This is Story Eleven in my 38 Stories Project
Submitted By: Sophie Mathewson
Word Count: 700-1000
Character: Father, former civil engineer - Laurence Wright
First Line Rule: There was once a time when Laurence could captivate a crowd with his wit and intellect
There was once a time when Laurence could captivate a crowd with his wit and intellect. Consulting on the Roman Bay Correctional redevelopment project, he held stakeholders in fits of laughter with prison puns and quips about life behind bars. Now he sat in one of its nine hundred and eighty-six cells, stripped of his possessions, his professional reputation, and any shred of humour he ever possessed. Even his son wouldn't visit him.
His cellmate was a slender figure, sitting upright like a jungle cat and staring into space with complete stillness. He did not appear to breathe. In the raucous aftermath of the evening meal this man was utterly, unnervingly silent. The possible alternatives were so vast and unthinkable that Laurence didn’t mind the stony reception, and he climbed into his own bunk to be silent as well.
It was much later when his companion finally spoke. Laurence was staring at the ceiling and thinking of his chair, wishing for a glass of wine and some books about maritime warfare.
“Hello,” said the voice from the bottom bunk. Laurence was startled but gathered himself quickly to respond. He sat up slightly.
“Hello. My name is Laurence Wright.”
“I know. I read the news. Very bad accident.”
“Yes, an accident.”
“How many people dead?”
“I see. Big accident.”
“It wasn’t my fault.” Laurence knew he sounded feeble and unconvincing. He inhaled through his nose and began the speech with more vigour, trying to harness the old Laurence, the orator, the highly respected civil engineer. Laurence before the Archimedes Skywalk collapsed on its opening day and killed seventeen people.
“It was an ambitious design, and that’s putting it lightly. What’s your name?”
“You call me Dedi.”
“Dedi. Imagine this. Almost a kilometre of transparent, curling skywalk leading to a cylindrical viewing platform. But not only that, the cylinder encased a glittering sphere, like an orb, with the canyon’s colours reflected and refracted in an earthy kaleidoscope at sunset.”
“Go on.” Dedi looked bored.
“I rejected the design five times. I sent it back.”
“But the sixth time?”
“It was ready. But it wasn’t followed.”
“You stamped it?”
“Yes. The design was good, excellent even. It was the construction that was shoddy. Those people should be sitting here. Not me.”
“Laurence.” Dedi swung out of his bunk and peered over the top of Laurence’s mattress. His eyes exposed a galaxy. “You are lying. I know you are lying. Not from the news. From you. Now tell me what happened.”
Laurence felt sick. Just as Dedi knew he was lying, he knew that Dedi was telling the truth about knowing he was lying. He didn’t say anything, and in the air between them hung the story.
“Fine. I will tell you what happened.” Dedi melted down to his own bed. “It was three days after your wife left you. She came back to pack more bags. She told you his name.” Laurence’s stomach tightened. Dennis.
“You went to a bar. You played pool against two women, one divorced paralegal with breast implants and a talent for string instruments and one waitress with twin daughters, a Corolla and a cinnamon allergy. You won. You put Dusty Springfield on the jukebox. You ate nine chicken wings. You tried to call your son. You drank until you could not see.” Laurence began to sweat from the neck and temples.
“In the morning when you awoke you could not recall the rest of the evening. After a series of emails and phone calls it became apparent you had approved the skywalk project overnight.” Laurence could hear his heart whipping around. “You were too proud to admit this drunken error. You did not raise the alarm. You allowed construction to begin.” How did this stranger know these things? It felt like falling, the bunk, his body, the entire room spinning into black.
When Laurence opened his eyes he was in his kitchen surrounded by a gaggle of swaying, headless geese, a bloody axe resting in his hands. Dedi smiled at Laurence, floating down to land in the centre of the room.
“Do you need me to count them for you?”
“No, there are seventeen.”
“Shall I fix them for you?”
Dedi grabbed the nearest goose, produced its head in his palm. He passed his hand over the body and they came together as one, seamless and perfect. The goose honked and flapped, escaping through the open door. One by one, Dedi brought all the geese their heads, brought them back to life.
“Now you owe me, Laurence. I fixed your problem. I know your secret.”
There was once a time when Laurence could captivate a crowd with his wit and intellect. But lately he was having these short blackouts. He gripped the lectern, blinked into the harsh light. Black ties and ball gowns looked up at him with a thousand eyes. Dr. Dedi Zaki nodded warmly from the front row, encouraging him. He glanced down at his tablet and read out the words.
“It’s my great honour tonight to present the Dennis Mead Excellence in Design award to a project that’s due to open tomorrow to the public. The architect, my brilliant wife Alyssa, has triumphed in this beautiful and poignant motif. I am thrilled to be invited to walk by her side with the first touring group of only eighteen people to visit the platform.”
Laurence paused. The crowd waited. A headless goose flew over Alyssa, her hands folded neatly in her lap. The room swam around Laurence. “The volume of a sphere is two thirds the volume of a cylinder with the same radius.” Dedi narrowed his eyes. “It’s not my fault.” Dedi rose, looking sideways at Alyssa.
Laurence pitched forward.
“I’ve been having these blackouts.”
In a bar in Roman Bay, a paralegal with a cinnamon allergy put Dusty Springfield on the jukebox.
Left alone with just a memory
Life seems dead and so unreal
All that’s left is loneliness there’s nothing left to feel
Thanks for reading.
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