The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Alice Charles

      Mary had managed to leave the shop on time that afternoon. The sky had clouded over and there were a few spots of rain. Summer was almost over, not that there had been much of a summer. She had worked at the convenience store for fifteen years. She’d lost count of the number of times she had made this journey from town back to her home. The weather didn’t really matter. Mary always wished for one thing: that the journey wouldn’t take long.
      Mary felt as if she had lived in the same place for a hundred years, though she had only moved back to the area after her father died. Now she could hardly remember living elsewhere. The town had changed so much since she was a child. There were more cars on the road, more people. A lot more people. Most of her friends had moved away. Some had even gone abroad, including her brother Harry.
      “This is not what I wanted for myself,” she thought.
      There was no point in queuing at the bus stop any more. As soon as the bus arrived, it was a mad free for all with everyone rushing to get on at once. Then there was the mad dash for seats. Mary usually ended up having to haul her shopping bags up the stairs. This time was no different. She was surprised to find an empty seat right at the front of the bus next to a man who smelt of stale cigarettes and disinfectant. He had his legs splayed open and made no effort to close them as she sat down. Young men these days had no manners. Mary had to sit sideways, balancing her shopping on the ledge in front of her. The upper deck was strewn with rubbish. This bus looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for some time.
      With almost every seat taken, the bus started off, joining the evening traffic. There was some kind of music coming from the back of the bus. It sounded like the kind of noise the army used to torture captured terrorists. How could people listen to this for pleasure? Mary felt tension building up in her shoulders and she was glad she wasn’t sitting any closer to the source of the noise.
      A few seats behind her, there was a young woman having an argument with her boyfriend on her mobile. She was being very loud. Mary wondered if the woman knew just how loud she was.
      “Shut up! No, you shut up!” Mary heard the woman saying. She turned around and thought about saying something, but the woman looked so aggressive, Mary thought better of it. You never knew these days. There were so many angry people about. It was like some kind of virus, infecting people. She read about all those men going off the rails and killing their families. It was shocking. It seemed to happen so often. It was always the same story: how nice the man was; how unthinkable what he had done; how there had been no warning. She didn’t like to think about it. Instead she thought about the radio programme she had caught the night before. Apparently mobile phones used technology so complicated, no one person knew how they worked. And now here was this woman using all that technology to tell her boyfriend to “shut it.” Mary sighed.
      The bus lurched forward and an empty soda bottle hit her feet. Again. Mary nudged it aside and it rolled backwards as the bus jerked its way forward. It started to rain and water splashed through the open window. Mary stood up and deliberately stretched across the man beside her to close it. He would have to acknowledge her now, and he did, closing his legs slightly to give her a bit more room. She could have asked him to close it, she knew, but this was better.
      A teenaged boy came up the stairs. His trousers were so low, you could see his underwear. He was wearing tight, grey underpants. The boy staggered towards an empty seat, hoisting his trousers up as he went. Mary couldn’t help shaking her head. What was wrong with wearing a belt, she thought. Or at least decent underwear?
      The windows started to fog up and she used her sleeve to clear a small circle to see out of. Mobile phones, MP3 players, computer games — Mary and her brother Harry hadn’t had any of these things when she was growing up.
      The bus stopped suddenly and everyone was thrown forward. Mary managed to stop herself from going into the window. A couple of people actually fell off their seats. Why did drivers these days have to go so fast?
      The young woman on the mobile phone was still arguing with her boyfriend. Mary couldn’t understand why she didn’t just hang up. It would be dark by the time she got home. Her house would be quiet. There wasn’t anyone to turn on the lights for her. No one to share the day’s minutiae with.
      At home, she would always feel a little afraid until she had switched on all the lights. She was afraid of everything. Any little thing was enough to make her jump out of her skin. But she hadn’t always been like this. Her street was already in sight. She could see the Polish newsagents on the corner. There was a man waiting at the kerb. Mary was instantly reminded of her father. The man looked so much like him. There was the same military bearing, the same easy stride as he crossed the road. She hadn’t thought of her father in years. In her imagination, she was transported back to 1974 and their home. She remembered everything down to the last detail, the three-day weeks, blackouts and strikes. To save money, her father had confiscated the TV set. He had bought Mary and her brother annuals and American comics instead and taught them to play cards. The books were secondhand but it made no difference. She could still remember the excitement every time her father had come home from work. They played cards and games by candlelight and had enjoyed themselves so much, they had gone without television for a year even after the strikes had ended. She saw herself, a young girl full of promise and hope.
      Mary was almost home. The ride was over. She was suddenly very happy, she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt that way. Mary smiled to herself and there were tears in her eyes.

Alice Charles is a British freelance journalist and screenwriter who has recently relocated to
Los Angeles.

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