amid the scraggy, dying flowers, he was staring fixedly at something in midair, his small hands resting on his knees and his face completely at peace. She almost tripped over her own feet as she came to a halt, her eyes filling up with the sight of him. The crowd bumped and jolted around her, muttering as it went, but the boy was perfectly still. Only his hair, light and golden, stirred in the breeze.

He was a star in empty darkness, or a distant beacon. He was a lighthouse in a roaring storm.

‘Hey!’ she called, not knowing why. Rule of thumb, she told herself. You see a kid alone, you don’t just ignore it. ‘Son! Are you all right?’

Traffic roared all around him. Three lanes separated them, but she knew he’d heard.

‘Here! You! Where’s your mammy?’

The child made no response. She took a step, and then another, toward the pavement edge. A bus screamed past, blocking her view of the boy and making her close her eyes against the gust of foul, hot air it threw up in its wake. When she looked toward the child again, he’d moved from his perch on the planter, and for a few, panicked seconds she searched for him. Her gaze swung back and forth until it eventually came to rest once again. His hair gleamed in the dusty air as he stood, uncertain, on the pavement edge, gazing wide-eyed at the roaring traffic all around.

‘Don’t!’ She shouted, heaving her papers around to free one arm. She waved at him, desperate to attract his attention. ‘Little boy! Don’t cross there! It’s not safe!’

He didn’t hear. His eyes full of fear, he stepped out, and disappeared.

**

The documents spiralled around the bridge like a white, flickering wheel of fortune, some landing in the waters of the Liffey far below, and some coming to rest under the wheels of passing traffic, and some smacking into the legs and faces and bodies of other people, struggling and hurrying and running past, unseeing. They pulled the sheets of paper free and threw them into the wind, irritated at the interruption, closing their ears against the shriek of the ambulance and shuttering their eyes against the sight of a satchel, battered and scuffed, lying by the railings of a city bridge.

11 thoughts on “Wednesday Write-In #51

  1. Tessa Sheppard

    Wow! Great story. Very powerful imagery. Love you description of the papers blowing in the wind irritating people, oblivious to what happened. Well done!

    Reply
  2. highinbrixham

    Superb! I love your descriptions, and envy them! (I tend to fall into cliché.) ‘like thick dark blood through a clogged artery’ – so right! And building up tension and horror for what is to come.
    Brilliant!

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you! I’m really glad to hear it. It’s difficult to avoid cliché, isn’t it? I think anyone who writes struggles with that. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. Thank you for your lovely comment. 🙂

      Reply
  3. patrickprinsloo

    Gripping story and held me until the end. Which I don’t quite follow. Was it the boy’s satchel -no earlier mention of one – or hers – we know she was carrying? I assume it was the boy who died, not her. Is this right?

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Hi Patrick – thanks for your comment. No, it’s not the boy’s satchel, it belongs to the woman. I’m not sure what, or who, the boy is, or whether he’s even really there; I think he’s symbolic of something. When I wrote the story I was thinking about the mindless way in which people don’t even see one another when they’re busily getting on with their lives, and how it’s hard to find any sort of peace in the flux of a crowded city. I’m sorry to have confused you, but I’m glad the story carried you along to the end, anyway!

      Reply
  4. emmaleene

    That’s mad how similar our stories are-it’s uncanny! I suppose its the prompts! We’ve obviously had experiences of running around Dublin bothered by knicker elastic! I love the drama at the end of this& the mystery of the child on O’C Bridge. The imagery of the paper & people’s irritation at the end makes the story so poignant ! The abandoned satchel is a great image to end on-it stays in the mind. Great stuff well done!

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Hahaha! 😀

      My knicker elastic is always bothering me. I think every woman can relate to that! Too funny…

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad the last paragraph resonated with you; it’s my favourite bit of the whole story. I really loved yours this week, too. Spot the Irish girls, or what – funny how we both thought of O’Connell Street when we saw ‘spire’ as one of the prompts. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Elaine Peters

    So real and so sad, she takes the time to try and save the boy and gets run over for her trouble. And the commuters don’t miss a beat. Life goes on. Especially love the last para.

    Reply

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